Psalmist Project Press
The links below will open various ‘press releases’ and articles about The Psalmist Project for your reading enjoyment.
Psalmist Project brings people together
MONA MATTEI|Gazette Staff
It is not often that one can get a glimpse into the traditions of the Doukhobor culture, at least not for those outside of the community. The documentary “A Discovery: The Psalmist Project,” premiering this week in Grand Forks, allows viewers to step inside the culture and experience a few of the rituals that are typical of the tradition.
After two years in the making, and with commentary by various authors, historians, and some of the still-practicing psalmists in B.C., the documentary demonstrates the history of the unique and artful form of worship within the Doukhobor tradition called psalm-singing or “soul communion.”
But for the project’s videographer, sound tech, and director Ron Mahonin the unexplainable “behind the scenes” events that occurred contain the essence of the documentary and how it came to fruition.
Mahonin has been a songwriter, and advertising jingle writer, who eventually developed digital skills to create a more stable living for his family. Mahonin moved to B.C. from Ontario six years ago and started work with the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar. Mahonin was working with Koozma Tarasoff on his book “Spirit Wrestlers” when he first got inspired to explore the psalm-singing.
“I was encouraging Koozma to talk more about the Doukhobor heroes,” said Mahonin. “Every culture has their heroes and most of them are war heroes, but in the Doukhobor culture we have several of the elders and the people who settled here were unknown peace heroes.”
A friend grabbed this shot of AJ and Ron Mahonin recording a group at the Discovery Centre for the Psalmist Project. While most boys at his age would have preferred to stay at home, than go to a gig to record psalm-singing, AJ amazed Ron with his enthusiasm. He enjoyed setting up the gear, watching recording levels, making sure everything was getting to disc while learning about his heritage. AJ also became the narrator for the final DVD.
In researching these heroes for the book, Mahonin spoke with elders who recounted stories of their lives to him. With each story that he heard, Mahonin realized how important it was to record their stories that form the history of the Doukhobor people.
“I had to come back and video tape them because they have loads of stories,” he said. “I felt I had to do it, I don’t know why but I just knew I had to do this. Because they were so animate, and so sincere, and conveyed the importance of those happenings at that time. Then, a couple of years go by, I didn’t get there, and they passed away.”
Ron Mahonin sets up one of the sessions at the Discovery Centre with the Krestova group that were pretty grueling at times. Each group realized they would be leaving a lasting legacy – it was possibly the first time an ensemble like these had been recorded digitally – and they were professional and very demanding of themselves. Many of these sessions were four to five hours long, if only to harvest a couple of acceptable performances of their psalms.
Mahonin felt that if it could be recorded, if it could be available, then the culture could be preserved, otherwise as these elders passed it would be lost forever. Another event that pushed Mahonin to fulfill this project was participating in a funeral service where the psalm-singing was being done.
“To the outsider psalm-singing is very eerie, spooky, and maybe even boring,” said Mahonin. “The psalms can go on for up to 20 minutes at a time. I realized this really needs to be explained, especially to outsiders. People outside (the community) really have no concept what these Doukhobor rituals, practices are all about. I wanted to find a way to bridge that.”
Traditionally psalm-singing was verbally passed along through the community. Mahonin said that when the first book of psalms was written in the early 1900′s it included over 400 psalms which they now believe was incomplete. Today, the psalm-singers say that they only know 40 – 50 psalms and Mahonin realized that yet again, the culture was being lost.
Although Mahonin was challenged to coordinate the psalm-singers to participate in the project and encourage them to be on video, he had a lot of assistance from Fred Makortoff who took the lead as liaison for the project. Mahonin was determined not only to record important culture, but also to provide more information to the world about Doukhobors that didn’t reflect negative images.
“I tried to put together a video that concentrated on some Doukhobor life concepts and this practice of psalm-singing without trying to twist in any of the political problems,” said Mahonin. “I wanted to keep it out of the sensational aspects and just focus on the psalm-singing.”
The Psalmist Project recorded different psalmist groups across the region for the DVD. This rehearsal brought the three groups who partook in this project together at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar in early 2008. Because this was a rehearsal, no one was in formal dress. The man with the outstretched arms is Fred Makortoff who was the main liaison between the groups and Ron Mahonin throughout the project. The picture is symbolic because Makortoff really did, on behalf of this project, reach out to members of all communities to bring the groups/people together to take part in the project.
Jim Popoff, a recognized historical authority on Doukhobor matters and a participant in the film project complemented the quality and inspiration of the project. “This project touches on the very essence of the Doukhobor life-concept and world view, the very spiritual core of the Doukhoborism, so to speak and does so with a rare combination of sensitivity and insight,” said Popoff. “The content of this documentary is impeccable authentic, in that it records the involvement and perceptions of a wide cross-section of actual practicing Doukhobors, of all generations, and allows them to sing and speak for themselves.”
To wrap the film in context, Mahonin’s 12-year-old son AJ narrates the film. Mahonin was searching for the perfect narrator when he was inspired to ask his son to try it out. AJ had participated in the filming and learned about his own heritage through the process. “In presenting the narrative of this video through the eyes of his son producer Ron Mahonin has attained a masterstroke,” said Popoff. “The project’s two-year process is revealed to the audience in the voice of this charismatic young lad whose sense of wonderment at the discovery of both his own heritage and its mysterious psalm-singing tradition is so genuine and sincere that it infects all those who bear witness to it.”
Mahonin is satisfied that he has captured a generation’s history. “I would never have come in to do this, but I was there. The people that agreed to be part of it, when they pass, and they will, there will never be another group of that particular generation. That’s why I had to do it.”
The Discovery Centre received grants from The Leon & Thea Koerner Foundation, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the B.C. Arts Council to assist in the development of the film. The free premier of the documentary “A Discovery: The Psalmist Project” will take place at the Grand Forks Art Gallery on Thurs. Aug. 20 at 7:00 p.m.
A brief evaluation of “A Discovery: The Psalmist Project”
As someone who has had the experience of participating in and evaluating dozens of film, TV and video projects on Doukhobor topics over the past 40 years, it gives me great pleasure to state that the above-named documentary video is most certainly a contender for the best all around such production ever!
It is especially inspiring that this project touches on the very essence of the Doukhobor life-concept and world view, the very spiritual core of Doukhoborism, so to speak, and does so with a rare combination of sensitivity and insight. The content of this documentary is impeccably authentic, in that it records the involvement and perceptions of a wide cross-section of actual practising Doukhobors, of all generations, and allows them to sing and to speak for themselves, from within their own individual Doukhobor context.
At the same time, in presenting the narrative of this video through the eyes of his 12-year-old son, A.J. (Aaron Jacob), producer Ron Mahonin has attained a masterstroke. The two-year project’s unfoldment is revealed to the audience in the voice of this charismatic young lad, whose sense of wonderment at the discovery of both his own heretofore unknown heritage and its mysterious psalm singing tradition, is so genuine and sincere that it infects all those who bear witness to it, thus most effectively conveying the subject matter of the video.
This is a production of the highest calibre, in both its content and technical aspects, making it somewhat difficult to comprehend that it was put together on a meager budget, with the most rudimentary equipment and settings. It nevertheless deserves the highest level of recognition and the broadest possible audience, and we can only hope that such a great potential will be fully realized.
In any case, there is no doubt whatsoever that no one who experiences this video will come away unmoved. In fact, it is much more likely that they will come away with the feeling that they have been given a glimpse into the very Doukhobor soul.
-D.E. (Jim) Popoff
D.E. (Jim) Popoff is a former Editor of the Doukhobor periodicals, MIR and ISKRA, and a former USCC Executive Assistant who worked closely with the late USCC Honourary Chairman, John J. Verigin, over a period of 25 years. Having researched, written, edited, translated and published many materials on Doukhobor topics, Mr. Popoff is a recognized historical authority on Doukhobor matters.
To protect the privacy of the indivuals signing these feedback forms, actual names/signatures have been ‘whited out’.
My compliments on the psalmists video. I visited the museum display in the old Grand Forks courthouse this week, and thought I would just watch for a minute, but 25 minutes later I was still watching! It’s engrossing and an excellent introduction to Doukhobor customs, traditions, and beliefs. The production values are high, and the interviews are excellent. Hats off to you.
The Psalmist Project DVD is an important ethnographic account that uncovers how psalmist practices have functioned as a tool for cultural reproduction and survival for the Doukhobour people, particularly during periods of persecution and repression. The DVD is engaging, well produced, and accessible to all ages.
Laura Ritchie Dawson, PhD,
Carleton University, Ottawa
…The work that went into it is unbelievable! The animation, editing and script are excellent. …The film could have become a compendium of interviews with psalm singing participants talking about pretty much the same thing, but you beautifully crafted it into a painting with different painters adding their own colors to enrich one canvas. I was touched, was left with tears in my eyes and a longing to hug every single participant in the film for raising my spiritual being to a higher level than I myself am able to do. Bravo! Encore!
…the reason I emailed was to thank you so much for making this! This video really means a lot to me – it answers many of the questions that I never thought I’d be able to ask. And I’m very impressed that you managed to make a video that is at once spiritual, historical, and bravely honest about governmental corruption and hardship. I think it really makes the strength and vibrancy of the community show through. And it makes the community look adaptable and contemporary…with great respect for tradition that’s continued because of love rather than obligation…it’s great to have represented so many members of the community.
As printed in Iskra, July 09
As A.J. and I pack to leave the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, we’ve found there is much to ponder and reflect on. In my case, six years worth of reflection, and in A.J.’s case, three years. For those that don’t know, most of my six years here were mainly in further developing the Museum’s in-depth website, and various Doukhobor-related exhibits where much of the work ranged from digitally restoring old photos, to phonograph records, to documents and exhibits that could show/depict the Doukhobor culture to visitors to the Museum, as well as to the world-wide audiences via the Internet. Again, for those that don’t know, A.J. is my young son who came to live with me three years ago here at the Museum’s residence. Through my involvement with various projects, he himself learned more of Doukhobor life-concepts, and of his own heritage.
Our reflection on our stay here includes many experiences from the yearly museum openings, to various events and projects. But the most memorable – the most cherished – will always be our experience in developing The Psalmist Project. This was a project which required thousands of hours to develop a ‘vision’, to a realty.
As the video explains, it was far more than just some audio recording, or a just recording a concert for Heritage Week. It was a vision of developing a website module, a double-CD set, and a complete video that could speak intelligently on this Doukhobor attribute of psalm-singing. And in those thousands of hours, was truly a great treasure that unfolded – that being, meeting and getting to know each of the Psalmists and other interviewees involved, who helped bring this video to life. This, was truly a gift, and both AJ and I will forever be grateful for this treasure.
While the video, “A Discovery; The Psalmist Project” will no doubt in time become recognized as a valuable tool in understanding psalm-singing, and give a healthy perspective of Doukhobor history as well, our own experience goes beyond what’s actually seen or heard on the video. For it was in the actual audio and video recording sessions, the session preparations, and in-between video takes, where the beauty of our experiences was found. This is where we got to know more of each of you on a personal basis – and to both of us, this was the real treasure in producing this project
Doukhobor life-concepts have been sadly misunderstood by those outside our culture, and sadly, twisted and misrepresented by the media in general. We were so proud and honoured to have been involved with all of you, and having all of you who took part in this project, that will help to give everyone a better understanding to Doukhobor culture, in an honest and yet accurate way.
We were flattered and yet humbled by comments of praise for our work at the premiere showing. But the truth is, none of this project could have ever been developed or produced at all – without your own voices, without your own opinions, or without your participation. Many commented on the sincerity of both the writing, and the heartfelt way the story was delivered. If the video does strike a chord, it will be because it was put together with a most sincere respect and regard for our Doukhobor culture, and an understanding of your own respect and reverence for this centuries-old custom of ‘soul communion’.
As we leave here, we thank you, each and every one, that took part in this historic project – in warmly sharing your hearts with both of us – for what can only be described as a most beautiful experience, Thank you; spasibo.
Ron and A.J. Mahonin
With comments ranging from: ‘It surpassed everything I thought it would be…’ to ‘The video was so touching and powerful…’, the Doukhobor Discovery Centre presented the long awaited A Discovery: The Psalmist Project on Saturday, April 19th.
What began as a BC Heritage project in 2008 continued and broadened in scope, to create not only a CD set of the psalms recorded, and an extensive resource website, but a two hour video outlining the entire project as well.
Along the way, Ron Mahonin, producer, touches on various aspects of the psalms’ origins, historical context, present day activities, and the psalm historical context in Doukhobor history.
The video is ably narrated by Ron’s son, A.J., who presents this as a journey of discovery into Doukhobor culture as evidenced by the psalm singing history.
The DVD, along with a double CD set of 15 psalms used in the video, will be available sometime mid-June, at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar. A pre-order form is available for download here.
Program Card of February 24th, 2008 Concert
Keeping Their Song Alive
Grand Forks Doukhobor psalmists keep Living Book alive through song. – photo, Larry Ewashen
JIM HOLTZ | Gazette Staff
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Doukhobors to British Columbia and the Boundary-Kootenay. Many of the traditions and customs of those early settlers survive today in the households and communities of the region. The values associated with an agrarian life-style and with pacifism and a desire for individual freedom are values which even now influence the lives of not only the descendents of those early pioneers, but also many of those who have settled here after them.
There is one tradition that is in danger of disappearing, however: the singing of psalms. Once an intimate part of the lives of all Doukhobors, the memorization, recitation, chanting and singing of psalms is practiced today by a only a relatively few individuals. Until the 1960s, The Living Book (Sbornik in Russian) was passed down from generation to generation orally, not in writing. The Doukhobors felt it was more meaningful if kept in the heart rather than in print.
“This is their collection of spiritual songs, The Living Book,” said Larry Ewashen, curator of the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar. “What is happening is that there are very few of the pioneers left who actually know this music. So this was one of our 100th anniversary projects, to record what this singing is about. We also thought it would be good because it is the 150th anniversary of the province.”
Now, with the help of the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance and the Leon and Thea Koener Foundation, a number of the most significant psalms are being recorded using the latest technology to preserve forever what might otherwise disappear. Ewashen, is directing the Psalmist Recording Project, an effort which will see the production of a number of CDs and a DVD designed to preserve the heritage of the traditional psalmists.
“We decided – the Doukhobor Discovery Centre,” said Eshewan, “that this would make a wonderful project… We have probably the largest ethnic music library in the world, but nothing has been done for 40 or 50 years on the psalms.”
Three groups, the Slocan Valley Psalmists, psalmists from Krestova, and the Grand Forks Psalmists are all being recorded.
“Right now they’re rehearsing by themselves,” Ewashen commented. “Later an they will have two sessions to do some psalms that they can do together.. During Heritage Week, Feb.18 to the 24, we will be having a public presentation.” The coordinator for the project is Fred Makortoff, an expert in the field, while the technical audio recording expertise is being provided by Ron Mahonin.
The entire project is in the tradition of American musicologist Alan Lomax, who began recording traditional music in the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastem United States, and that of Kenneth Peacock who recorded and documented some of the Doukhobor music in the 1960s. Both men discovered that the language they were recording was actually a well preserved dialect of long ago.
“The Russian that is sung (in the psalms) is archaic Russian,” said Ewashen, “and is probably one of the best preserved dialects in the world… what they were speaking a hundred years ago in the Caucasus (region of Russia).”
It was Peacock who said, “Should the Doukhobors ever cease to practice the singing of psalms, it will truly signify the end of Doukhoborism.”
Ewashen and all the others taking part in the project are determined that that end will never come.
THE GAZETTE – Grand Forks, B.C., Wednesday, February 13, 2008
On February 9th, the Doukhobor Discovery Centre was the scene of a rehearsal with volunteer singers from three different psalmist groups; the Grand Forks Psalmists, The Slocan Valley Psalmists and the Psalmist Group from Krestova.
Psalmists attending this momentous event were: Mary W. Horkoff, Fred A. Horkoff, John Harasemow, Mary Harasemow, Nina Hoodikoff, Mabel Novokshonoff, Christina Medvedeff, Leonard Markin, Fred Legebokoff, Elizabeth Legebokoff, Polly Nevokshonoff, Helen Kinakin, Mary Chernenkoff, Marion Demosky, Vera Podmoroff, Margaret Boulin, Katie Podmoroff, Nettie Ostrikoff, Briane Verigin, Anne Verigin, Nick Nevokshonoff, Edna Saprikin, Alex Chernoff, Elizaveta Makortoff, Fred Makortoff, Nina Jmieff, Mike Jmieff.
These specific psalms were orally preserved by the Doukhobors from the inception of the social movement and preserved in the Living Book. They are dedicated to specific occasions ranging from births to weddings to funerals. When sung with spiritual intensity, they produce what is known as Soul Communion among the participants, a meditative rhapsody which results in spiritual tranquillity.
In modern times, this practice has been less pronounced, and the intention of the Discovery Centre is to record these orations in high quality format while practitioners still exist.
The Doukhobor Discovery Centre has been recording and videoing rehearsals of the groups within their own venues for the past several months. The event this Saturday brings the three groups together, so in addition to their own unique selections, they will perform several numbers together. The entire enterprise will be presented to the public during Heritage Week, February 24th at 3:00 PM, at the Grand Forks USCC Cultural Centre.
This project will be preserved with the production of a two CD set containing the collection of psalms. Future plans include a DVD documenting the entire project including the public performance when sufficient funding is obtained.
This project is made possible by the assistance of The Leon & Thea Koerner Foundation of Vancouver and by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance.
What’s Current in Castlegar?
Doukhobor tradition preserved
On Feb.. 9, the Doukhobor Discovery Centre was the scene of a rehearsal which three different psalmist groups; the Grand Forks Psalmists, The Slocan Valley Psalmists and the Psalmist Group from Krestova.
This is part of the 1908 – 2008 com-memoration of the Doukhobor move from Saskatchewan to B.C., but is also a specific Heritage Week initiative undertaken by the Centre. The project entails the field recording of the archaic psalms and hymns of the Doukhobors as they have been traditionally sung and chanted for several hundred years.
These specific psalms were orally preserved by the Doukhobors from the inception of the social movement and preserved in the Living Book. They are dedicated to specific occasions ranging from funerals to christenings. When sung with spiritual intensity, they produce what is known as ‘soul communion’ among the participants, a meditative rhapsody which results in spiritual tranquility.
In modern times, this practice has been less pronounced, and the intention of the Discovery Centre is to record these orations in high-quality format while practitioners still exist. The Doukhobor Discovery Centre has been recording and videoing rehearsals of the groups within their own venues for the past several months. The event this Saturday brings the these groups together so, in addition to their own unique selections, they will perform several numbers together. The entire enterprise will be presented to the public during Heritage Week on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. at the Grand Forks USCC Cultural Centre.
This project will be preserved with the production of a two-CD set containing the collection of psalms. Future plans include a DVD documenting the entire project, including the public performance, when sufficient funding is obtained.
This project is made possible by the assistance of the Leon & Thea Koerner Foundation of Vancouver and by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance
Thursday, February 14, 2008 Castlegar Current