Duma recordings digitizing

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Leader of the project - Yuri Bulka

This document is based on the following English Wikipedia Articles and therefore is a derivative work provided under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License:

Project objective


Digitize a set of wax cylinder recordings of kobzars' and lirknyks' repertoire and publish them under a free license (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported) at the Wikimedia Commons website.

Importance and possible effect


The kobzar tradition was established during the Hetmanate Era around the sixteenth century in Ukraine. Kobzars accompanied their singing with a musical instrument known as the kobza, bandura or lira. Their repertoire primarily consisted of para-liturgical psalms and "kanty", and also included a unique epic form known as dumas.

Historically, dumy were performed by itinerant Cossack bards called kobzari, who accompanied themselves on a kobza or a torban, but after the abolition of Hetmanate by the Empress Catherine of Russia the epic singing became the domain of blind itinerant musicians who retained the kobzar appellation and accompanied their singing by playing a bandura (rarely a kobza) or a relya/lira (a Ukrainian variety of hurdy-gurdy). Dumas are sung in recitative, in the so-called "duma mode", a variety of the Dorian mode with raised fourth degree.

Dumy were songs built around historical events, many dealing with the military actions in some form. Embedded in these historical events were religious and moralistic elements. There are themes of the struggle of the Cossacks against enemies of different faiths or events occurring on religious feast-days. Although the narratives of the dumy mainly revolve around war - the dumy themselves do not promote courage in battle. The dumy impart a moral message in which one should conduct oneself properly in the relationships with the family, the community, and the church.

The importance of duma and kobzardom to Ukrainian culture is best illustrated by the fact that the most important book by Taras Schevchenko, a painter and a poet whose work is generally regarded as the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and language, is called Kobzar. A kobzar has become a national symbol of Ukrainian authentic culture.

Unfortunately, the kobzar tradition was almost totally destroyed by the Soviet state in 1930-s and most of the kobzars were liquidated.

In the beginning of 20-th century, with financial and organizational support from Lesya Ukrainka, one of Ukraine's best-known poets an the foremost woman writer in Ukrainian literature, a project of recording kobzari and lirnyky on wax cylinders was realized. Lesya Ukrainka also participated in the recording process and recorded repertoire of one kobzar player on 19 wax cylinders herself.

It is critically important to rescue the recordings from aging wax cylinders and make them available to the general public, and the best way to do this, we believe, is to publish them under a free license on the Internet. If such project will be successful, it will most likely gain a wide coverage in Ukrainian press and media and bring attention to the importance of preserving culture in the form of free knowledge and free multimedia materials, and to the mission of Wikimedia Foundation and their projects regarding preserving and popularizing culture in general.

It is hard to predict all possible use cases for the recordings, but a few of them are clear even now:

  • educational and scientific adoption of the recordings as a documentation of the authentic Ukrainian duma and other repertoire of kobzari and lirnyky from the beginning of 20th century;
  • the recordings will greatly help re-establishment of the authentic tradition of kobzardom and will allow much more accurate reproduction of the original repertoire by modern performers;
  • a free license of the recordings will allow artists to include them in their work, artistically transform and adapt them, and bring new life to this invaluable part of Ukrainian cultural heritage.

Expenses of the project


The main expense is the cost of digitizing the wax cylinders. There are 62 cylinders in total, of which 8 are broken and can't be digitized, and other 8 which are partially damaged. At this stage the exact number of cylinders that are in a condition that allows them to be digitized is unclear, but that will only be known when specialists in Kyiv will look at the collection.

The digitization is to be done in Kyiv in the Institute of Problems of Information Registration, where a machine which reads the wax cylinders in an optical manner is available; such reading method allows digitizing of the recordings without damage to the cylinders usually present with the traditional playback methods.

The cost of digitizing of one wax cylinder is $50. Thus, in case when the full 54 cylinders will be digitized, the cost will constitute $3,100. We expect, however, that the condition of some of the cylinders won't allow digitization, in which case we will return the unused costs or redirect them to other grant.

Other expenses will include the cost of transportation of the cylinders form L'viv (where they are currently located) to Kyiv, where the laser digitization device is present and back to L'viv after the digitization process.

There are also four cylinders in different museums and permission to digitize them in Kyiv is currently negotiated. Among them are: 2 wax cylinders are in a museum in Khodovychi (Lviv Oblast), 1 in a museum in Stryi (Lviv Oblast) and 1 in Pereiaslav-Khmelnytskyi.

We are currently reviewing different options for transportation of the cylinders.