Everything is illuminated

 What is coincidence?

A few days before I left for the Ukraine, I was at the bookshop at the Jewish Historical Museum. I was chatting with the woman behind the counter about my upcoming trip to the Ukraine, where a documentary was going to be made about my search for traces of my family in the villages and shtetls where my grandparents were born. My mother’s father came from a village called Chechelnik in the Podolian region near the Moldavian border. The woman behind the counter said that a CD had just arrived of authentic klezmer music from that very same region. Of course I bought the CD immediately and went home to listen to it and to read the liner notes. The CD was the result of research by the Viennese musicologist Isaak Loberan. I googled Loberan, found his telephone number, and called him up, mentioning that I was going to be traveling in that region in a few days, looking for my roots. I naively asked him if he had any addresses or telephone numbers of the musicians in that region and he laughed and said: when you get to Khodyma, just ask anyone for Vasyl Baranovsky. The next week, after visiting Chechelnik, I drove to the main church in Khodyma and asked the first person I came across if they knew Vasyl Baranovsky.

To my great astonishment, the two women I spoke with both sang in a choir that he conducted. They pointed in the general direction of where he lived, and after asking a couple of more people, probably also choir members, I managed to find the apartment block where he lived. Neighbours pointed me to a garage, where he just started his car and was packing it, ready to go to his garden.

It must have been somewhat as a surprise for him to have someone come all the way from the West just to talk to meet him. In the incredibly Ukranian manner of hospitality, he invited me into his apartment together with my translator and the entire camera crew, and his wife immediately brought out a feast of Ukranian delicacies.

We had a wonderful talk about both of our backgrounds, the idea for both of us was so overwhelming to think that both of our grandfathers, born in the same year almost, lived just a couple of miles from each other. Vasyl’s grandfather, though not Jewish, still played with the local Jewish klezmer musicians, and it is entirely not unthinkable that his grandfather had played for my grandfather. Vasyl brought out a bundle of music, melodies that he had learned from his grandfather, melodies from the Podolian region. After two bottles of self-brewed cognac, we were singing and drumming like two old drunken friends.

When I got back to Amsterdam, I decided to write a composition for string orchestra based on several of the melodies that Vasyl taught me and I dedicated the piece to my dear friend Vasyl Baranovsky.

Last Thursday night, Vasyl and his klezmer band performed here in the Netherlands.

The Ukranian band Konsonans Retro performing in Utrecht, 5th of October 2012

During the intermission, I went backstage to find him. I was received with such a warm embrace. I had the presence of mind to bring along the score of my piece “Podolian Dances” just in case the Ukranian postal system hadn’t managed to deliver the package I had sent him.

He was overwhelmed to see the piece and immediately started picking out the melodies that I had used. I remember when we had met in Khodyma, we were talking about how wonderful it is to be able to give things from one generation to another. This is how I felt when he was able to give me something from my grandfather and to judge by the overwhelmed expression on his face, I felt like I was able to give back to him something from his grandfather.

One thought on “Everything is illuminated

  1. Jeff, I love the story! I’ve been doing a little research, and my family name was actually Bogansky. I’ve been told it could be Polish, or could be Ukrainian…

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