Alex Siniavski’s DVD and Bibs Ekkel’s Books review by Judy Sherman

This past convention made me more sentimental than ever before. I was thrilled to meet the newcomers, but, at the same time, was hopeful that they would somehow appreciate how far the BDAA has come. Many of us remember the pre-BDAA “old days”, when we searched through dusty bins of Russian records in the US and elsewhere, hoping to find recordings we liked and could imitate. We’d put our tape recorders on the slowest speed, and try to painstakingly transcribe lyrics, melodies and chords. Balalaika techniques were only available to those who could travel to Russia or meet the few players who toured or lived here.

As exciting as all of that was, I was overjoyed to bring back a suitcase full of user-friendly books and recordings from the Madison convention. Paul Philips and Laurie Iudin -Nelson have created songbooks filled with jamming favorites that every beginner can use. The available selection of outstanding CDs is endless and our accessibility to virtuoso performers and teachers is amazing. In addition, if you have a DVD player, we may as well abandon the BDAA beginning balalaika class (and I can sleep in!). Alex Siniavski has made it possible for everyone to have private lessons in their own home with his wonderful “12-step program” for balalaika players, and potentially achieve intermediate (or, perhaps, virtuoso?) level by the 2006 Akron, Ohio convention!

Has your balalaika technique become unmanageable? Alex’s DVD, The Balalaika Tutorial, with its extremely useful downward camera angle… .imagine looking down from your own eyes to your right hand.. .can repair all the damage that years of playing without a virtuoso teacher have done. Using mainly Svyetit Mesyats (Bright Moon), Alex walks you through strumming, thumb pizzicato, pizzicato vibrato, double and single pizzicato, tremolo, rolls, combinations of techniques, tips for the left hand and learning tunes, and some fantastic cross-string scale and chord scale exercises. There’s a charming ending to the tape, with Misha Smirnov, Alex’s cohort and musician extraordinaire, playing a folk-style balalaika. Don’t let the introductory demonstrations intimidate you. This DVD can be used by beginners. Remember, you can use the pause button. Alex makes it look so easy, but, of course, we all know the truth. I think this DVD should be in every player’s collection. Yes, you can just watch it and enjoy Alex’s magnificent playing, but, with your own balalaika in hand, it’s an essential learning tool for improving your technique. Thank you, Alex and Misha, for creating this DVD!