Cheryl Balay, Special for NP-UN.
On November 3, 2018 the Dnipro Choir of Edmonton performed a celebratory concert marking their 65th anniversary in front of a full house at Edmonton’s All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral. It was a well-planned program that grouped songs past and present around themes for why the choir’s spirit soars.
Susan Romaniuk, President of the choir and Master of Ceremonies, offered bilingual, accessible explanations that honoured those in-the-know and respectfully informed those who may not have been aware of Ukraine’s situations and applicable Ukrainian traditions.
The choir was 9 men and 24 ladies strong for much of this concert. A highlight of the evening was the Dnipro Commemorative Male Choir numbers. This group was formed in tribute to the original Dnipro Choir which had begun as a male chorus in 1953. These 26 men, including two original members of the Dnipro Male Chorus, sang admirably under guest conductor Michael Zaugg. The male chorus sound was just awesome, with melodic lines woven together and the endings of each piece were precise. It is always such a pleasure to hear the artistry come through under Maestro Zaugg’s direction. There were marvelous differences in dynamcs in Oi, na hori, na hori. There was much vigour and energy harnessed in Zasialo Sontse Zolote and it was a treat to hear guest soloist Michael Kurschat in Oi, lita orel.
The choir featured many vocal soloists throughout the evening including Natalia Onyshcuk, Olga Federkewych, Roman Konowalec, Susan Romaniuk and Bryce Hocken. Guest soloist Peter Tarnawsky’s voice in Materyns’ka liubov was silky smooth and could have been listened to all night.
While piano accompaniment was wonderful where present, there is such a joy in a cappella singing, and a treat when it is so right! Slavic singers are often masters of close harmonies and the work that must have gone into this concert is commendable.
The current mixed Dnipro Choir had classical, round, tall, choral sounds and was remarkably well balanced between sections, even with so many more women than men. That balance shows finesse by conductor Irena Szmihelsky as well as the musicality of the singers.
In Pid Tvoiu mylist’ the transition from covered or muted “oohs” to more open sounds was well executed. In Spy, Isuse, spy the last chord was perfection itself. In Ne stiy, verbo, nad vodoiu there was a nice, crisp, underlying ostinato rhythm by the men, and the facial expressions of the soloists sold the song. I shumyt’, i hude was the most polished of the set of Ukrainian folk songs
The repertoire included music by Dmytro Bortniansky, Kyrylo Stetsenko, Mykola Lysenko, Ihor Shamo and arrangements by Hryhori Veriovka, Andriy Kushnirenko, and Canadian Willi Zwozesky among so many others. Of course, words by the great bard Taras Shevchenko and by Lesya Ukrainka were also among the songs. It was a wide spectrum of music over the years. Talented choir members were featured with accompanist Irena Tarnawsky’s own piano arrangement of Anhelyku, a choral requiem in memory of the Nebesna Sotnia heroes of Maidan, and with chorister Denise Lucyshyn’s choral arrangement of Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”, the latter under conducted by Gloria Zaharia as assistant conductor. Chorister Natalia Onyschuk’s wore her artistic director’s hat as she led her students, guest performers from St Matthew Ukrainian Bilingual School Choir, in her original composition “Dry Tears – Holodomor through the eyes of children”. It was one of the most meaningful and touching moments of the concert.
Tribute was aptly paid to the history of the choir and to its Artistic Directors. It was Roman Soltykewych as the first Artistic Director, who lead the chorus for 23 years. His wife, children and grandchildren were present and acknowledged. Then in 1976 Maria Dytnyniak became the second Artistic Director and she remained at the helm of the group for 35 years, and was proudly in attendance. Since 2011, it has been Irena Szmihelsky at the front of the choir as we witness the growth and life of this choir as it continues to adapt and respond to the world’s community in which it lives.
In reverence, in love and devotion, inspired by beauty, in freedom, even through hardship, with courage, with hope and vision, may the Dnipro Choir’s spirit continue to soar.