Lemko Folk Music on Wax Cylinders and, American Records. Bogdan Horbal and Walter Maksimovich. Self published, 2008. 186pages, 25 pages of photographs, companion DVD. ISBN183-913884-3-3. Available from Walter Maksimovich, 1446 Hayes Street, Apt. 10, Hollywood, FL 33020; 954-920-1193; $44.90; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website http://lemko.org
Who are the Lemkos? Where are they from? What is their music like? After reading this book and listening to and looking at the DVD, you'll be able to provide your own answers to those questions.
This book/ DVD is a labor of love, and unique in it's focus on the early recordings of music of the Lemko, a little-known immigrant group, also called Rusnaks or Rusyns, originally from the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe. In 2009 the book received a well-deserved ARSC Certificate of Merit for Research in Recorded Folk, Ethnic or World Music. Several elements of this book/DVD combination are quite special. First, the book is in two languages. The first 74 pages are in Lemko, the rest is a translation into English, with a few additions about the history of the Lemko people. A second feature is the accompanying DVD, which contains over 275 scanned recording labels as well as more than twelve hours of mp3 audio files. The book's twenty-five pages of photographs of singers, weddings, and village gatherings are another significant attribute.
The history of the Lemko people is complicated to say the least. Their homeland has changed hands many times over the centuries, and forced immigration has spread their culture across a wide area, encompassing parts of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia.
Helpful overviews of the Lemko's history, language, and multiple geographical locations can be found at the website associated with the book, http://lemko.org and also at The World Academy of Rusyn Culture, http://www.rusyn.org/ . The authors, musical amateurs in the truest and best sense of the word, are of Lemko origin and are eminently qualified to write about this subject. Bogdan Horbal is a historian and librarian at the New York Public Library. Walter Maksimovich is a retired electrical engineer who has been actively researching Lemko history since 1996, when he began working on the website. The following year he began building an extensive record collection through E-bay and responses to his website. Lemko immigration to America began about 1872; they were among the first immigrants from Ukraine. There are significant Lemko communities in Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland area. Horbal and Maksimovich point out that music has been an essential part of maintaining their cultural identity, both in the United States and in Europe. However, the first Lemko music in America was often categorized as Lemko-Ukranian or Lemko-Polish.
I knew nothing about Lemko music prior to reading the book, and my first desire was to have an audio example that exactly matched the text I was reading. It is possible, to a certain extent, to do that very thing, but it takes matching up recording numbers in the text with the abbreviated titles on the mp3 list to do it. You can also match a label to the recording under discussion, again with a certain level of effort. However, this is the only book in the world, at this point, on this particular subject, so if you want to mine all the information the authors have collected, you have to work at it.
In addition to numerous wedding songs, the varied musical examples include polkas, marches, waltzes, unaccompanied songs, and songs with orchestras. There is music by orchestras and bands of all sizes, choruses, hymns, and Christmas carols. A number of selections have dialogue at the beginning or within the track. Perhaps more challenging than matching the musical examples to the text is trying to find information without a general index. If, for example, you find a Lemko record at a flea market featuring Samuil Pilip, there is no handy index for you to see if he is mentioned in the book. You have to go through the book, page-by-page, to see if you can locate him. Fortunately, there are not many pages, and you will probably be able to hunt down Pilip and discover that he made a number of recordings with different orchestras.
Before the authors present the main focus of the book, they give us a chapter on Lemko music in general, which includes many sources of printed music, a chapter on early ethnographic recordings of folk music, and another chapter on early commercial recordings of folk music from many sources. This helps set the stage for the earliest commercial recording of Lemko music, which was made by Stephen Shkimba at Okeh Records on 5 April 1928.
This book/DVD will be extremely valuable to scholars and musicians from a variety of fields and should be a required resource for anyone interested in ethnic recordings in the United States; the history of recorded music of Eastern Europe; the history and performance of Ukrainian, Polish and Slovak music; and the history of the Carpathian people. The authors have also included two helpful bibliographies at the end of the book; "Rusyn [Mainly Lemko] Musicology" and "A Bibliography of Other Works." Let us hope that the fine example of this book will encourage other collectors and historians to publish similar studies, with carefully correlated companion DVDs - with an index, please — of other under-represented ethnic groups.
There is a good chance that you began reading this review not knowing that there was a Lemko people and a Lemko language, much less a Lemko music. I can guarantee that this book will open an entire new world to you.
Reviewed by Mitzie Collins [sincere appreciation from the authors!]
Association for Recorded Sound Collections, ARSC, Volume 41, No. 1-Spring 2010
Document URL: http://lemko.org/books/78.html
Copyright © LVProductions, Ltd.
Originally Composed: November 23rd, 2008
Date last modified: May 10th, 2010