Canadian Bandurist Capella Concert of Cossack Songs

By Michael Wawryshyn

The Canadian Bandurist Capella has just completed its most ambitious and productive season in its eight-year history with its December 13th performance, titled, “Concert of Cossack Songs.” This unique musical event was co-sponsored with the League of Ukrainian Canadians and was dedicated in memory of the 300th anniversary of the death of Ivan Mazepa and the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Konotop where the Cossack-led forces of Ivan Vyhowsky defeated the army of the Tsar of Muscovy. The audience of some 450 applauded roundly and showed their appreciation with several standing ovations interspersed throughout the performance at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Toronto..

The Capella was formed in June 2001 and is composed of some 15  bandurists and 35 choristers. Members of the ensemble hail primary from the Toronto region, but there are also a number from Hamilton and St. Catharines, Ontario.  Their age span ranges from 13-84. Also of interest is the fact that, since its inception, the Capella has had some 10 father-and-son duos within its ranks. Since 2001, it has given more than 80 performances throughout North America. Its array of songs is broad and includes epic Cossack, humourous, comic, religious, carols and schedrivky, traditional folk and classical songs.  The Capella’s artistic team consists of Dr. Victor Mishalow, Andriy Dmytrovych and Yuri Petlura.  Collectively, they apply their individual talents and specialization, which contributes significantly to the overall progress and development of the Capella and its performances.

In keeping with the Capella’s name, the new banduras used by the ensemble’s members now are exclusively built in Canada, in Whitby, Ontario, by the renowned artisan, Canadian-born Vasyl (Bill) Vetzal, who hails from the Dauphin region of central Manitoba. The bandura is now not only a “Ukrainian” instrument, but a “Canadian” one as well.  The Capella, through Dr. Mishalow, helped design and fund the prototype-making of these unique fibreglass instruments.  There is now much interest from Ukraine for these instruments.

During its eight years of existence, the Capella has produced two compact disc recordings. The latest one, “Play Kobzar” features the internationally renowned bass baritone Pavlo Hunka who embellishes the CD by singing four solos with the ensemble. Early in 2010, the Capella will be recording its third disc, titled “The Word of Taras.” (Slovo Tarasa).  The first CD named simply Canadian Bandurist Capella is a compilation of 14 songs.

Besides the most recent concert, the Capella had the honour to perform at the St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church Cultural Centre in Bloomingdale, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) on October 24, 2009.  The Capella’s performance was an integral part of this parish’s celebration of the visit by the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate – his Holiness Patriarch of Kyiv and all of Rus-Ukraine. During his weekend stay, Patriarch Filaret blessed the newly created mosaic, titled “All Saints of Ukraine,” above the entrance to this magnificent church.  Here, too, the Capella was enthusiastically greeted by a passionate audience and received several standing ovations during the performance.

Slovo Tarasa (The Word of Taras) was another themed concert presented by the Capella on three consecutive weekends starting on March 22, 2009 in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Toronto. This moving production consists of 18 poems of Taras Shevchenko put to music by a wide variety of composers.  During the performance, the narration of Yuri Kelebay and Petro Hrynyshyn united musical gems, based on the words of Shevchenko’s poems, into a moving and powerful message that still has meaning for Ukrainians today.

Slovo Tarasa was first arranged by Danylo Pieka for the Kyiv National Capella in 1939 and performed in the same year in Kyiv. It was not until the late 1950s that it was performed again by the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus from Detroit. This was the Capella that originated in Ukraine and settled in the United States in the late 1940s.

The Canadian Bandurist Capella also found time in its busy schedule to perform at several other Ukrainian Canadian events in 2009.  In October, the Capella had the honour to appear at the 20th anniversary marking the consecration of Archbishop Yurij – the Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Toronto and Eastern Eparchy – who is also a staunch supporter of the ensemble. Another notable performance was at the 75th Anniversary Gala of the Ukrainian National Youth Federation, the youth wing of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada (UNF) and one of our major benefactors, as well as, at the traditional Ivana Kupalo summer celebrations at UNF Camp Sokil in Hawkestone, Ont. on Lake Simcoe. Finally, the Capella’s bandura players, which are some of the most talented in North America, appeared at the opening of the Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: The Remarkable Trypilian Culture exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum and later at the Toronto Ukrainian Festival in September, where they delighted thousands of attendees of the annual street festival with their enchanting bandura music.

Early indications are that the 2010 season will be equally productive for the Canadian Bandurist Capella, as they are currently working on their new themed project Kozatska Slava. 

The Capella is always seeking young interested talent to help diversify, enhance and enrich our current membership.  For further information about the Capella, including how to obtain copies of their CDs, auditions etc/, please visit their website at or email or contact Stepan Dacko, 4433 Sedgfield Rd., Mississauga, Ontario, L5M 3B6.