Traditional: Russian Village Wedding Songs

The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble on Traditional Russian Village Wedding Songs:

The songs performed in these concerts depict different scenes from the wedding ritual. Characters who play active roles are Druzhka (leader of the groom’s wedding party) and Svakha (leader of the bride’s wedding party). The village wedding is a lengthy and complicated ritual. It is almost a type of drama with musical pieces and characters introduced and incorporated at specific moments to propel the action of the “play.” In Southern and Western Russia the wedding ritual consists of three main sections: matchmaking, the engagement, and the wedding ceremony.

Matchmaking is the most private part of the wedding ritual. Revered older men (svaty) begin negotiations for the groom on an appointed evening in the house of the bride. The matchmaking delegation poses as hunters or merchants and attempts to exchange pleasantries with the father of the bride. The master of the house accuses them of being thieves and tries to force the delegation from his house. The match is recognized when the master of the house gives the svaty bread and the svaty give the master vodka. At no time is the match spoken of directly.

The engagement is called propoy, literally meaning “to squander on drink.” The father of the bride drinks a glass in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate his agreement of the match. Details of the wedding are discussed, people are assigned roles and the first wedding song is sung as a type of communal blessing. The main goal of the Russian wedding is acceptance by the whole community.

The bride begins the lament. According to tradition, she will leave her family forever. Svakha unplaits the bride’s single braid and removes the scarlet ribbon from her hair. (The scarlet ribbon and single braid are symbols of virginity.) Her friends try to calm the bride by singing various songs and playing games.

Preparations at the groom’s house on the morning of the ceremony resemble an army preparing for battle. The groom and his friends and relatives are all named for characters in Russian royalty. The groom’s best man (Druzhka) organizes travel to the house of the bride. The train is a series of carriages organized strictly according to hierarchy. There is much singing, dancing, and drinking during the journey. When the train arrives at the bride’s yard, the gates are locked.

A group of young men with sticks protects the gates of the bride. Peace talks begin with Druzhka as the main negotiator. After the groom is inside the bride’s yard, he must select his bride from a line-up of women. Svakha then attempts to confuse the groom as he must marry the woman he chooses. The couple is then seated together at the honored place and the guests sing songs to the father of the bride, urging him to prepare a sumptuous wedding feast. The parents of the bride and groom bless the young couple with bread, salt, and the family icon. The wedding party departs for the church.

The church wedding ceremony is called the Coronation because the bride and groom stand underneath crowns. After the ceremony, the guests travel to the house of the groom. Each character in the wedding has a specific song sung to him at this time. Guests shout encouragement and various obscenities as the bride and groom leave for bed.