The Hryhory Kytasty Bandura Chorus was initially established in the summer of 1991 in Toronto initially as the Toronto Bandura Chorus. It was made up of bandurists who were taking private lessons from Victor Mishalow. Many of these bandurists were training to become members ofthe Shevchenko Bandura Chorus in Detroit or had recently joined the Detroit Chorus. At that time the Shevchenko Chorus was in recess after a successful tour of Ukraine in 1991.
Initially it was a made up of all male members having 12 bandurists and 12 singers, meeting once a week in an Etobicoke school for rehearsals. After a number of successful performances Victor Mishalow was invited to direct the Burlaky Men's choir and he began to combine the Toronto Bandura Chorus with the Burlaky Men's Choir. Together they gave a very successful Christmas concert which took place at St Anne's Church in 1991.
Up until 1990 a number of bandura groups such as the Ostap Veresai Bandura Ensemble under the patronage of SUM in Mississauga and the Hnat Khotkevych Bandura ensemble under the patronage of ODUM in Toronto both under the direction of Walentina Rodak had suddenly stopped existing. Previously the Barvinok Bandura Ensemble under the direction of Petro Boris had also stopped functioning with the death of its director, and so did the "Kobzar" bandura ensemble directed by Morris Diakowsky at the St Vladimir's Institute had also stopped existing.
It was difficult to have a balanced male ensemble as first tenor voices were very hard to come by. In order to overcome this disbalance the group refocussed itself and reformed itself into a mixed ensemble singing initially in 3 part and then in 4 part harmony. Rehearsals were shifted to acomodate the schedules of the young bandurists from Monday night to Friday nights.
Victor ata that time taught bandura and vocal music in many places in the Toronto area and had many beginner groups in Hamilton at UNO (36s tudents), and at SUM (28 students), in Guelph (24 students) at Yevshan dance ensemble, at the UNO-West Ukrainian School (87 students) and at St Peter and Paul's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Scarborough (23 students). In times these groups became feeders for the Chorus. As students became technically more proficient they were invited to the rehearsals of the Toronto Bandura Chorus. For a short period rehearsals were shifted to Saturday afternoons and then once again back to Friday nights taking place at the Ukrainian National Federation Toronto-West Hall. For a year rehearsals took place at the Ukrainian Catholic Church at Cawthra in Missisauga on Sundays, and then once again rehearsals were shifted to Friday nights back to the UNF hall Toronto West and in 1997 to the Plast Hall above Future Backery in Bloor West Village.
A major contributor to the benefit of the Chorus has been the Ukrainian School Board and its director Luba Zaraska. The Ukrainian School Board has invested funds into purcasing banduras for the use of students at the various Ukrainian Schools in Toronto. By 1999 it had purchased 42 banduras - 12 standard Chernihiv factory banduras, 15 small half size, and 15 3/4 size children's banduras made by Oshawa bandura maker Bill Vetzal. The Ukrainian School Board is committed to purchasing 300 banduras for the Ukrainian Day School, and Saturday School programs.
Photo: TheHryhory Kytasty Bandura Chorus accompanying the Burlaka Chorus, the Vesnivka Choir, and Ukrainian Saturday School children's choirs under the direction of Kvitka Kondracka - Metropolitan Convention Centre, Shevchenko concert 1995.
Bandurists invited from the outlying schools were encouraged to obtain concert banduras and to continue to develop their playing technique. In time artificial nails were made for all members in order to produce a richer and fuller sound. Mechanisms were adjusted to allow the banduras to accurately retune into different keys. Workshops and camps were organized in order to help raise the performance level of each individual. Individuals were encouraged to take private lessons to keep the technical level of performance on a high level.
With consistant rehearsal, camps, workshops and private lessons, the chorus has grown in number and in the quality of its perfomance. It has performed at numerous functions among the Ukrainian community and the general Canadian Community.
The Chorus has over the past few years accompanied the Vinochok choir (directed by Ira Drohobycki), Polifonia Children's Choir (under Dzvinka Ostafiychuk and later Ira Drohobycki), The Burlaky Male Chorus (under Oleh Chmil and Victor Mishalow), the Vesnivka Choir (under the direction of Kvitka Kondracki), the Ukrainian Opera Chorus (under Wolodymyr Kolesnyk), the Bach-Elgar Choir (under the direction of Wayne Strongman), the Prometey choir (under Ostap Brezden) and the Kyiv Conservatory Choir (under Pavlo Muravsky).It has also performed with numerous symphonic ensembles and orchestras.
Photo: The Hryhory Kytasty Bandutra Chorus accompanying the Burlaka Chorus, The Ukrainian Opera Chorus and the Vesnivka Choir under the direction of Wolodymyr Kolesnyk - Metropolitan Convention Centre, Shevchenko concert 1995.
In 1998 the Bandura Foundation was established to aid in the development of the chorus, playing and vocal technique and to raise the awareness of the instrument among the community. In 1999 the Bandura Foundation was incorporated.
In the future we hope to continue to work to help raise the playing level of bandurists in North America to a professional level. It hopes to lay a fouindation for the establishment of a professional bandura tradition in Canada.