A Soulful Sound: Music of the Germans from Russia

Review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

A Soulful Sound: Music of the Germans from Russia. Prairie Public Broadcasting, Fargo, North Dakota, 2005, DVD.


When the making of this video was proposed, many of us shook ourheads. What exactly did they mean by German Russian music? There was music from old Germany, the music sung and performed in the colonies of Ukraine, and the music customarily sung in America. Secular music. Sacred music (Catholic and a range of Protestant that included in the religious category formal, revival meeting, gospel, names day, wedding and funeral music). Volga and Black Sea. Instrumental and vocal. Dance and lullaby. Professionally composed and folk. Borrowed and home made. Sad and joyful. Solo, small group and large group. Music with a hollow, reedy sound and music sung full-throated. Sung in German and in all the languages spoken where our ethnic group has lived. The musicologist in our midst, Homer Rudolf, billed on the jacket as Script Writer, did the major work of sorting it all out. The amount of leg work involved was impressive as the producers recorded instrumental music plus soloists and small groups, college, church and ethnic choirs, and even a youth choir from a Hutterite colony. Unusual was the filming of a Dutch Hop (so named when German went out of style during the world wars) in Wyoming and a wonderful staged wedding in Strasburg, North Dakota. There is a bit of archival footage of Lawrence Welk.

The question most will probably ask of a reviewer is I have watched the video on television several times, so why should I buy the DVD? They’re not exactly the same. Though they draw from the same material, the DVD has 40 minutes of bonus performance footage. Also, it is edited a bit differently, and I think the resulting product is better. I have the impression that the televised version is done for a general audience and the DVD was shaped more with a German Russian viewer in mind. Get it for your children and grandchildren. The music is losing its distinctive touch along with the fading of knowledge of the German Russian dialects, and eventually the music here preserved will define the whole category of the music of the Germans from Russia.

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