Nestor: From the ancient times Doshchovytsya has been called Cloud in the Polissya region
Doshchovytsya (from the Ukrainian word “doshch” meaning “rain”) is an ancient musical instrument which was used in shaman cultures of all the continents for bewitching rain, meditation and diagnostic of illnesses. Central European variant is made from dry stem of cow-parsnip (Borshchevik).
At some stage of Nestor’s life (his official name is Vytaliy Nesterchuk) rain turned into something much more significant than simple cold water drops from the overcast sky. Now he does not only gets soaked in the Rain but tries to talk to It, to exchange thoughts and reproduce Its song. For this, Nestor is also taming a poisonous plant – cow-parsnip. From it he manufactures musical instruments the melodies of which plausibly remind the sound of rain. Considering autumn and bad weather usual for it, my conversation with Nestor which we had on-line was much to the point.
— You communicate with rain by means of Borshchivnyk. Why do you choose to manufacture doshchovytsyas? Who and when taught you to make them?
— Rain… Rain is a complicated and multi-sided natural process. Maybe only the camel’s thorn is indifferent to it. . As for the humanity, it has always been divided into two categories: those who wait for rain pray for it and cast spells over Heaven so that it would them at least a little of this vivifying liquid, and on the contrary those who ask for rain not to start or stop at last… Human weakness and the impossibility to control Nature easily are hidden in these opposite wishes. There’s Divine intention inside this: not everyone is able to command the Elements at his own judgment.
For instance, some person has potatoes withering in his vegetable garden so he is calling for the rain; some other is going to have a walk and that very moment he is scaring the rain away… People carry on so many different activities that it’s practically impossible for them to come to any agreement and the issue “to be or not to be” is exceptionally God’s competence. There is a small percentage of people in each society (priests, clergymen, shamans, sorcerers) who are so much experienced in life and society’s needs that they are able to interfere in complicated natural phenomena without any significant damage both for the nature and the people including themselves. But I’d like to underline that it should happen only in exceptional cases. A person who is able to do something of the kind does not have any levers to push to get some result. That is why the process does not always develop the way it was initially intended. It’s simply that knowing the essence of this or that phenomenon the person feels the moment when the conditions are the best for the interfering.
I try not to communicate with Rain because I am quarreling with it all the time))). I often happen to be outside: walks and hikes, fishing and “mushrooming”, collecting material for my work, participation in festivals and fairs. So the rain is always inappropriate to me. Three years ago this was one of the reasons that forced me to look for different ways of controlling weather. I understood that such actions are very complicated and one should weigh everything well before starting them. In parallel I found the design idea of a mechanism that had been used for controlling weather long ago.
The last spur to my first doshchovytsya was an occasional meeting with some musicians that were selling such an instrument to buy new strings for their guitar. Having compared our “native” doshchovytsyas with their foreign analogues I’ve made a conclusion that they are constructed based on the same principle and they differ only in the materials as well as in the mood and purpose of the masters who create them. Although the manufacturing process is long it is not of a very complicated kind so I decided to start making them. Doshchovytsyas became so popular that I simply quit my official work and began experimenting. Different in their size and shapes, this “rain flutes” (as they were called much to the point by some person) began travelling over the world: my works “settled” in homes of many Ukrainians and foreigners, from Canada to Australia. I often hear favorable comments which always please me as any other master whose work is appraised.
— At first sight, the technology of doshchovytsya manufacture is simple: one should fill the cow-parsnip stem by different kinds of dry cereals, experiment with the sound, then plug the opening and oil the stem from outside. That’s all – the instrument is ready. But maybe it only looks that simple. What difficulties can arise in the process?
— There is more than enough material for doshchovytsyas: cow-parsnip (Heracléum sosnówskyi) is spreading in Europe quicker than those who are fighting it. It suppresses all the vegetation that it is able to overgrow (and some of its stems reach 5 meters of their height and the leaves being 25 cm in diameter can grow 2 meters in length). Its sap causes very serious chemical skin burns. I know that there is nothing unnecessary in the nature that is why I have tried to find some positive kind of use for these terrible weeds. It is interesting to observe the reaction of the people who hear that doshchovytsyas are made from “that very poisonous hemlock” (one of the folk names for the plant), and these people are surprised that I have managed to make it work for the good. . Dry cow-parsnip stems that I use for work are hollow inside but they crumble easily. So sometimes I have to spend many hours wandering through luxuriant vegetation of these aggressive weeds that at some places occupy large areas to find several strong stems for myself. I define their workability in a simple way: squeeze them tightly. If they don’t crack in my fist I cut out necessary segments with my machete (axe-chopper for thinning out boughs and twigs – auth). Actually, only one of twenty stems is usually workable. The strongest plants are those which have grown separately from the others on open territories though they lose in their sound a bit.
I have never had any burns during my search of materials because I respect nature. If you don’t touch and break cow-parsnip plants you can leave its “jungle” safe. Although I do advise everyone not to enter them without barest necessity, the more so since snakes like to hunt in such vegetation. Most of them can bite and some are even poisonous.
The best time for collecting the stems is the midwinter. There are no high leaves at this time and there are no stems that would wither and are not suitable for work; there are no poisonous vapors and biting snakes. It’s only dried by the Sun, Wind and Frost stems that are left. It is impossible to dry fresh stems at home. The cow-parsnip stems are covered by strong leathery film that is very difficult to remove. From the weather changes it partially peels off closer to the end of winter: so the nature helps me in my work. . Some of the stems when taken inside the house unexpectedly start to crack after several days. For some reason it most often happens at night О_о. Sometimes the sound is so loud that is resembles a shot from a pneumatic gun: this means that the plant body has relived itself from the accumulated stress and has cracked lengthwise. Sometimes I manage to glue such a stem together but it is better to throw it out because in future it will lose its sound from this. I clean completely dry stems from film remains and start making openings – from a hundred and a half to two hundreds of them. Afterwards I insert a match or a toothpick into each. The best are those made of beech or birch. I cut the remaining prominent tips and polish the surface so that they will be least visible.
Then the time for the filling comes. Any dry free-flowing materials can be used: grape seeds, small stones… I use cereals of different sizes – from millet to maize; their sound is somehow “livelier”. The number and the proportions influence the pitch of tone of the finished instrument. After this is done, the tube is plugged and varnished. Varnish is the only chemical substance which I have to use to partially strengthen the surface to withstand micro cracks and to protect it from the impact of humidity to which porous Borshchivnyk bodies are very sensitive. With humidity rise a Doshchovytsya’s sound becomes dull. Maybe it’s because one of my character traits passes to it: I don’t like Rain. . Sometimes by orders I make instruments without varnish. Such works respond even to the weather change: all of a sudden some grains that used to linger on the membranes inside can hail down.
— It is known that the doshchovytsya is an ancient ceremonial musical instrument that was mostly used by shamans for bewitching rain. Also, its “free-flowing” melody resembles real rain sound. Thus, it is possible to meditate and even get some cure. In what way do you use doshchovytsyas yourself?
— I’d like to pay your attention to the fact that bewitching unlike prayers serves mostly for fulfilling wishes by force. So the person who takes a doshchovytsya in his hands tries the very “bewitching” of the Rain: making it do this or that instead of calling it. I’ve just remembered this because I visit different festivals with my handiworks and some people seriously think I am going to change the weather for the bad having heard about the doshchovytsya’s purpose. It is difficult to explain to some people that nice summer weather is not less important for me than for all the other people present. So I mostly “work” to scatter clouds. 😉
In what way do I use the doshchovytsya? In no way actually because I don’t have one. I’ve told myself many times: I’m making this doshchovytsya for myself! But each time there appears someone to whom I have to either sell or to present it.))). As long as any doshovytsya remains with me I like to turn it over in different ways, juggle with it and search for different ways of making sounds. Meditative effect is present because sometimes I notice with surprise that several hours have flown away in this process.
My seven year old son has a doshchovytsya, and he takes it in his hands only when it’s raining outside and he wants to go out. He turns it over in some special way and mumbles something until the rain stops and then goes outside. I try not to listen to what he is saying at such moments because they say the power of bewitching or prayers decreases from this. I’d only like to mention that the instrument in the hands of my sun works in 100% of the cases and with me it’s as seldom as five cases from ten. Maybe he has more belief than I do…
— Speaking honestly and with facts: is the instrument really able to control rain or is it just a tale for dreamers?
— It depends upon the mood of the person who takes the doshchovytsya in his hands. I’ve used it for its direct purpose several times. Once in Kamyanets-Polilsky there was a festival called “Terra Heroica”. It was in October. The weather was very cold and cloudy, and the rain was pouring. There was nothing good in the weather forecast for the three following days. The management of the Fortress Museum literally turned me out into the rain when they heard about the doshchovytsyas. My friend and I went to the yard hand in hand and started our “shamanism” standing there. Half an hour later the rain stopped and by the afternoon there wasn’t anything faintly resembling clouds in the sky – the Sun was shining. The spell of such good weather lasted for the tree days of the festival (so for three days there was no more need to juggle with the doshchovytsya). The museum officials as a joke proposed a job for me))). When I came home I looked through the weather forecast for Khmelnitsky region – there were rains, rains and rains…
This May was dry and May is usually the time when people have just planted their plots of land… Again in Kamyanets fortress I was asked to change the weather and I proposed they should try to call for the rain themselves because I was busy at the time. Some time later I looked to the sky with astonishment because for the first time in the month the Sun hid behind the clouds. It started raining. It happened that two people from the museum staff were asking the sky for rain turning my instruments over in their hands. Unfortunately I had to leave so no heavy shower happened… I still regret that all my doshchovytsyas had been bought up before it came to my mind that I had to present those ladies from the museum at least with one of them…
Once at the «Olden days of Galychyna» fest in Ivano-Frankivsk the weather was also inappropriate for the event. And doshchovytsyas never fell silent because several people were turning them over in different ways. So everywhere around we could observe clouds and a bit of clear sky over the center with the shining Sun. My friends were coming to the festival from different parts of the city and its suburbs. They said it was raining everywhere with wet snow at some places (it was the beginning of October). And at our place it was dry. But to tell the truth, starting from that time I’ve become more cautious in my “bewitching” because we had very strong gusts of wind instead of rain and they were overturning the tents and tables, and that means the balance was disturbed somehow…
This year at «Trypillya round» I’ve demonstrated the Doshchovytsya performance in a following way: combined circular movements with “cloud cutting” imitation. And everyone was able to see a long thing scar in the cloudy sky. But shortly after that a heavy shower started pouring and I left the experiments because I don’t really know much about shaman ceremonies.
— How many doshchovytsyas have you made yet?
— Some four hundreds of them…
— Are they popular among the customers and have any well-known Ukrainian music bands ever bought them?
— Most of all, the instrument is interesting to the people who like when the things “work” and are useful. Some people take them for relaxation and meditation; some use them for making music. My instruments are owned by several German, Hungarian and Polish bands, by Ukrainian “Komu Vnyz” (who’s going down?) “Rusychy”, “Mechanical Orange”. “Reed cat” and “Calipso Gutsul” also played and sang using it…
— Doshchovytsyas are not taught at music schools like flutes and violins. Is there a special technique for playing such an instrument or it is as simple as taking it in the hands and shaking it to the rhythm of the inner feelings?
— Each person holds the Doshchovytsya in a different way. Consequently it sounds different with each person. One can either turn it over slowly with pauses of different duration making the contents pour from one end to the other, or shake it… New ways to make sound appear each time. All you need to do is to take it into your hands and start experimenting…
— Where else in the world are doshchovytsyas used?
— For some reason the doshchovytsya is considered to be a Latin American instrument. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the ethnic music of this region is very popular in the world. But this instrument used to be present on all the continents meaning it appeared back in the ancient Babylonian times when the humanity was a single whole. At some places these instruments used to be manufactured from cactuses, somewhere else – from bamboo or hollow stems and branches of different plants. In Ukraine borshchyvnyk was most often used and sometimes the sunflower stalks, too. In Polyssya region the same as in Byelorus this instrument has long been called “a Cloud”.
— Does its revival take place now only in Ukraine? Can we call the Doshchovytsya a traditional Ukrainian instrument?
— I would call it a NON-traditional Ukrainian instrument because it used to have a specific purpose: it was a ceremonial shaman instrument and it was inaccessible for general public. That is why it was forgotten some time ago. By the way, in Byelorus there’s a continuous tradition of making and using the Cloud…
— I’m going to reveal a secret. This year at “Trypillya round” fest I’ve bought a doshchovytsya from you. I played with it for a while and left it in a visible place near a wardrobe. I’m not a musician, you know. But that doesn’t matter, because my doshchovytsya has a different purpose now: I fill my strength up with the positive energy it radiates. So, where does its secret lie?
— One should make doshchovytsyas only when in a positive mood. Otherwise it is going to be just a piece of borshchivnyk plant half filled by buckwheat and plugs sticking out of it…
— Where do you take your strength from?
— Strength? Strength… What’s the need of searching for it if we are swimming inside it? A sea or even an ocean of Strength is around us. People should only throw away every artificial and soulless thing opening all their pores and dills instead. One should always stay NATURAL!
Kateryna Kachur (Rukotvory) was leading the talk