Music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and was probably imbued within me while I was in my mother’s womb in Southern Alberta. She and dad were both excellent singers and often sang together; born in Canada but preserving their Russian culture including a commitment to pacifism. Growing up in the Doukhobor milieu, my first exposure to song was Russian folk songs and Doukhobor hymns. These were meditative chants which brought peace and solace to these pacifist dissidents along their historical thorny path of exile and re-settlement.
The Shakespearean quote: ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage breast’, in their estimation, was quite literally true and is best expressed by the following abridged Doukhobor psalm:
Singing of Psalms is an adornment to our souls.
They form a union of love, give you power of observing and strength of fulfilling all.
It all indicates a great soul.
It cleanses one's lips and makes one’s heart glad.
To the ones who have perfection it shows the way.
Serenity of the mind is a herald of peace:
The Psalms express prayer for future generations.
To the elders it is a sign of comfort.
To the young it is an improvement of their mind.
From my formative years onwards, from the country school square dances to the concert stage, I never believed that music and songs were just entertainment. In my experience, as a performer and singer for seventy years, music has been a vital life force.
Moreover, music and peace were inextricably intertwined. Early activism with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament included rallies which provided stages for many peace songs, echoing the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam war protests.
The folk movement featured seminal peace songs written by Canadians such as Ed McCurdy’s Strangest Dream and Buffie St. Marie’s Universal Soldier which ranked alongside Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome and John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance and Imagine! Throughout the years, these songs sustained our demonstrations and strengthened our resolve through sometimes abusive encounters.
After several productive years as the Curator of The Doukhobor Discovery Centre in B. C. where I featured many peace manifestations ranging from the UN Peace Day to Hiroshima Day and many Doukhobor choirs with their emphasis on holistic living and pacifism, I also revived the early immersion in Russian folk music with my two brothers, which again included peace songs at various events and rallies.
The Doukhobor manifestation for Peace reached a zenith when they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the famous Arms Burning of 1895 on the Russian steppes which led to their exodus to Canada.
With pageant and song, the over seventy member company United Doukhobor Centennial ‘95 Choir and Drama Ensemble presented Voices for Peace, 1995 International Tour, travelling across Canada with presentations from B. C. to Ottawa including a performance at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the United Nations in New York and then in Russia with their multimedia event. The project was a historic bridge between the different groups of Doukhobors in Canada as well as a Canada - Russia peace bridge.
Throughout my life, music with its expression of peace and harmony, has been an integral and sustaining force, which helped present our goals while being a sustaining force in daily life.
By: Larry Ewashen.