This is the second part of a two-part series on the centennial concert on October 6 by the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus in Detroit. This author was invited by the UBC to experience and document the weekend’s events, meet with individuals and provide an in-depth look at what it’s like for the UBC to play a hometown concert.
DETROIT – Following its outreach program with the local Ukrainian schools in Michigan, the UBC convened at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, Mich., for its combined rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, October 5.
Under the direction of Oleh Mahlay, the chorus reviewed material for its upcoming winter concert series that is planned for Canada, as well as song selections for the remaining centennial concert tour. Mr. Mahlay isolated each vocal range in the chorus (basses, baritones, second tenors, first tenors), emphasizing diction, dynamics and listening for any minute corrections that were needed. Then the chorus singers held their own rehearsal under the direction of UBC second tenor Nazar Kalivoshko. Mr. Mahlay worked with the bandurists and its four-piece bass section (two bass banduras, one acoustic upright bass and one electric upright bass) separately.
With the conclusion of rehearsal, the UBC was informed that the 1964 class of Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic High School was celebrating its 55th class reunion at the Ukrainian Cultural Center. The chorus stopped by and wished the group many more years with the singing of “Mnohaya Lita,” moving some of the classmates to tears.
George Stasiw, president and CEO of the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum in Hamtramck, Mich., related that the facility has in its collection concert posters, recordings and DVDs from the history of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus. Many of its holdings are funded through private and organizational donations. Mr. Stasiw was a former UBC member as a singer, and the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum is a longtime supporter of the UBC.
Mr. Stasiw explained: “Our mission is to be the stewards of the Ukrainian history and culture that arrived in the U.S. in the last 100 years in the Greater Detroit area. The UBC has been an integral part of the community, and we consider capella one of our own, as a source of pride for the community, as preservers of history and culture. The UBC has served to unite the church communities and heal divisions of religion and politics, and continues to do so. For the future of the UBC, I and the community look forward to the continuation of its mission for many more years, preserving Ukrainian history and culture through music.”
Lesia Florchuk, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Center, noted the sense of pride for her personally and the entire local community that the UBC has called Detroit home for 70 years. Ms. Florchuk said she sees the UBC as inspiring other bandura groups like the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America and says “they are kindred spirits.”
Ms. Florchuk stated: “At first, I didn’t understand the significance of the UBC, but now in its 100th year, I wish the chorus another 100 years of service to the community. As the home base for the chorus, its rehearsals and local performances, we are proud to have the UBC call the Ukrainian Cultural Center home, and value our good working relationship. The chorus features different singers and instrumentalists, making for a positive experience whenever I hear them.”
Tanya Smyk, 19, of the Detroit area, related her experience with the UBC after having attended the Kobzarska Sich bandura camp for 10 consecutive years. She served as a counselor this past summer at camp.
Ms. Smyk said: “As the UBC celebrates it 100th anniversary and Kobzarska Sich celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is great to see that these entities are still going strong. I joined the women’s ensemble in 2017 and assist the UBC with photos and design for pamphlets and promotional materials. For the next 100 years, I hope the UBC serves to maintain and thrive the kobzar traditions, unite the diaspora across the country from near and far through Ukrainian music and culture from its ancient roots to its recent history. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s concert. I encourage the UBC to continue its mission and leave a lasting legacy. Its members represent a cross-section of the diaspora, a mixture of new and old immigrants from across the U.S.A. and Canada.”
Anatoli Murha, president of the UBC, told The Weekly: “I’ve grown up with the UBC and have been a member for 27 years – more than a quarter of the UBC’s existence. Although I reside in Philadelphia, coming to Detroit is really coming home for me personally and the UBC. There is a sense of pride that comes from the members who are from throughout the U.S.A. and Canada, and has been an example for broader development, with personal friends from all over. Seventy years ago, following the arrival of the UBC in Detroit, the community began to organize itself, and the UBC was a kind of cement for the community that held it together. Here we are now, with members who are children and grandchildren of immigrants from World War II.”
Mr. Murha explained how during the centennial tour, and especially in Ukraine, the audience reaction was very emotional, and that the emotional response is something that needs to be shared with the world, especially now given what is going on in world. This centennial tour, he said, will conclude on November 10 in Toronto. It has been 10 years since the UBC last performed in Toronto.
The development process of this legacy campaign has been in the works for 10 years, he said. There are now four bandura camps, where instruction in bandura playing is made available for a few weeks out of the summer, but we cannot take this for granted, Mr. Murha noted, adding there is a need for quality instructors in local communities to supplement the training throughout the year.
For the long term, Mr. Murha said, the UBC will expand its role in a new direction to include more than just concerts, to bring an experience beyond the stage. The three-pronged approach of the UBC@100 Legacy will focus on:
— Guardianship – introducing the bandura to new audiences and working jointly with other artists to share the bandura in new forms;
— Bandura Project – innovating the Kharkiv-style bandura to ensure a future supply of instruments for aspiring players; and
— Education – developing an international exchange program whereby bandura students and teachers from North America and Ukraine can work with each other. (Donations can be made via e-mail, email@example.com, 734-658-6452 or www.ubc100.com.)
The UBC seeks to inspire more bandura ensembles and instruction with opportunities for professional development. While the UBC was in Ukraine in 2018, the first International Bandura Forum was held in Kyiv, and it showed the opportunities for cultural exchanges between the diaspora and Ukraine, Mr. Murha said.
For the near term, the UBC will be implementing its strategic plan, expanding donor outreach, examining a range of performance opportunities, including for the entire or partial ensemble. The UBC, Mr. Murha said, hadn’t performed in Minneapolis in 40 years, and there are emerging diaspora centers in North Carolina and Oregon that the UBC is looking into for concerts.
He added that another reason for the UBC’s success has been the working relationship between Mr. Murha (the business aspect) and Mr. Mahlay (music aspect). It is this working relationship and each individual’s expertise and talent in their respective tasks that continues to make this all possible, he noted.
The concert at Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center in Detroit on October 6 attracted a near-capacity audience of young and old, new and old immigrants, Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians. Many among the audience were dressed in Ukrainian embroidered shirts.
A video display, narrated by Ola Szczuryk-Lishchyna, was incorporated into the concert that told the story of the kobzari and bandura history, and gave context to each song selection performed.
The first half of the program traced the history of the chorus with its formation in 1918 with the song “The Clouds are Rising” by Vasyl Yemets (the founder of the chorus) to the struggles against the Communist oppressors (when millions were killed as a result of the Holodomor of 1932-1933, and half of the chorus’s members were killed during the Stalin purges of 1935, leaving only four members by the 1940s) and state-mandated atheism of the Soviets, the fight for freedom during the second world war (as displaced persons, chorus members performed at DP camps and made it on the last train out of Berlin), and the chorus’s arrival in the U.S.A. in 1949 with the singing of “God Bless America.”
Bass soloist Oleh Zmiyiwsky received a standing ovation for his lead on “Banduryste, Orle Syzy” (Bandurist, You Gray Eagle).
The second half opened with statements by Natalka Maruszczak, board member of the Ukrainian Selfreliance Michigan Federal Credit Union, who presented a $2,500 sponsorship, and Ulyana Diakiv, Michigan Branch manager for Selfreliance Federal Credit Union (Chicago), who offered the credit union’s best wishes for the UBC’s centennial concert tour, along with sponsorships of $15,000 at the centennial concert in March in Chicago and $5,000 for the Detroit concert.
Andrey Duzhyj, Macomb County commissioner (Warren), presented an official proclamation from the Board of Commissioners signed by Gov. Gretchen McGraw Whitmer of Michigan, Lt. Gov. Garlin Glichrist II, State Sen. Paul Wojno and Mr. Duzhyj recognizing the UBC and its centennial celebration. Greetings were also read from U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), and from Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit.
This portion of the concert featured selections that were familiar and lively, with the UBC members effortlessly delivering a high-energy performance with two encores.
The audience rose to its feet for the patriotic “Oy u Luzi Chervona Kalyna.” Mr. Mahlay thanked the diaspora organizations that have helped the UBC in the past and on this centennial tour as a collective journey.
“Come journey with us,” Mr. Mahlay invited the audience. “Spread the beauty of the bandura with the world, something that is uniquely Ukrainian. The UBC’s outreach program yesterday allowed kids to touch, play and hold the instrument, and it was made available to all of them with your support.”
“Tankova Viazanka” (Ukrainian medley, The Crane, The Noise and the Clamor, and From Kyiv to Luben) was a crowd favorite with frenzied action that drew a standing ovation.
Mr. Murha addressed the audience and thanked them for their applause, adding: “First of all, it’s great to be home. Thank you, Detroit, and thank you for the decades of support and friendship. This city and this region has seen us from day one, when the ensemble relocated to Detroit post-World War II, just down the street at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit [where the UBC held its first concerts in 1949], thanks to the work of Mary Beck [a Detroit Ukrainian community activist, first female City Council member and acting mayor of Detroit, 1908-2005], and the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, and countless more organizations and people – dear friends, dear parents, dear grandparents – the UBC has been embraced by this city that is no stranger to music.”
Mr. Murha continued: “Second, it is only fitting in our hometown that we can recognize an individual, a leader and an inspiration who has shared more history of the UBC and the bandura than any of us and gave us an opportunity to carry this torch into the next century – Petro Kytasty.”
Mr. Kytasty, the nephew of chorus leader Hryhory Kytasty, was applauded and cheered by the audience and presented with flowers.
Mr. Mahlay thanked Mr. Kytasty and underscored that this centennial would not be possible without the work of people like Mr. Kytasty. “His spirit and love for the bandura, to the capella, to Ukraine, was passed on to us,” Mr. Mahlay said. “Imagine, 100 years of the UBC’s existence, Mr. Kytasty has been a part of it for more than 60 years.” He thanked Mr. Kytasty for his presence today, and wished him good health and many more years.
Mr. Kytasty was emotionally moved, recalling the struggles overcome by the UBC and the bright future for the UBC, and charged them to maintain the legacy and tradition of the kobzari.
The final listed song in the program, “Play Bandura, Play,” brought the crowd to its feet once more with shouts of “Molodtsi!” The audience was treated to a double-encore of “Rozpriahayte Khloptsi Koni” (Unbridle Your Horses) and another favorite, “The Song of Tiutiunnyk.”
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For more information about the UBC and its centennial tour, readers may visit www.bandura.org or visit its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ukrainianbanduristchorus. Through an active social media campaign, the UBC has been able to share concert moments with the world, in nearly real-time, offering a supplement to an experience shared globally.