Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton Tours Ukraine
August 2011 marked an important milestone for the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton (UMCE). They undertook a 19-day tour of their ancestral homeland to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence, the 150th Anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s Birth and mark the 120th Anniversary of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada. To honour these celebratory events, the choir had an extensive musical repertoire to choose from - given its illustrious 27-year history.
The tour began in Lviv, and continued across Western Ukraine to Kolomyia, Chernivtsi and Uzhhorod, and concluded in the Poltava region and Kyiv. In addition to performing in well-attended concert halls, the choir was also invited to various places of worship. “To sing the liturgy at the Cathedral of St. George in Lviv was personally a great achievement for our choir. We received a compliment from the priest halfway through the service - thinking that we were a choir from Kyiv,” said Conductor Orest Soltykevych. While travelling across Ukraine, they garnered many newsworthy items from local media, Kyiv Post and YouTube, as UMCE chose to perform in some places where to date no Canadian group had appeared.
Long-time chorister and executive board member Andrij Hladyshevsky reflected on the complex diaspora mystique felt by some of their Ukrainian audiences. “They struggle with their identity. So many families have been dislocated by the economic circumstances whereby six million of their own people live abroad. Then they hear a Zwozdesky piece, such as ‘The Old Sheepskin Coat’, or the Kytasty song ‘Jak Davno’ which are attributed to the first experiences of Ukrainians coming to Canada and their dislocation. It speaks to them. ...”
Choir member John Palahniuk and his wife Monica thought a touring choir would be an enriching educational experience for their two children, Mara, 11, and Mitchell, 14. The siblings were able to make a visit to their great-grandparent’s home in the Tulova region. After reading poems by Shevchenko and his references to the Dnipro, “it was neat to put my feet into that same river and also visit his gravesite,” Mara recalled. “And I met a fourteen-year old girl, who told me the history of a castle. We had a conversation in both English and Ukrainian... I got to dance at a wedding with the bride.” In fact, the choir through beauteous serendipity had three wedding encounters and good-humoured consideration was given to changing UMCE to ‘The Wedding Crashers’. “How can a Ukrainian choir walk past a wedding if they don’t hear anybody singing ‘Mnohaya lita’? Everywhere, we were welcomed with such hospitality”, said choir member Nestor Petriw.
One highlight of the trip was the visit to Camp Vorohkta in the Carpathian Mountains which billeted 125 orphans from across Ukraine. Iris Ciona, one of the twelve accompanying spouses on tour said: “This was one of the most moving and emotionally rewarding parts of the trip - especially after the choir sang and the children sang in return.” The impact was so heartfelt that two choristers have committed to sponsoring these children if they wish to attend university or college. Other choristers have also expressed interest in sponsoring. UMCE President Darcy Gulka, along with being the principal organizer of this tour and a sponsor for a student, had volunteered for five years as a youth leader at the Camp from 2003 to 2007. “It was heart warming to see one teenager who was in my group in 2004 had completed university and is now teaching physical education in the same orphanage where she grew up,” said Gulka.
Another singing engagement inadvertently provided the choir with the opportunity to experience Ukraine’s complex history. In Zakarpattyia, the choir was asked to sing at Uzhhorod’s Philharmonic Hall, which prior to World War II was a Jewish synagogue. Petriw spoke with heart-felt emotion: “To honour this sacred house of worship and the profound sense about it, we included a ballad passed on to me from my father, which I recited. Written by a Ukrainian expatriate, whose pen-name was Anatol Halan, it’s about how some evil deeds cannot be forgiven.”
UMCE had the privileged opportunity to participate in two choral workshops: one with director Leonid Tryfunenko of the renowned Cherkassy national choir; and with Volodymyr Volntyr, composer and choir director in Mukachevo, Zakarpattyia. “To use the golf analogy - it was like having Jack Nicklaus spend an hour with you and suddenly you get the ball twenty yards further - and you wonder how that is possible? ... and then through the teachings, you understand what you can do,” Hladyshevsky exclaimed. Soltykevych added: “It is important for music to flourish. We have so much 19th century Ukrainian choral music, and here we’re able to find contemporary music.”
The choir, not resting on its laurels, has an eventful 2011-12 performance season. The December 3 Christmas Concert featured the string quartet Quarteto Con Brio, All City Youth Choir, Mission Hill Brass and Tenor Power - an evening that appealed to a wide range of musical sensibilities. Once again, Bill Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, called upon UMCE’s fine choral talent to participate in the ESO’s Landmark Classic Masters Series concert Glorious Voices and perform Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor: Offertorium. This rare performance took place at Enmax Hall, Winspear Centre in Edmonton on February 24 and repeated on February 25.
The Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton continues to welcome new members. Their sense of pride and achievement can best be summed up by President Darcy Gulka: “We have been blessed with our Christian faith, health, family, each other, and parents and grandparents who instilled in us the love of our Ukrainian heritage. We have music second to none in richness and beauty! Passionate, disciplined and inspired performances of these works give thanks for those blessings, and the gift we give to our listeners.”
1 - Ukrainian Male Chorus at Mukachevo Castle in Zakarpattia
2 - Summer Camp Vorokhta orphans singing