Established in 1988, when folk tradition was ridiculed and interest amongst the youth was minimal, Orkiestra Świętego Mikołaja (St. Nicholas Orchestra) was one of the first on the scene of Polish, Hustul and Lemko folk music.
One of the first bands on the scene of Polish, Hustul and Lemko folk music. Established in 1988.
Today, it rarely records albums, instead focusing on performing fantastic and energetic concerts. These live performances give us the best idea of what the St. Nicholas Orchestra is all about – it gives us a fresh look at the group without the burden of legends surrounding it.
For more than a quarter of a century, the orchestra has been active in many areas. It launched the International Festival of Christmas Folk (1991), established a notable bimonthly magazine for ethnic music lovers, Gadki z Chatki (the only such publication in Poland in 1996), and organized The Meeting of People and Mountains workshop run in Jawornik by the Association of Folk Tradition Animators. From the very beginning, the group was involved with the Lublin Żak Shack – the UMCS Academic Cultural Centre.
Orkiestra Świętego Mikołaja started off in the 1980s as one student travelling with a guitar to the Bieszczady and Beskide Niskie mountains. With time, came a fascination with the music of the Lemko and Bojkowski and later – music from the Roztocze and Lublin regions.
The orchestra has had many different musicians. Today, the group is made up of violinist Anna Bielak, Agnieszka Kołczewska on percussion, Justyna Kazek on viola, Bogdan Bracha on an assortment of flutes and reed instruments and on the violin, and finally Marcin Skrzypek, who plays guitar, mandolin, bagpipes, cymbals and drums. They all sing, although the stage leader is Bracha.
They all play on acoustic instruments such as the dutar, the mazanki, and the Scandinavian nyckelharpa, using traditional techniques, such as archaic (‘white’) singing. On their website they write that they take inspiration from:
Mostly (with a few exceptions) from archival sources: books, servers and records. Unfortunately we have to dispel the myth that we travel around the countryside looking for songs. It is undoubtedly a romantic idea, but this kind of field work is a separate discipline that whole generations of specialists take part in. However, we still try whenever possible to drive out to the countryside. Folk music has always been associated with a certain place and life in that place. This is the source of the music, not some dusty archive.
In 2005 the orchestra was awarded the Honorary Oscar Kolberg Award for popularizing folk culture - the most prestigious Polish award in this category. Other awards include the Folk Phonogram of the Year for the album Kraina Bojnów (1998) and the Virtual Gęśle for best folk album of 2006 (for Hutsul Music, recorded with the Hutsul musician Roman Kumłyk and his band Czeremosz).
The orchestra has performed in many countries of Europe and the world, including at the Rainforest Festival in Malaysia, at the Expo 2000 in Hanover and AIRTEC 2011 in Frankfurt am Main. Many new groups have spawned from the orchestra: Anne of Green Gables (led by the prematurely deceased Anna Kiełbusiewicz), Się Gra, Jahiar Group, Odpust Zupełny, Orkiestra/Łem, Młode Djembe and Čači Vorba.
- 1992 – Muzyka gór
- 1994 – Z wysokiego pola
- 1997 – Czas do domu
- 1998 – Kraina Bojnów
- 2000 – Z dawna dawnego
- 2004 – O miłości przy grabieniu siana"
- 2006 – Huculskie muzyki
- 2007 – Lem-agination
- 2007 – Nowa muzyka
- 2002 – Jeden koncert
- 2010 – Drugi koncert
More information on the group’s webpage and on their Facebook page
Listen to Orkiestra Świętego Mikołaja on Youtube
Author: Jacek Świąder, June 2014
Translated by Alexander Sikorski, July 2014