An American Folk Band in Ukraine: An interview with Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards

Posted by: Lesia Trachuk, Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

Читати українською

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, an American folk music band based in Boston, Massachusetts, toured Ukraine March 1-6, with concerts in Kharkiv and Kyiv. During their stay in Ukraine, the group also offered workshops, master classes, and presentations on what draws them to traditional American music.

Band leader Laura Cortese shared her thoughts and impressions about the group’s Ukrainian tour with the U.S. Embassy.

How did you decide to tour Ukraine? 

We are on a multi-country tour arranged through the State Department’s American Music Abroad program.  American Music Abroad has been sending American musicians all over the world for many years.  It’s a really competitive program.  First, there’s an open audition process.  This year, over 400 bands applied.  A small number of those are selected for live auditions, and 10 bands are chosen to participate.  American Music Abroad works with Embassies all over the world to decide which groups tour where, depending on what they think would appeal to local audiences.  On this trip, we have already been to Estonia and Greece.  This week, we’re here in Ukraine, and then we are going to Montenegro.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

What do you think of the Ukrainians you’ve met so far? 

We had an incredible night in Kharkiv last night.  [Note: The group played at Fabrika, and the place was packed.]  I think that was the best audience we’ve had so far this tour.  From the very first song, they were clapping along. I think the audience was maybe 70 % college age students, and I think that has a lot to do with why they were so receptive and responsive, but really everyone in the audience were with us, they sang along. There was even one guy who got up when we said — Hey, who’s gonna dance?  He was a beautiful dancer. That was amazing.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

We did a masterclass and a press conference at the National Academy of Arts in Kharkiv.  What was exciting about that was that there were a lot of questions about music education in the States.  We had a chance to explain that every place is different, every state is different, every city is different, and every individual experience is different.  People also wanted to know what it’s like to be an independent musician, making a living as an entrepreneur. We also talked about the roots of the Appalachian Mountains music that we play. It’s a mix of 17th century Scottish fiddle music and African music, both traditions coming together in the United States.

And we also got to meet an instructor who’s a balalaika player.  We got to collaborate and play together, and it was really cool. He knew the bluegrass style and it was really fun.

Can you describe your music in three words?

Indie, Chamber, Folk.

Do you know any Ukrainian musicians, composers, or songs?  Do you have any favorites? 

Before we came to Ukraine, we didn’t know much at all.  As we were getting ready to come, we were listening to music online, and we heard Chervona Ruta. It’s a fun, upbeat song, and there are lots of different versions.  We haven’t learned it yet, but it’s been stuck in our heads ever since.

 

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