An incredible thing happened over the past 48 hours. I was honored to be involved in helping find, translate and transcribe a choral score of a Russian folk song for the funeral service of Van Cliburn, one of the great American pianists (Vanya Klibern, as the Russians call him).
He was adored by the Russian people ever since he took the 1st prize in the Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow in 1958. And I think that back then, his genuine love for Russian music did much more for the two nations than any political efforts could ever achieve. His famous recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 was the first classical music piece I ever heard in my life. When I was a little girl, my mom would play that precious record quite often.
Apparently, before his passing on February 27th, Cliburn had requested that the Russian folk song “Ducks are Flying” be performed at his funeral service. The song is pretty much unknown in this country, and after he was gone, all they had was just the English title of it.
The organizing team had trouble finding the score. The team included: Tom Stoker, a longtime friend of Van and his mother, who was in charge of the choral music for the service; Archie Bailey, Executive Director of Schola Cantorum of Texas, one of the four choirs to sing at Van's service; Miguel H. Badoya, director of the Fort Worth Symphony that often worked with Van; and Dr. Al Travis, the organist and also a personal friend of Van. According to Archie Bailey, the organ used in the service was dedicated to Van's mother and is the largest in the Southwest.
In the effort to find the score, Archie contacted some friends in Moscow who even went to a local music store looking for it but failed. The service organizers didn’t know what else to do -- where to even start looking for the sheet music and for the lyrics. And they were running out of time.
Now, what are the odds that one of the choir members, Rebecca Krzystyniak found my PR business card which I had given her 4 years earlier? Rebecca and I met during an 8-day session at the Berkshire Choral Festival in Massachusetts, where we both participated in the performance of Rachmaninov Vespers, conducted by Dale Warland. Seriously, what are the chances!?
And so, after 4 years of silence, Rebecca called me out of the blue on Wednesday afternoon, with the terrible news of Van Cliburn’s death. Still in shock, I hear her asking me if I could help find the song...
There was no question, I had to do it. For Cliburn! Fortunately, Russian music fans share a lot of materials on the web, and in a short time I found a gorgeous YouTube recording of the Ducks song performed by a native Russian choir from Voronezh, and even a PDF page of a two-voice version with a piano reduction. This song is beautiful. It is about mourning a loved one who left home and will never return. It’s a perfect farewell song! Here it is (this recording left a few verses out):
A few minutes after I sent the files to Rebecca, she wrote back saying not to bother. Unfortunately, the team is too nervous; the fact that the funeral service will be broadcast live on national TV this Sunday made the pressure even greater on all of them. They saw no other alternativebut to take the song in question off the list...
So I thought to myself, if “Ducks” won't be sung at the service in Texas, then I will sing it at my home, in Pennsylvania. For Cliburn! It won’t really matter to him -- his soul will hear the beloved song no matter who sings it and where. At least this way his memory will be honored. And that's all that matters in the end.
After spending a little more time searching the Russian web, I was lucky enough to find a beautiful SATB chorus arrangement posted on a public domain music site by some Russian enthusiasts. I sent it to Rebecca immediately. She loved the song but gave me little hope that the director would reconsider.
It didn’t matter to me. I would sing it on Sunday, for Cliburn. It felt very special that, by a lucky turn of the fate, I was told which song he wanted to hear and that I could grant his last wish! I said a little prayer and asked Universe to help me let go of any regrets about the song being taken out of the list. Gratitude filled my heart. And this is how I went to bed on Wednesday night.
The next day brought a lot of work, and my mind was too busy to think about anything else. Suddenly, at 3 pm my phone rang. It was a Texas number. My heart sank. Archie Bailey himself was on the phone. He was so thankful and said that they loved the SATB arrangement I had sent, and that it would work but only if I can provide transcription and translation of the text. This had to be done by “yesterday” of course.
The rest is history – I had a couple of intensebut totally rewarding hours, typing the English transliterations into the 6-page score, translating the song, and making an MP3 recording of myself reading the Russian text slowly to help the choir. Here is the transcribed score :
All is well so far, the dress rehearsal is on Saturday, the service will start at 3 pm on Sunday, March 3, at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. I have no doubt that this will be a beautiful service celebrating the life of Van Cliburn. By the way, Moscow Nights is also on the list!
I will be forever grateful for this incredible life experience. While it is such sad news for all of us who loved Van, this amazing story made his passing so much more personal to me, and at the same time somewhat easier to bear because I was called to and could help make his last wish come true. I hope it helps you in the same way too, as we say goodbye to the great beloved Pianist and Person.
Ducks Are Flying - Летят Утки
Russian Folk Song (English translation by Inna Heasley)
Ducks are flying, ducks and two geese are flying.
Oh, the one I love, the one I love – won’t see him back. 2.
I fell in love, I fell in love, so young.
Oh, it must be my fate, must be my fate.
My love left, my love went beyond Voronezh [town in Russia – ih]
Oh, now nothing will bring him back. 4.
My sweet, when you, my sweet, abandon me,
Oh, don’t tell, don’t tell of what you know.
Oh, how hard, how hard to say good bye –
Oh, eyes are open, eyes are open, tears pouring down.
Wheat’s in blossom, wheat’s in blossom, bending down to the ground,
Oh, my heart is aching for my sweet, for my sweet.