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In Memoriam. John Yaroslav Schur

Sep 15, 2023 | Featured, In Memoriam

The late Yaroslav Schur, well-known baritone soloist, passed away into eternity on October 4, 2022.

Yaroslav was born on January 24, 1928, in the village of Holhochi, county of Pidhaychi, region of Ternopil, Ukraine. He was a member of the Ukrainian Nationalistic Organization (OUN) and joined the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army. At the end of World War II, he found himself in a displaced person camp in Italy for 3 years. While there, because of his beautiful God given voice, he was chosen in 1947, to join the famous “Burlaka” Choir, touring Italy and England, including performing for King George V. From Italy, he moved to England, where he worked, played semi-professional soccer, and sang with the well-known Dumka Choir. Sponsored by his aunt Anna Shtoiko, he immigrated to Canada and settled in Winnipeg in 1952.

Subsequently, Yaroslav worked at various jobs, including Anthes Foundry, on the railroad with Canadian National Railway (CNR), and as a caretaker with the Winnipeg School Division. Because Yaroslav wanted to become a teacher, at the age of 38, with four children to support, he enrolled with the Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC) as a mature student, working as a caretaker during evenings and attending college/university during the day. After 7 years of study, he obtained a Bachelor of Sacred Music from CMBC (1975), a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Manitoba (1976) and a Certificate in Education from the University of Manitoba (1977). He furthered his education and obtained a Masters Degree from the University of Munich (2002).
Employed as a teacher with the Winnipeg School Division, Yaroslav enjoyed teaching music, and won several honorable mentions with his students at the Manitoba Music Festival.

Yaroslav was interested in fostering and instilling in the young an understanding and love for Ukrainian music, language, culture, and traditions. Therefore, every Saturday morning he taught at “Ridna Shkola” Ukrainian schools, namely, Sts. Vladimir & Olga Cathedral, St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Ukrainian National Federation.

Yaroslav was a talented Ukrainian baritone soloist. His love of music started in childhood, singing church and folk songs with his mother by his side.

He quickly established himself as an outstanding performer in all aspects of the Ukrainian musical community. Yaroslav sang at many concerts, festivals, weddings, and funerals. Over many years, he sang with many religious and secular Winnipeg Choirs, namely:

Sts. Vladimir & Olga Cathedral Choir
Blessed Virgin Mary Church Choir
St. Nicholas Church Choir.
O. Koshetz Ukrainian Choir
Ukrainian Male Choir Surma
Bohonos Male Chorus
Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir
Opera Manitoba Chorus
Winnipeg Singers
CMBC Chamber Choir

To improve his vocal technique, Yaroslav studied voice with Winnipeg vocal instructors Nina Dempsey, Victor Martens, and Gladys Whitehead. He continued his studies in Edmonton at Alberta College, Faculty of Music, studying voice production, stage presentation and repertoire with renowned Professor Domety Berezenetz, bass soloist with the Kiev opera, and graduated with distinction and with the highest recommendation.

Upon completion of his studies, Yaroslav went on a successful Canadian and American concert tour as a recital soloist performing in Calgary, Edmonton, North Battleford, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Etobicoke, Toronto, Minneapolis, Chicago, Rochester, Philadelphia, and Syracuse. Yaroslav also performed at “Soyuzivka”, in Kerhonkson, New York.

He performed several times at Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival, in Dauphin, at the Vegreville Pysanka Festival in Alberta, and at a festival in Saskatoon. He also staged and performed a musical number with the Shumka Dancers in Edmonton.
Yaroslav was outstanding in the Ukrainian folk song, receiving the highest marks in this class at the Manitoba Music Festival. He was an exemplary performer. His musicianship made him popular, and he continued to perform as a guest soloist with many Ukrainian organizations not only in Winnipeg, but across Canada and abroad, such as,

– on July 9, 1961, at the memorial concert for the unveiling of the Taras Shevchenko monument at the Manitoba Legislative grounds
– on May 27, 1967, at the Ukrainian Canadian Centennial Festival, sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee of Edmonton
– on July 2, 1972, at a banquet held at the Marlboro Hotel, Winnipeg honouring Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky
– on June 5, 1988, at a commemorative concert in Winnipeg celebrating the Millenium of Ukrainian Christianity (988-1988)
– on June 6, 1989, at a concert in the Vatican, hosted by St. Pope John Paul II
– at a concert in Rome in honour of Cardinal Josyp Slipyj.

As a guest soloist Yaroslav appeared in many concerts sponsored by many Ukrainian organizations in Winnipeg, and across Canada namely, in Vancouver, North Battleford, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Detroit, Chicago, and Gardenton.
In October 1990, Yaroslav was guest soloist with a group from Toronto, consisting of the women’s choir “Levada”, male choir “Orion”, and orchestra “Avanguard”, that went on a very successful concert tour of Ukraine and included such cities as Lviv, Ternopil, Kiev, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyia, and Stryi.

He also appeared as guest artist with such choirs as the Ukraina Choir of Montreal, the Prometheus Choir of Toronto, the Luna Choir of Sudbury, the Prosvita Choir of Fort William, the Millenium Choir of Thunder Bay, the Dnipro Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton, the Luna Choir of Rochester, New York, and the Toronto Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada (SUM) at a concert in Massey Hall.

Yaroslav had an extensive repertoire. It consisted of many classical works and over 120 Ukrainian folk and contemporary songs. Yaroslav was considered one of the foremost interpreters of the Ukrainian song. He was adept not only in opera, but also in old and modern Ukrainian ballads, romances, and folk songs. Because of his effortless controlled voice, dynamic colouring and the ability to produce not only inexhaustible power but also sensitivity, he garnered many fans everywhere he sang.

Yaroslav performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra including the baritone lead in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, The Manitoba Opera Association in the role of the Imperial Commissioner in Madama Butterfly and Opera Manitoba in the role of Fiorello in the Barber of Seville.

With Opera Manitoba he presented an impressive recital program that included operatic arias from Prince Igor, Taras Bulba, Marriage of Figaro, Simon Boccanegra, La Traviata, Carmen, Cossack Beyond the Danube, as well as folk songs and classical works by Massenet, Hayvoronsky, Stetzenko and Lysenko.

Yaroslav was a member of the Ukrainian Theatre in Winnipeg. His impressive performances in such Ukrainian operas as “Nocturne”, “Natalka Poltavka”, and” Cossack Beyond the Danube” won him wide acclaim.

For his successful performance with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra of Ukrainian operas he received accolades by the press, radio, and TV.

He appeared on CBC radio and television and in 1966, produced his own radio program on CJOB-FM, called “Songs of Ukraine”, that won an award for the most popular ethnic program. He produced two Ukrainian albums in 1970 and 1998, respectively.

Yaroslav established his own private vocal school, after which he created and conducted his own girls’ choir called the “The Yaroslav Singers”. Under his direction they performed at many concerts and produced a recording of their concert held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on October 23,1983.

Yaroslav also conducted a children’s choir called the “Bilingual Bells” comprised of students in the English Ukrainian Bilingual Program (EUBP) for the Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education (MPUE).

Other choirs that he conducted were at “Ridna Shkola” Ukrainian Schools, namely, Sts. Vladimir & Olga Cathedral Choir (all grades), Canadian Institute Prosvita Choir (grades 1-9), and a mass choir comprised of grades 5-9 students from all “Ridna Shkola” Ukrainian Schools in Winnipeg. He also conducted the Plast Ukrainian Youth Choir (ages 7-18), and the CYM Orchestra (ages 10-20).

In 1975 Yaroslav adjudicated voices and choirs at the Third Annual Ukrainian Arts Program Festival in Saskatoon.

Yaroslav has received the following certificates and awards:

– Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army with a Golden Cross, in recognition of his outstanding participation, as a choir member, in the famous “Burlaka” Choir that toured Italy and England just after World War II
– League of Ukrainians in Canada, National Executive in recognition for his long term, sacrificial and dedicated service for the Ukrainian National Front particularly for the League of Ukrainian Canadians
– League of Ukrainians in Canada, Winnipeg Branch in recognition for his long term, sacrificial and dedicated service for the Ukrainian National Front particularly for the League of Ukrainian Canadians
– Community Service Award from the City of Winnipeg for his musical contribution to the community
– 2001 New Millenium Multicultural Award in recognition of outstanding service to Multiculturalism in the Canadian Ukrainian Community
– The Board of Trustees of The Winnipeg School Division No. 1 for maintaining standards of excellence in education in the Division
– Molson Hole-in-One Award scored on the 9th hole at the Crescent Drive Golf Course
– Knights of Columbus Men’s Single Table Tennis Trophy.

Yaroslav enjoyed his cottage at Ukrainian Park and spent many happy summers there with his family, fishing in Lake Winnipeg, gardening, golfing, and relaxing on the beach.

In 2004, Yaroslav with his wife Rosemary became “snowbirds” and purchased a trailer in Weslaco Texas, at the Pine to Palm Trailer Resort Park (a 55-plus retirement community trailer park near the Mexican border) where he golfed, played cards, swam in the pool, and made many friends. He also enjoyed vacationing in Mexico, the Caribbean, Florida, and Phoenix.

Yaroslav was an avid reader of Ukrainian Literature and Ukrainian Joke books. He loved cooking for his family. Yaroslav enjoyed all kinds of sports. He was a fan of soccer, the Winnipeg Jets, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Yaroslav enjoyed volleyball and table tennis. He was a highly skilled chess player, enjoyed checkers, cribbage, and card games.

Yaroslav was a man of deep faith. He enrolled and completed all the diaconate course requirements to become a deacon.

Yaroslav gave all of himself to music. He encompassed extraordinary modesty and had a willingness to help everyone with his beautiful, gifted voice in performances at concerts and at all events.

In Yaroslav’s opinion, his most important teachers were the numerous folk minstrels, nameless and unsung, whose art, “distilled over thousands of years”, he inherited. This legacy was a source of inspiration to him. A special place is set aside in his repertoire for texts that are crystal clear, poetical, have meaning and content, and for melodies genuinely Ukrainian in spirit, that are often as broad and boundless as the steppe.

Yaroslav’s most favourite song was “Rodymyj Krayu” (My Native Country) because it spoke to what he held dearest in his heart and what he valued most in life which was his love for Ukraine. For him, Ukraine was not only his homeland but also his family, his church, and his community in Canada.

In times of war and crisis in Ukraine, Yaroslav hoped and prayed for her freedom and happiness. He believed that it was his destiny to glorify Ukraine in song, and that he did so truthfully, because in song there are no lies.

Yaroslav was kind, honest, loyal, good natured, and hard working. He had a great sense of humour. He was a faithful, generous, steadfast, and most loving husband to his wife, Tato to his children, and Dido to his grandchildren. His family meant everything to him. In his words, “My wealth is my family” and he did everything he could to make them happy.

Yaroslav was predeceased by his father Vasyl, his mother Ann (nee Kowalyk), his brother Hryts and wife Kataryna. Yaroslav is survived by Rosemary, his beloved wife of 67 years, daughter Patricia, son John, daughter Natalie (Volodymyr), daughter Daria, twin grandchildren Stephen and Sara (Brett), niece Darcia (Ken), niece Lydia (Mike), great-nephew Charles (Anne), great-niece Roxanna (Dave), and great-grandniece Fiona.

Yaroslav will be missed by many.

May his memory be eternal

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