Polina Shepherd (née Skovoroda) is a UK-based singer, composer and community musician, who was born in Siberia and grew up in a home where songs were regularly sung at a family table. Now an internationally renowned singer, she brings the songs of the Steppes and the Shtetl up to date with passion and haunting soul. Her singing, though based on traditional forms, cuts a sound deeply rooted in east European Jewish and Russian folk. Growing up in Tatarstan also placed her close to Islamic ornamentation and timbre, which can be heard in her unique vocal style and four-octave range.
Whilst living in Kazan (capital of Tatarstan) and studying at the State Academy, Polina joined Russia′s first klezmer band after Perestroika, Simcha (1990-2000). She soon became the principal Yiddish choir leader of the former Soviet Union, composing original material for large groups of voices and touring internationally with her Quartet Ashkenazim (1991-2007).The latest and so far most ambitious project is 150 Voices, a recorded collaboration between Polina, the lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics Lorin Sklamberg and choirs in the UK and the USA (CD 150 Voices, 2020). It explores the connection between the Steppes and the Shtetl through folk and art songs, arranged specifically for this project, and newly composed originals. Apart from the original choirs, the Sklamberg – Shepherd Duo offer workshopping and performing it with any group choir in the world.
Amongst her Polina’s other collaborative projects is Sklamberg & The Shepherds which brings the world of traditional and newly composed Yiddish and Russian song blended with Klezmer and southern Mediterranean Music.
As s solo performer she presents a variety of original songs including her solo album Three Centuries Ago in Russian and Yiddish, all the songs in Russian composed to her own poetry. As a vocalist worked and recorded with a remix artist Max Pashm in Never Mind the Balkans, a Romanian Gypsy style brass band Fanfara, to name a couple…
As a pianist she works with the Sound & Light Cinematic Duo (UK), who play live accompaniment to black & white silent films from 1910-1930, also was the original keyboards player in The Yiddish Twist Orchestra.
Her latest duo projects are The Stranniki with a “wandering scholar” Psoy Korolenko (Russia/US), (2016) and an all-new Russian-Yiddish song programme with a Grammy-winning New-Yorker Lorin Sklamberg, The Izba, the Shtibl and the Global Village.
Merlin and Polina Shepherd Duo travel the world and have a reputation of The Led Zeppelin of Klezmer (Seth Rogovoy review here)
Her composition is focused on East European styles with an influence of classical music and folk elements. About 120 compositions including music for theatre shows, large scale choir compositions, settings for Yiddish poems, piano work, and nigunim performed by soloists and choirs all over the world. Amongst her latest compositions are two vocal cycles: a commission of Yiddish Summer Weimar, Di Khasene by M. Kulbak and a cycle of erotic Yiddish songs for poems by Troim Katz Handler.
Her choir work is united by the umbrella of The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience and covers many aspects of vocal music from large scale choirs to smaller chamber groups, from highly arranged and conducted pieces to on spot choral improvisation. Choir leader of the Award Winning Russian choir of Brighton & Hove since 2007, The London Yiddish choir and The London Russian Choir since 2013 and Brighton & Hove Yiddish choir since 2015. During the pandemic in 2020 Polina organised online Sing With Me singing sessions with up to 90 participants from all parts of the globe and run 70 sessions over the spring and summer months, now continuing with the classes.
Polina works as an educator leading choral workshops internationally. Her specially developed choral teaching methods are based on specific East European sound, ornamentation, modal experimentation with attention to stylistic details, history and context. Polina’s Russian choral repertoire covers Russian classics and folklore from ritual calendar songs for pagan holidays, exorcism and sibylline song, wedding songs, weeping songs to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, all with correct attention to history and style. For Yiddish music based choral workshops, she teaches Hassidic nigunim, the age old songs without words, and Yiddish songs of many styles.
Yiddish song and choir tutor at numerous International Jewish events: KlezKanada (2014), Furth (2007), Klezfest London (2004-11, 2018-19), Klezmer Paris (2005, 2008), Moscow (2005-06), Kharkov Klezmer Teg (2003, 2013), Klezfest Kiev (2000-2005), Lviv (2013-2014, 2017), Jewish Festival in Kazan (2001-03, 2013), Sheshory’2007-Podilsky in Nemirov, Ukraine, Kleztival Brazil (2010-2014, 2019) and many others. Lecturer on Jewish music at the Centre of History and Culture of Jewish People, Kazan State University, 2002-03. In 2008-09, Polina worked for Glyndebourne Education. Teaches an annual course of Russian Song for the SOAS Summer School, University of London.
Yiddish Music adviser for a theatre show production Paul, strange Kind of a Hero in Brighton UK by Goodcompanymedia, April 2007. Music Director and composer at Coventry Belgrade Theatre for the production of Marriage by N. Gogol, 2013. About 100 compositions including music for theatre shows and choir compositions are performed by soloists and choirs all over the world.
Programme director for International Klezmer Music Festival and Seminar in Moscow in 2005 and 2006, the International Festival of Jewish Culture and the Competition of Jewish musicians in Kazan, Russia in 2002 and 2003, Klezmer South in Brighton, UK in 2018 & 2019.
- 150 Voices– Five choirs in UK & USA and duo with Lorin Sklamberg, 2020
- Aheym – homeward– Sklamberg & The Shepherds, 2015
- Three Centuries Ago– Solo CD featuring Merlin Shepherd and Rohan Kriwaczek, 2014
- A Blade of Grass– Merlin and Polina Shepherd, 2012
- Civilization – Polina Skovoroda with Fanfara, 2010.
- Never mind the Balkans – Max Pashm, Elektrikos/Organikos Records, 2008
- Baym taykh – The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience, Ashkenazim, Oriente 2007.
- Hilda Bronstein sings Yiddish Songs Old and New, ARC Music , 2007.
- Intimate Hopes and Terrors – The Merlin Shepherd Kapelye, Oriente Records2006
- Fun yener Zayt Lid – The Vocal Quartet Ashkenazim, 2002
- Di Yiddishe Gas – The Vocal Quartet Ashkenazim, 2000
- Jam-da – the Jewish Vocal Quartet, 2001
- Lekhaim – The Jewish Vocal Quartet, Kazan 1998