Ed­mon­ton’s Dnipro Choir cel­e­brates its sap­phire an­niver­sary with trip to Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLENA GONCHAROVA GONCHAROVA@KYIVPOST.COM

ED­MON­TON, Canada — The Canada-based Dnipro Choir, which per­forms Ukrainian songs, is go­ing on a trip that might be­come a life-chang­ing ad­ven­ture for the singers. The choir is com­ing to Ukraine, where it will per­form at the In­ter­na­tional Ukrainian Dance & Cul­ture Fes­ti­val in Lviv through Aug. 10–13.

For many of its 30 mem­bers who are trav­el­ing, it will be their first ever visit to the home­land of their an­ces­tors.

And while Su­san Ro­ma­niuk, the choir’s pres­i­dent, will be vis­it­ing Ukraine for the sixth time, she is still thrilled to be mak­ing the trip.

“I’m most ex­cited about fi­nally get­ting our group off to our mother­land coun­try Ukraine,” Ro­ma­niuk says.

“The or­ga­niz­ing, plan­ning and re­hears­ing prior to the trip have been both hec­tic and fun. The hard work will pay off when we fi­nally get to per­form in front of our fam­i­lies and friends of our an­ces­tors, and feel the true mean­ing of the songs that we sing about our mother­land, Ukraine, which unites us as one fam­ily.”

Ro­ma­niuk calls sing­ing her first love. Grow­ing up in a fam­ily that cher­ished Ukrainian songs, Ro­ma­niuk al­ways wanted to con­tinue the tra­di­tion of sing­ing Ukrainian Choral mu­sic.

That’s how she en­rolled in the Dnipro choir back in 1996 and even­tu­ally lead­ing Ukrainian Dnipro En­sem­ble of Ed­mon­ton.

“I de­cided to join the Dnipro Choir be­cause sing­ing is what I grew up do­ing,” Ro­ma­niuk ex­plains. “Dnipro Choir was the per­fect choice, as it

was more of an aca­demic and clas­si­cal choir that sang tra­di­tional folk songs, con­tem­po­rary, clas­si­cal and sa­cred mu­sic.”

Back to roots

Dnipro Choir has been forg­ing their iden­tity for the last 65 years through Ukrainian choral songs. The sec­ond old­est Ukrainian choir in Canada, it has de­vel­oped out of a men’s choir founded by Ukrainian Ro­man Soltykewych and nine fel­low or­ga­niz­ers.

Soltykewych had rich ex­pe­ri­ence in found­ing and con­duct­ing var­i­ous church, stu­dent and mixed choirs from the 1930s through the war years, and af­ter World War II he was ac­tive in or­ga­niz­ing choirs in Ukrainian refugee set­tle­ments in Aus­tria and France. Soltykewych em­i­grated to Ed­mon­ton, Canada in 1951.

In Fe­bru­ary 1954, the newly formed cho­rus made its de­but with two per­for­mances of Christ­mas and New Year’s car­ols. Since then, the choir has pro­duced 11 record­ings and pro­moted Ukrainian songs across Canada, the United States and else­where.

In 1975, with the ad­di­tion of an or­ches­tra and dance troupe, the mixed choir be­came the Ukrainian Dnipro En­sem­ble of Ed­mon­ton, or sim­ply Dnipro. Even though the or­ches­tra and dance troupe have since dis­banded, the Dnipro Choir has wel­comed more than 400 mem­bers over its history, per­form­ing a wide reper­toire of works span­ning clas­sic reli­gious pieces to sec­u­lar mu­sic, and also sung folk, mod­ern and ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic.

“I have great ad­mi­ra­tion for the founder, the late Ro­man Soltykewych, and the early singers of this choir, for their fore­sight in or­ga­niz­ing a choir in the di­as­pora dur­ing a time when they most needed to main­tain a strong Ukrainian iden­tity and be nur­tured by the wealth of the Ukrainian cul­ture and tra­di­tions,” says Irena Szmi­hel­sky, the artis­tic di­rec­tor and a con­duc­tor of the choir. “Far from Ukraine, they em­braced their home­land and, through choral mu­sic, prayed, be­lieved, hoped and cel­e­brated.”

Hard work

Ahead of the trip to Ukraine, excitement is build­ing among all the choir mem­bers.

“I look for­ward to the many op­por­tu­ni­ties we will have,” Szmi­hel­sky says. “I’m ex­cited to work with well-known con­duc­tors and choirs. But I’m most ex­cited that we will have the op­por­tu­nity to make au­di­ences in Ukraine aware of our deep de­vo­tion to our Ukrainian roots and her­itage.”

Szmi­hel­sky, a na­tive of Ed­mon­ton, is the choir’s third con­duc­tor. She started work­ing with Dnipro in 2011. The last cou­ple of months have been busy for Szmi­hel­sky, as she helped Dnipro mem­bers pre­pare their an­niver­sary reper­toire.

She is re­puted to be a task mas­ter but, as Dnipro Choir mem­bers ex­plain, al­ways knows how to achieve the best results. Szmi­hel­sky chal­lenges the cho­ris­ters to sing a tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing reper­toire, work­ing on vo­cal tech­nique, in­tona- tion and de­liv­ery of feel­ing. Un­der her lead­er­ship, Dnipro Choir has col­lab­o­rated with Pro Coro Canada’s Mae­stro Michael Zaugg, and Ot­tawa’s Mae­stro Laurence Ewashko in a se­ries of choral work­shops.

They be­gan to work on the reper­toire for the pro­gram back in 2017.

“The pro­gram is di­verse and some se­lec­tions are more chal­leng­ing than oth­ers, which re­quired a greater al­lo­ca­tion of re­hearsal time,” Szmi­hel­sky ex­plains. “My in­spi­ra­tion for our 65th an­niver­sary con­cert reper­toire con­nects specif­i­cally to what I be­lieve is the root of this choir’s in­cep­tion: pa­tri­o­tism, spir­i­tu­al­ity, re­la­tion­ship and hope, which is pow­er­fully ex­pressed through well-writ­ten mu­sic.”

Their reper­toire in­cludes mu­sic of clas­si­cal to con­tem­po­rary Ukrainian com­posers as well as Ukraini­anCana­dian com­posers. Marco Levyt­sky, who’s been with the choir for 12 years, says his fa­vorite pieces are “folk songs, Shevchenko stan­dards and Ukrainian In­sur­gent Army songs.”

Even thou­sands of kilo­me­ters away from their an­ces­tors’ land, Ukrainian songs help main­tain the bonds be­tween di­as­pora Ukraini­ans and their home­land. Sched­ule: Aug. 11– Lviv, 4 p. m., In­ter­na­tional Dance and Cul­ture Fes­ti­val; main city square.

Aug. 12 — Lviv, 4–7 p. m., In­ter­na­tional Dance and Cul­ture Fes­ti­val, Shevchenkivskyi Hai’ Ethno-Park Mu­seum.

Aug. 13 — Lviv, 7–9:30 pm, Gala show and Fes­ti­val Clos­ing cer­e­monies, Lviv State Palace of Aes­thetic Ed­u­ca­tion of Stu­dents and Youth.

Check out the fes­ti­val’s web­site http://newlookk.wixsite.com/fest/ fes­ti­val-pro­gram.

Aug. 17 — Ch­er­nivtsi, per­for­mance at local Drama the­atre or on an out­door stage. For the choir’s itin­er­ary and up­com­ing events visit their web­site https://ukrainiand­nipro­choir. com/node/33

The Ukrainian Dnipro Choir mem­bers pose for a photo in tra­di­tional Ukrainian cos­tumes near the North Saskatchewan River in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta. (ukrainiand­nipro­choir.com)

The Ukrainian Dnipro En­sem­ble of Ed­mon­ton per­forms with mu­sic, songs, jokes and rit­u­als. (ukrainiand­nipro­choir.com)

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