Voices from Russia

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A Sober-Minded Lady


Lyubov Demeter, Russian singer of the Roma people

What makes the lady character of today’s programme so special is her exceptionally sober mind, which has helped her through the many ordeals she’s been confronted with. Unfortunately, sober-mindedness doesn’t always come by birth. So, you have to taste the bitterness of failure and disappointment to develop a balanced and reasonable approach to life and to know the value of your personal self. Lyubov Demeter was lucky to be born with a sense of reason. She is savvy and rational in every aspect of life, including her profession, family, and origin.

“I come from the Roma people, and, as you know, all Romas are brilliant singers and dancers”, Lyubov said. “Yet, I’ve risen far above my predecessors in achievement, because I’m a graduate of, first, a music school, and, then, the Moscow Conservatoire as a singer. I’m the only Gypsy woman in Russia, and, maybe, in the whole world, with a conservatory degree. I know not another Gypsy woman who graduated from a conservatory. All Roma ladies are exceptionally talented, but, they generally lack the drive to finish higher education”.

Nevertheless, Lyubov Demeter is proud of her Romany roots, concerning which she can talk for hours on end. Her father was a Hungarian-born Gypsy; her mother was a Russian Gypsy. Gypsies are known to live in clans and do not normally mix with other people. But, progress, Lyubov said, kills a lot in man, and even the Gypsies, who live away from society, are affected by it. Progress forces on you a particular lifestyle, makes you keep the required pace of life, and imposes certain values on you, which makes it obligatory for you to follow them or drop out. Gypsies have always had a special style in clothing and observed a number of other rules of behaviour. For one, if a bride is not a virgin, her parents will be held in uttermost disdain and disgrace for years. The most honoured Gypsy man is the one with the most wealth. But, as Lyubov said, nearly all Roma traditions are now forgotten. The Gypsies are becoming more society-friendly. They changed their habits and grew more socialised to enjoy modern values too. In a way, this change has affected Lyubov, who never does any fortune-telling and who rose up in society through nothing else but her skills and innate talent.

“You have to work for that, and work very hard, indeed”, Lyubov said. “I, for one, started singing when I was three, and, ever since, I never saw myself in a genre other than music. My destiny was clear from the very start. Every inch of my success I owe to myself alone, because I pushed my way through on my own, supported by no one but my own ambition. I just set my mind to it, and that’s it. My desire to study at the Moscow Conservatoire was so overwhelming and I worked my way through it so doggedly that even my parents thought I ought to set more modest goals for myself. But, I was adamant that I just had to get in there, and, so, I did”.

For Lyubov, school and schooling were very important. “Whatever your occupation, it’ll be worthless without proper schooling”, she said. “School itself is nothing but a start on the long way to the top. It’s only a start because you can’t master an art at one stroke, a couple of years or so, which is nothing compared to a lifetime. Artistry requires a lifetime or even more to excel in and the further you proceed, the more labyrinths of the unknown open up before you”.

After the Conservatoire, Lyubov went to work for Mosconcert, an organisation arranging concert activity for performers. She stayed with it for about thirty years, giving solo concerts all over the country. About fifteen years ago, Lyubov pieced together a Gypsy ensemble, in which she is the lead singer. One of the musicians, and the head of the group, is her husband Vasili, and they’ve been together for about twenty-six years. That the marriage is still alive is due to Demeter’s sober head.


“Vasili Aleksandrovich is an expert in sound-engineering and a brilliant violinist”, Lyubov said. “He, too, graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire in Professor Oistrakh’s class. A high status of this kind makes it imperative for you, whether you want it or not, to reckon with him, if you have brains of course. The rehearsals are difficult, but, we manage to survive them. We have to, there’s no getting away from that. When we rehearse, we shout at one another, we argue, we often get mad at one another, and may even start throwing things at one another. I once asked an American couple, both violinists, about the way they handled their rehearsals and they said they just shut all doors and windows when they plan to do it to prevent the neighbours from injuring their ears on the worst abusive vocabulary they ever heard.

The problem is the same with other musical couples. Music is subjective in nature. I may like it and you may not. I think this, you think that. So, it’s more than problematic to present any proof to support your point of view in music. You need a lot of time to let the music flow through you before you can form an opinion of it. In a family where both the husband and wife are musicians, a sober mind is as indispensable as air. One had to be sober-thinking for such a marriage to survive.

I remember I was once in hospital and I was going to get married then. That was my first marriage, and my first husband was not a musician. As my mum came to visit me in hospital, she pleaded with me not to marry the guy. ‘He isn’t a musician’, she said, ‘he is out of your circle, you’ll find it hard to live with him’, she pleaded. ‘You ought to marry a musician, a pianist, so that you’d sing and he’d play for you’, my mum said. I remember a hospital nurse who happened to overhear our conversation say, ‘Why? One will play, the other will sing, and who’s gonna work?'”

A joke, as it was, yet, it had a grain of truth in it, like any joke. Because if you take music seriously, it’s hard work. Lyubov knows that better than anyone. In her words, “This kind of work requires tremendous psychological and physiological effort, for it touches the finest strings of your soul. In the some three minutes that a romance plays, you live through the heroine’s life and go through all her sufferings. You think of these sufferings, you play them, you feel them, and you sing them…”

For Lyubov, singing is something that can hardly be taught properly. That’s why she is not particularly fond of teaching singing. “I have very few students, I don’t like teaching vocal art”, Lyubov said. “This is something unbearably difficult. A pianist can show his students how to sit, how to touch the keys, how to position themselves against the piano, and how to place their hands and fingers. But, a singer cannot just glance into the student’s larynx and tell him how to position the vocal cords. This is something young singers have to work out for themselves and far from everyone succeeds in hitting on the right position. Teaching the art of singing is far more difficult than any other musical genre. Our singing instrument is the most complicated of all”.

Lyubov never sings for pleasure. This is one of the principles she observes, work and leisure stand separately in her always rational and sober mind. Hobby is hobby, work is work, and there’s no need to bundle the two. Lyubov considers herself a universal Gypsy singer, which she is, since she sings in Russian in Russia, and in Europe, she sings in Caldarari, the language of European Gypsies. Russian Gypsies, she said, are best in dancing, and the Bulgarian Gypsies are the best in singing. But, the most important thing, after all, is to know where you stand and to follow your path.


murzina-tamaraTamara Murzina

Ladies of Character

Voice of Russia World Service



Sedina. Grey Hair. sung by Lyubov Demeter

Filed under: art music,cultural,performing arts,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

Of course, if one is posting about a musician or singer, one should find links to their performances. Here is Lyubov Demeter singing one of the soulful old Russian romantsy (romances).

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