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