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Sing a simple song

A musical microcosm with IZVOR International Institute



A lot of things are spooling around upstairs as I listen to Richard Kraft. The Pythagoreans and their “harmony of the spheres,” with all the celestial bodies in the geocentric model of the cosmos reverberating in perfect interplanetary harmony as they swoop past the Earth, their orbits fixed in bubbles of pure crystal. Gustav Mahler standing rapt outside the gates of the country carnival with his “essence of true polyphony” vindicated by the din of hurdy-gurdies and carousel music and the tumble of indistinct human voices pouring out from within. I remember the drunk staggering by me at midnight on a Monday mumbling a tune known perhaps only to him. The Australian death metal CD I’d been sent for review the week before. The songs little kids think up out of nowhere, and a picture in a book my grandma gave me: a pair of old-time farmers wrestling a ten-foot bow over a wooden box strung with a length of rosined rope—kicking up God-knows-what kind of racket on this “Devil’s fiddle,” just for the hell of it.

And I wonder: What does my inner melody sound like, and what does it have to do with everyone else’s?

Richard Kraft is the Montana director of the IZVOR International Foundation, a Canadian-based organization that purports to “integrate the life of the spirit and soul into a modern framework that can be taught to persons of all ages.” This integration, as the Institutional literature goes on to state, is achieved primarily by means of choral music that was adapted from Bulgarian folk tradition and codified into hundreds of “spiritual melodies” by Peter Deunov, a turn-of-the-century violinist who returned to his native Bulgaria in the early 1900s after receiving his doctorate in medicine and theology at Boston University.

“He was an incredible musician,” Kraft says, “and his mission was to try and impregnate the Bulgarian people with a much higher ideal. He went around studying what people needed. He saw that the Bulgarian people had an incredible capacity, because they had endured so much suffering under 500 years of Turkish rule. It was also this period of time that gave birth to many, many spiritual movements: theosophy, Spiritism, seances. The turn of the 20th century was, spiritually, a very prolific time.”

According to Kraft, the musically gifted Deunov’s walkabout in the Bulgarian countryside lasted five years. In that time, the violinist penned hundreds of melodies inspired by Bulgarian folk music, and in doing so also attracted a number of acolytes to his way of thinking. By the time of his death in 1944, Deunov’s fledgling movement included some 40,000 disciples.

“The Master, Peter Deunov, was capable of putting these Bulgarian melodies, which were originally in what we would call irregular rhythms—5/8 and 7/8 and rhythms like that—into a much different context,” Kraft explains, “He took them out of their traditional setting and into a new direction, toward a new movement.”

One of these early disciples, Kraft says, went to Paris for the 1937 World Exposition and never returned to Bulgaria, staying on instead to teach. It was in France that the future founder of the IZVOR Institute, Natacha Kolesar, would first be exposed to Deunov’s musical humanist teachings. The Russian-born, Czech-educated doctor of philosophy founded IZVOR (from the Bulgarian word for “spring,” of the water kind) after immigrating to Canada some 25 years ago.

Kolesar’s followers adhere to an educational program she created in 1993: the IDEAL Institute, or, more properly, the Institute for the Development of Education, Art and Leisure. Here begins our line of questioning. For starters, is the movement underlain by religion?

“No, it’s not at all a religious organization,” says Kraft. “It’s an educational institute. It’s based on a teaching, and what the teaching is simply saying, first of all, is that there’s a connection between our inner life and the life of the universe. If we can understand that everything that exists within us, to the smallest atom, is a replica of the largest thing, the universe, then we’re already on the road of a different understanding.”

“Our educational programs are helping each student to develop their own melodies,” he continues, “and enter harmony between what they’re living on the inside and what they’re living on the outside. That’s where choral music becomes a great asset, because with choral music, you’re entering into three factors: melody, harmony and rhythm. With melody, not only do you have to be correct, you have to be harmonized with the person next to you as well. In other words, you have to form a collective force. That’s a huge part of education. The non-singer has to be able to open up to the person whose capacity is much greater than theirs—that way they can learn much quicker—and the singer with the great deal of capacity has to learn to become much more tolerant and patient and be able to find ways of transmitting their talent. Otherwise the collective unit—in other words, the chorus—will fail.”

But how does one go about developing his own inner melody?

“We have a lot of melodies given by this spiritual teacher, Peter Deunov. For us to develop our own inner melodies, we have to already be able to explore other melodies. It’s just like any other school. To become, say, a mathematician, we have to learn what other mathematicians before us have expressed. So we need to enter into the basics of music.”

Treble clef, bass clef, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge? Yes, confirms Kraft, who, with his wife Greta, teaches students on a 20-acre ranch near Victor. IZVOR’s Montana satellite has been incorporated for barely a year and received nonprofit status in March. And Kraft is looking forward to IZVOR’s first Montana concert offering.

“People are going to be very surprised. They’re going to see young and middle-aged who are models for what they’re expressing and have an ideal—a humanitarian goal to make this Earth a better place.”

The IZVOR International Institute invites you along on “A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Music” Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 PM in UM Music Recital Hall. Ticket price is on a donation basis.

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