“In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”
(“У зялёному саду пташечкай пропела”)
Russian Traditional Folk Song

This old Russian folk song tells a touching story about a poor, young orphan girl lamenting over her own misfortunes as it reveals a life in poverty of lower class youth. A life of hardships, desperation and no prospects in life.

As much as the story itself gives this song a delicate, fragile tone, the circumstances and facts about its discovery and origin are equally astonishing.

This song has been recorded by the famed Russian folk singer Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (1922-2002).

Russian Folk Singer Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (1922-2002)







(photo from: www.culture.pskov.ru)

Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (Ольга Федосеевна Сергеева) was born on September 27, 1922 in a remote village of Perelazy in Pskov region in Northwest Russia (Деревня Перелазы, Усвятский район, Псковская область, Россия). In fact, the village was so small that it didn’t even have its own church. Moreover, even to this day it has not been marked on Google Maps and it can be located only using the geographic coordinates (55°51’38.9″N 30°58’02.9″E).

Olga Sergeeva was born into a poor peasant family and as a young girl she worked alongside her mother on the farm. She would listen to the women singing the traditional songs while performing various seasonal field works. She was so fascinated with these songs that she would often sneak up to listen to her neighbor’s singing until she eventually memorized all the songs.

She had married in 1947 and gave birth to four children. Her simple and otherwise ordinary life in a remote village was shattered abruptly when a tragic event struck her family. The death of her daughter left Olga completely crushed with grief, so much that for the next ten years she had remained speechless and had not uttered a single word.

After years of silent solitude she suddenly began to sing – as if all the folk songs from her youth, mixed with the sadness she kept in her heart, pushed their way out to a final liberation. Years of grief and sadness gave birth to an authentic voice and the songs kept flowing as an endless river. The ancient songs in a variety of styles, that have been passed down to her through generations and with many of them nearly forgotten, suddenly became revived through her fragile, mellow voice. An honest, authentic voice, reserved and yet emotional, that was said to have been able to move people to tears.

As the word of this extraordinary folk singer spread, Olga Sergeeva came into prominence in the 1980s when the famed Russian film director, and one of the greatest directors of the 20th century cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) discovered her and featured some of her recordings in his 1983 film “Nostalgia” – including the song “Kumushki” and her imitations of wedding crying and a sound of a violin folk song. To Tarkovsky, Olga Sergeeva represented the ultimate symbol of Russia.

Here’s an excerpt from Tarkovsky’s masterpiece “Nostalgia” featuring the song “Kumushki” and O. F. Sergeeva:


Many of her performances have been recorded in her later years, over the course of about ten years. During this time several ethnomusicologists and folk music researchers (including from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Moldova and France) worked with Olga on recording, transcribing and writing down her songs in a variety of styles that she preformed in. She had been invited to perform as a solo vocalist for Ethnographic Concerts at the famed House of Composers Concert Hall in St. Petersburg and also performed for a live broadcast on the Leningrad Radio Station as well as at various folklore conferences. She had spent a couple of summers at home of the folk singer Evegenia Smolyaninova who worked on adopting her repertoire and style of singing. Some of Olga Sergeeva’s recordings have been released on the Melodiya record label (http://melody.su/en/), a major recording company in the former USSR. Two documentary films about her life and singing talent were produced by the Pskov Television, and in 2003 the Lenfilm Studio released an art film titled “Babusya” , directed by L. A. Bobrova, which included a couple of her recordings, one of them being “In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”.

Most of Olga Sergeeva’s recordings are currently available on CDs.

A 2-CD album with field recordings, available on Amazon.com:

Olga Sergeeva – Music of the Russian Land of Lakes (The Field Recordings)”
“Ольга Сергеева – Музыка Русского Поозерья (Полевые записи)”
(“In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing” is a track No. 1 on the second CD)

Another CD album with studio recordings, available on Amazon.com:

Olga Sergeeva – Music of the Russian Land of Lakes (The Studio Recordings)”
Ольга Сергеева – Музыка Русского Поозерья (Студийные записи)

One of the documentary films about Russian folk singers and musicians, titled “Farewell to Mekhov” (“Прощание с Меховым”), features the footage of Olga singing at her home in the Perelazy village:

(narration and subtitles in German; Olga Sergeeva’s part starts st 25:41)

In 2004, on the second anniversary of Olga Sergeeva’s passing away, a folklore festival was organized in the district center of Usvyata. Named after Olga Sergeeva, the folk festival was established as an annual event in 2006 and it features folklore ensembles and singers from various regions of Russia.

In 2005, the album “Traditional Music of the Usvyatsky District of the Pskov Region” was released.

O. F. Sergeeva at her home in the village of Perelazy
(O. F. Sergeeva at her home in the village of Perelazy. Picture captured from the film “Farewell to Mekhov”)

Babushka* Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva passed away on December 8, 2002 at the age of 80 years old. Thanks to her, more than 300 ancient Russian folk songs have been saved from oblivion and preserved for future generations.

(* Babushka means grandmother. In Russian culture grandmothers play a significant role in their families and the word babushka also denotes any elderly woman with the implied meaning of a respected elder. More detailed definition of babushkas at: http://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/babushka/ )

Olga Sergeeva was praised for her authentic folk singing style and particularly for the micro variations in her singing, about which she remarked once: “Every song has hundred changes”. She would envelop the simple melodic lines with her subtle but intricate variations and a melismatic ornamentation, disguising them under this colorful veil.

Her style is natural, plain and emotionally reserved, and at times her singing is so subdued as if she is simply humming to herself while performing some chores or while working on a farm.


In the Green Garden A Bird Was Singing”

This song is a witness to the hardships of lower class youth, a dull reality of living in poverty and life without any hope for a better future.

The melodic content is quite simple as it consists of only two alternating lines, with each melodic line divided in two short 2-bar phrases. This simplicity creates a monotonous flow which supports the lyrical content and reinforces the sad and heavy tone of the song. This song could have easily been labeled as a pessimistic lament, however the last few verses are offering a ray of hope and are showing the girl’s strong faith and spirit, in spite of all the hardships and discouragements. O.F. Sergeeva’s subtle variations in phrasing embody this persistence and a feeling of hope.







The lyrics are organized in such a way that each line of the text is being repeated, with three exceptions including the very first and last lines. This allows for each line of lyrics to be sung over both of the two alternating melodic lines – first time over the “closing” melodic line (2) and then repeated over the “opening” melodic line (1). This results in the suspended, delayed unfolding of the story, which creates tension and increases the anticipation of the following lines.

Interestingly, the third exception to this uniform repeating pattern involves the only two lines in which the girl describes the happy, jolly moments while she is dancing in a circle dance. Apparently, the intention of this abatement of the happy moments is to underline their short-lived effects and sporadic occurrences.

In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”

У зялёному саду пташечкай пропела
Йетый пташки есть гняздо, есть у ней и дети
Йетый пташки есть гняздо, есть у ней и дети
А у мене у сироты нет никого на свети

А у мене у сироты нет никого на свети
Ночь кочала я детей, день коров доила
Ночь кочала я детей, день коров доила
Подоивши да я коров в карагод ходила

В карагоде я была веселай гуляла
Хорошим я хороша ой плоха ядета
Хорошим я хороша ой плоха ядета
Никто замуж не бярет и мене за это

Никто замуж не бярет и мене за это
Пойду с горя в монастырь Богу помолюся
Пойду с горя в монастырь Богу помолюся
Перед иконаю святый слезами зальюся

Перед иконаю святый слезами зальюся
Ни пошлёт ли мне Господь той доли счастливый?
Ни пошлёт ли мне Господь той доли счастливый?
Ни возьмет ли меня замуж молодец красивый?

English translation:

In the green garden a birdie was singing,
This birdie has a nest, and it has chicks,
This birdie has a nest, and it has chicks,
And I’m an orphan and I don’t have anyone.

And I’m an orphan and I don’t have anyone.
At night I was rocking a cradle and milking a cow in the afternoon,
At night I was rocking a cradle and milking a cow in the afternoon,
After milking, I was dancing in khorovod*

I was jolly dancing in khorovod*,
I’m good-looking, but bad-dressed,
I’m good-looking, but bad-dressed,
No one would marry me because of that.

No one would marry me because of that,
So I will go to monastery with grief, I will pray to God.
I will go to monastery with grief, I will pray to God,
I will break into tears before the saint’s icon.

I will break into tears before the saint’s icon,
Maybe God will send me someone, And I will be happy?
Maybe God will send me someone, And I will be happy?
Maybe a handsome young man will marry me?

* “Khorovod” – a combined circle dance and chorus singing.


In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing” by Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva
(“У зелёном у саду пташечка пропела” – Ольга Федосеевна Сергеева)

A New Take At the Old Tradition

After nearly a century of focusing on new inventions and experimentation in music, the young generations of musicians and artists all around the world are starting to recognize the beauty and value of traditional music and are honoring it in their own unique ways by reinventing, reviving and adapting the folk songs to the modern musical trends.

One such example from Russia is a folk-song singer Pelageya:

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Source link here)


Pelageya and her band are known for their rock music arrangements of traditional folk songs from Russia as well as other nations, and her version of “In the Green Garden A Birdie Was Singing” re-titled simply as “Birdie” (“Пташечка”) is a prime example of a perfect marriage between the “Old School” songs and a “New School” musicians.

Birdie” by Pelageya (“Пташечка” – Пелагея) – Live recording:

The following video features Pelageya’s studio edition of the same song with an amazing animation film by the Russian animator and animation director and Oscar Academy Award winner Aleksandr Petrov.

Birdie” by Pelagea (“Пташечка” – Пелагея)Studio recording:


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My solo piano arrangement of this folk song, simply titled “In the Green Garden” appears as the opening track on my second solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree” – released in 2017 and available at my online music store here!

The alternate version of “In the Green Garden” has been released in 2018 on the album Under the Sacred Tree [432 Hz Edition]” with all tracks tuned to 432 Hertz instead of the standard 440 Hz tuning. The album is available at my online store at:


For the musically inclined and the piano players interested in learning to play this arrangement I would recommend the sheet music for this song which is included in my Under the Sacred Tree SONGBOOK”:

SONGBOOK "Under the Sacred Tree"
SONGBOOK “Under the Sacred Tree”
Koshanin - In the Green Garden - Sheet Music
In the Green Garden – Sheet Music


Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.

Author: koshanin

A pianist and composer in a continuous search for beauty and simplicity in music.

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