Finding common ground through the universal language

moot russiaFor two weeks every July, the old Hazelwood School in Waynesville becomes a mini United Nations. 

Performance groups from around the globe descend on Haywood County and Western North Carolina. They’re dancers, singers and musicians, each proudly representing their faraway native land and culture. And with every group comes a language barrier. Though there are obviously difficulties in not being able to understand someone else, the beauty of sharing cultures comes in finding common ground with that person. 

The universal languages are music and dance, where notes and steps are always understood, regardless of what corner of the globe one is from. Put that on stage, and you’re part of a conversation everyone in the room can see, hear, feel and understand.

The Smoky Mountain News recently sat down with 29-year-old Igor Osipov, a drummer in the Chuvashian State Ensemble, a Russian performance troupe. He spoke of his love of performance, the magic of being onstage, and why festivals like Folkmoot are vital to the preservation of world cultures.

Smoky Mountain News: Why do you like playing drums?

Igor Osipov: I’m a musician, I play drums, I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old. It’s my life. Musically, it’s my life. I’m happy when I play drums. I like doing it. 

SMN: What style of drums do you like?

IO: I studied jazz music in college. [For me], it’s New York City, it’s jazz — it’s history. This is the first time we’ve visited in the United States. It’s very beautiful here. The mountains are green. It’s so good. 

SMN: Does your performance group travel a lot?

IO: Our group, we’ve traveled every year. Last year, we went to Mexico, Switzerland, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland. I love traveling. We remember each festival — it’s special for me, for my friends. It’s all about tradition.

SMN: What’s it like when you’re in the heat of a performance?

IO: Whenever we perform, we’re like an organism, a unifying body. Everyone is together and we’re giving the audience the picture of what we’re trying to show, all together, all unified — the singers, the dancers, the musicians.

SMN: What does it mean to you to represent Russia?

IO: It’s a big honor to be able to represent my culture, my country, my region. I have a big respect for other cultures and learning about them, as well as sharing your own [culture]. I love coming to these festivals and meeting new people. I’m afraid many cultures are dying away — they are being erased from memory. Being able to perform the traditions, we’re able to preserve them.

SMN: Why are festivals like Folkmoot important to have?

IO: First of all, I would not have been able to meet you or have this conversation. You meet a lot of people and learn about each of them. It’s about unifying the people of the Earth — we are sharing things and connecting with each other.

SMN: Why music? What does it bring out of you?

IO: Every since I was young, music called to my soul. It’s a gift from God. It’s something I love doing. In our group, we are multi-generational. Generation after generation playing together — it’s something in our soul.

SMN: This is your first time in the United States. What are you looking forward to?

IO: Personally for me, everything is very interesting. I love learning about local foods and people. Being here in Waynesville, I’m looking forward to learning about local culture from local people because they know the stories from their grandparents and the local heritage. The festival is such a great place — you’re learning about each other and coming together.

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