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Keeping a piece of Ukrainian culture alive

Passion for sharing music led to crafting 
the tsymbaly, playing it and giving lessons

The tsymbaly has played a big role in the life of Rossburn, Manitoba resident Diane Twerdun and her late husband, Harry. From crafting the instrument, to playing it and giving lessons, the Twerduns kept this piece of Ukrainian culture alive locally, and across the country.

Twerdun has been passionate about sharing her enjoyment of music since moving to the community in the late 1960s.

“Involvement has included a course at the University of Manitoba, a trip to Ukraine, and a personal endeavour, along with my late husband Harry, to share an interest in Ukrainian culture through the tsymbaly — the Ukrainian version of the hammer dulcimer,” she said.

Harry, who ran a woodworking shop, invested a great deal of time and care into crafting the instrument, eventually distributing them throughout Canada to satisfied musicians.

“My husband was a very fine worker who carefully watched, listened to problems, and was up to the challenge of finding the exact type of wood required to fix or create a one-of-a-kind tsymbaly,” said Twerdun.

It took Harry 26 tries before he felt the tone and craftsmanship of the tsymbaly was right to make someone else happy. As for the other 25 designs, they didn’t go to waste, as students instructed by Diane, practised on them, crafting their own artistry by striking two beaters against the 100 or so tightly wound strings, strung in groups of three to five, which are tuned in unison.

The trapezoid-shaped, wooden stringed instrument originated in the 17th century and became very popular in Ukraine, becoming a staple in areas of Canada settled by Ukrainian immigrants.

Once the students had their art crafted, they hit the road, performing at the Rossburn Centennial in 1984, tours in 1985, and accepted the invitation to perform at the Dauphin Ukrainian Festival in 1986.

Diane also gave instruction at St. Vladimir’s College in Yorkton, and was involved in the Artists in the School program at Dauphin. She stopped teaching in the early 2000s, but the impact of her passion still resonated.

“While I have stopped instructing and playing for the most part, it’s sure nice to hear from former students,” Twerdun said. “A lot are still playing, their kids are playing, with a number being asked to share the Ukrainian culture at their own schools.”

It’s something Twerdun is proud of, and she is still keen on preserving the Ukrainian culture. She would like to see today’s generation be able to explore their Ukrainian ancestry through sound by the playing of an instrument.

“Music is such a wonderful thing, you can get lost in it, much like a book,” she said.

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