Pickles and Mandolin Jamming

Peter Ostroushko Comes to Song Tree

by Maureen Foley

peterark.jpg“I just finished making pickles,”
explained violinist and mandolinist Peter Ostroushko recently. The
accomplished musician, who’s performed on the Prairie Home
Companion radio show for 25 years, added pickling to a long list of
recent accomplishments, namely the new CD Postcards on Red House
Records, work on the Prairie film, and a score for the circus where
his daughter performs as an aerialist. For Ostroushko, a Minnesotan
with Ukrainian roots, preserving cucumbers, gardening, cooking, and
making music are all in a day’s work.

On Sunday, September 10, Prairie Home Companion fans, folk
enthusiasts, and anyone with an interest in great music and
riveting storytelling get the chance to see Ostroushko here in
town. That’s because he, along with Belarusian guitarist Arkadiy
Yushin, will perform as part of the Song Tree Concert Series, a
benefit for the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in

It will be Ostroushko’s third performance in the intimate Song
Tree space. “This will be a rare opportunity to see Peter, who
performs on stages around the world. There will be contact between
Peter and everyone in the room,” said Tom Lee, Song Tree’s
organizer. Ostroushko, whose set list is spontaneous, said that
people can expect to hear more than 75 percent original material,
written in many styles. “It’s ethnic-oriented traditional music,”
said Ostroushko.

Although making pickles and picking a mandolin aren’t the sort
of activities that go together naturally, music has always been
just as ordinary as any other household task for Ostroushko. When
he started playing music at age 12, he was just following the lead
of the other adults around him. “Music is a natural thing,” said
Ostroushko. “It was a household thing. My parents were [Ukrainian]
immigrants. They treated music as a very special thing. It was an
expression of who they were and what their community was. They hung
on to the music they heard growing up.”

Only after meeting with a counselor during junior high did
Ostroushko realize that becoming a musician might be a difficult
occupation. “I told the counselor that I wanted to make a living
making music and the counselor went ballistic. They said very few
people could do it, it was a hard life, it was hard to leave your
family, and there was no steady paycheck. Consequently, I quit
school,” he explained, laughing. “In hindsight, everything he said
was true.”

Some of Ostroushko’s myriad achievements during his 30-year
music career include having his compositions performed by the Saint
Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Sinfonia, and the Chamber
Orchestra Kremlin. His music can also be heard on Ken Burns’s PBS
documentary, Lewis & Clark. And last spring, he won an Emmy for
the score he wrote for another PBS documentary about Minnesota.
Still, for such a distinguished musician, Ostroushko has the
grounded humility of a Midwestern farmer. He credits “all the
musicians who have ever inspired me,” extensive practice, and a
heavy dose of good luck for his success.

In discussing the creative process, Ostroushko avoided the usual
ego-charged assertions of the artist as genius. Instead, he said,
with a hint of irony, “I’m merely a vessel.” He described how
there’s a constant soundtrack playing in his head and that his
inspiration comes randomly, like after driving past some beautiful
scenery. “Then, when I arrive at a destination, if I remember that
piece of music, I write it down and put my name on it. If I don’t
remember it,” said Ostroushko, “then the guy driving behind me in
his Chevy Nova, he gets to put his name on it.”

4•1•1 Peter Ostroushko and Arkadiy
Yushin play two shows (3 and 6:30 p.m.) as part of the Song Tree
Concert Series this Sunday, September 10, at Live Oak Unitarian
Universalist Congregation, 820 North Fairview Avenue, Goleta. For
tickets, stop by Folk Mote Music (962-0830) or Jensen Guitar
(687-4027). To be part of Song Tree’s mailing list, email songtree@cox.net or call


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