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Ukrainian classical music lives in Vancouver – Sounds of Ukrainian Soul

Nov 15, 2023 | Featured, Arts & Culture, Community

The Sounds of Ukrainian Soul concert in Vancouver

Lev Romanyshyn for NP-UN, Vancouver.

“Наші пісні – це лік на рани українців – Our songs, they are a salve for Ukrainians’ wounds.“

Recently some friends were visiting me from the Old Country (GTA) and I thought maybe they’d be interested in some Vancouver Ukrainian culture: I had recently received an e-mail advertising an upcoming performance of Ukrainian music at the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in New Westminster and they agreed to go.

My friends and family know that my taste in music gravitates towards the louder and “alternative” end of the spectrum (Gogol Bordello, Black Keys, Offspring, …), so attending a performance by three classically-trained women was certainly out of character. But I was absolutely enthralled by the voices of the two Canadian Ukrainian soloists, mezzo soprano Taryn Plater and soprano Olesia Shewchuk and the beautiful piano accompaniment by a distinguished Ukrainian musician who had fled Kharkiv just over a year ago, Anna Sagalova. As soon as you heard the first piano chords and then the voices of the singers, you knew that this was going to be a performance like no other. Their music angelically filled the Cathedral; there was no bad seat in this House of God. In speaking with other audience members I learned that I was not the only one who was “blown away”: some had goose-bumps listening to the songs and others were brought to tears by the emotions portrayed in the musical numbers and so expertly delivered by the artists. And, their upbeat renditions of some Ukrainian folk songs elicited both clapping to the beat of the song and audience participation in the singing. I think that the following anecdote from a friend captures so well the emotions felt that evening:

“I love music and decided to invite my good friend “Maria” to this performance. She came with two sons and her parents to Canada from Kyiv at the beginning of this horrible war. She is a hard working person and always busy, supporting and caring for her family. So, I thought that could be a good moment to give her a restful and meaningful time together. And it was! We listened to Ukrainian songs by the famous Mykola Lysenko and Vasyl Barvinsky and traditional ones as well. However, the Kyeve Mii song was the most powerful for “Maria”. She started to cry, with a little smile on her face at the same time. All my happy and sad memories came with this song, she said. I miss my Kyiv a lot… Thank you for the concert!”

In their performance, the women spanned the musical spectrum: in addition to songs by Lysenko and Barvinsky, they performed numbers by a pop singer and former Deputy to the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada, Oksana Bilozir, composer of Kyieve Mii, Ihor Shamo and composer Kyrylo Stetsenko as well as a couple of traditional folk songs and the evening’s performance ended with Mykhailo Verbytsky’s Ukrainian national anthem. On so many levels, it was truly a showcase of Ukrainian talent: composers, genres and delivery.

“The evening was a testament to the power of music and compassion. Through the enchanting performances of Anna Sagalova, Taryn Plater, and Olesia Shewchuk, we embarked on a journey through the rich tapestry of Ukrainian music. It was a night that touched our hearts, inspired unity, and filled the air with hope and solidarity.”

I would be remiss in not including some background of the three artists:

Taryn Plater: Ukrainian Canadian who was 2021–2022 RBC Artist Fellow with the Association for Opera in Canada and a 2021 Vancouver Opera Foundation bursary recipient. She performed with UBC Opera, singing parts in Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Taryn is also a mentor with Opera InReach and founding Artistic Director of Opera Unbound. She has a strong focus on Ukrainian art, song and cultural heritage. You can learn more about Taryn at www.tarynplater.com

Olesia Shewchuk: is a multi-talented Ukrainian Canadian actor, singer, filmmaker and musician who has performed with orchestras like the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and in other musical productions, including: The Merry Widow, Camelot and Cabaret. She is also known for her vocal soloist performances at Ukrainian events. Olesia has extensive dance background with Rusalka in Winnipeg, including teaching at the UNF dance school. Olesia has produced a number of short films and has scored the music for several of them. She also conducts and arranges music for a local Ukrainian choir. You can learn more about Olesia at www.olesia.ca.

Anna Sagalova: is a Doctor Of Arts and was Associate Professor at the I.P. Kotlyarevsky National University of Arts in Kharkiv and was named as an “Honoured Artist of Ukraine”. She, and her son, left Ukraine four months after the moskali invaded and has now made her home in the Vancouver area. She is well renowned through Europe and has won many competition laureates there. She was, and continues to be, called on to be a soloist with symphony orchestras. Her favourite composers are Lysenko, Ptushkin and Skoryk. You can find extensive information about Anna’s performances and background by conducting a Google search with her name.

While the Sounds of Ukrainian Soul was meant to portray, and to better publicize, Ukrainian music, there was also an underlying agenda to the evening: raising funds for medical kits for the Ukrainian army. By donating $100 to the fundraiser, the donor would receive a signed canvas print of the painting, Canvas of Courage by the Ukrainian (now transplanted to Vancouver) artist Serhiy Kolodka. Ukrainians will instantly recognize the work as a modern day version of Ilya Repin’s famous painting of the Cossacks’ Reply to the Sultan, but replete with symbolic messages throughout – I encourage you to go to www.canvasofcourage.com and scroll down to see who Serhiy Kolodka has included here, e.g., Azov battalion, Gen. Zaluzhnyi, even Taras Shevchenko. The project’s goal is to fund 1,000 of these kits which will be sent on behalf of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, along with a large-scale version of the painting, to General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,. If you wish to contribute, please reach out to the project at [email protected].

Canvas of Courage by Serhiy Kolodka

MCing the evening was Fr Mykailo Ozorovych, who, at the end, thanked the artists for their beautiful performances and gifted each of them with Serhiy Kolodko’s print.

My friend was also quite moved by the performers and told me later that, “if [they] came to the Toronto area I would certainly attend their performance again.”. And another observation from a friend, “Yes, we definitely need more and more opportunities to be in touch with our cultural roots!”. So, therein, dear readers, is my challenge to Ukrainian cultural event organizers in the Atlantic provinces through to Vancouver Island, and all points in between: you have this incredible Ukrainian talent available to you in our country. I am sure that your local diaspora would also benefit immensely from the salve that the richness of our Ukrainian music would provide its wounded soul.

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