Ukrainian Music in Canada

Towards the end of the 19th century large numbers of Ukrainians began to arrive in Canada; the majority settled in the Prairie provinces. By the late 1980s there were over 950,000 Ukrainian Canadians, the largest concentrations in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal.
Towards the end of the 19th century large numbers of Ukrainians began to arrive in Canada; the majority settled in the Prairie provinces. By the late 1980s there were over 950,000 Ukrainian Canadians, the largest concentrations in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal.

Towards the end of the 19th century large numbers of Ukrainians began to arrive in Canada; the majority settled in the Prairie provinces. By the late 1980s there were over 950,000 Ukrainian Canadians, the largest concentrations in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal. Their cultural heritage has been perpetuated in Canada by the Ukrainian-Canadian Arts Council, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre (Winnipeg), the Ukrainian Youth Federation, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, and the Ukrainian Youth Association (SUM), and by many choirs, instrumental ensembles, and dance groups. Musical traditions have been maintained in five genres: authentic folk, liturgical, classical, country, and pop. Folk music is the strongest and most popular of these, and has retained in Canada archaic features and forms such as the ritual folksong cycle and the epico-balladic song. Field studies conducted during the 1950s and 1960s by Tetjana Koshetz, Jaroslav Rudnyckyj, Kenneth Peacock, Robert Klymasz, and others indicated that almost the entire Ukrainian folk music tradition had been re-established in Canada. In the 1970s this tradition continued to serve as a source of inspiration for other forms of music-making.

Alongside the cultivation of folk music there existed a growing interest in operetta and choral music. After World War II this diversification was intensified by the impact of radio and sound recording, contact with the mainstream of Canadian musical life, the arrival of a Ukrainian cultural elite in the form of political refugees from the homeland, and the emergence during the 1960s and 1970s of a new generation of Ukrainian-Canadians with wider musical tastes. Choral singing, a traditional predilection of Ukrainians, developed along religious, artistic, and recreational lines. Key figures have included Nestor Horodovenko (1885-1965) in Montreal and Oleksander Koshetz (1875-1944) in Winnipeg. The latter made a further significant contribution through his choral settings of Ukrainian folksongs, a complete edition of which was published 1949-56 by Winnipeg's Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre, which also preserved Koshetz' manuscripts and papers. Another guardian of the Ukrainian choral tradition is Paul Macenko, a Winnipeg musicologist, composer, and music critic who in the 1950s began to promote educational workshops for the training of church cantors (djaky) and choral conductors. Noteworthy Ukrainian-Canadian choral groups have included the Oleksander Koshetz Memorial Choir of Winnipeg, the leadership of which was assumed by Walter Klymkiw in 1952. This choir has toured in Canada and performed over CBC radio and TV. Other noted choirs have been the Voloshky Singers of Vancouver, the Centennial Ukrainian Choir of Calgary, the Ukrainian Women's Choir of Thunder Bay, the Ukrainian National Youth Federation Mixed Choir of Winnipeg, and the Prometheus and Dibrova Choirs (male and female respectively) of Toronto.

Generally speaking, Ukrainians are members of the Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches (Eastern Rite). (See Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox church music).

For both accompaniment and solo performances, Ukrainian-Canadian folkdance ensembles and choirs have continued to use traditional string instruments - the dulcimer-like cymbaly, the many-stringed bandura, the lyre-like kobza, the hurdy-gurdy known as a lira - in addition to the mandolin, and the violin. Among the best-known folk groups have been the Dnipro Ensemble of Edmonton, the Hoosli Ukrainian Folk Ensemble of Winnipeg and the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble of Toronto. The Dnipro Ensemble was organized as the Dnipro Male Chorus in 1953 in Edmonton by Roman Soltykewych (1909-76). With the addition of women's voices in 1971 it became the Dnipro Chorus. An orchestra, led by John A. Achtymichuk, and dancers were added in 1974. Maria Dytyniak became the director in 1976. The ensemble has performed throughout Alberta, in the USA in 1974, and in Ottawa in 1976. It has appeared on radio and TV, and in 1979 it toured the South Pacific and Australia.

Founded in 1951 as a male chorus, the 120-member Shevchenko Musical Ensemble of Toronto (chorus, orchestra, dance group), added its orchestra when Eugene Dolny (b Montreal 1928, d Toronto 13 Jun 1983) became director in 1952. It has performed throughout Canada, and in 1970 it visited eight Ukrainian cities. For that tour the ensemble commissioned Morris Surdin's Suite Canadienne. It also commissioned A Feast of Thunder from Surdin and works from Leon Zuckert in 1974 and Ben McPeek in 1977. Under principal conductor Andrew Markow's direction, the group toured the Ukraine again in 1989 on the 175th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko. The programs included Ukrainian and Canadian folk songs and dances..

Some Ukrainian communities have organized ensembles out of which professional musicians, in particular orchestral players, have emerged. Saskatoon's Yevshan Ukrainian Orchestra was founded in 1974, by its first conductor Bohdan Wowk, to perform Ukrainian-Canadian symphonic music. Instrumental compositions by Ukrainian-Canadians have attained a high standard, and major Canadian symphony orchestras have performed works by George Fiala and Edmonton's Serhij Yaremenko. Fiala's Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1962) was performed during the late 1960s by the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva and the USSR Radio and Television SO. Fiala's Symphony No. 4, subtitled'Ukrainian,' was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the City of Winnipeg and to Winnipeg's Ukrainian community. That anniversary also was honoured by Leon Zuckert's Fantasia on Ukrainian Themes (1973). Fiala's Festive Overture was premiered at a Ukrainian Symphonic Concert at Carnegie Hall 1 Apr 1984, which also featured the Canadian-Ukrainian Opera Chorus.

Ukrainian country and pop music came to the fore during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Winnipeg, where country music was pioneered by the husband-and-wife team Mickey and Bunny (Sklepowich) and Ukrainian pop found protagonists in the D-Drifters-5. The Montreal male voice and instrumental quartet Rushnychok also made a distinctive contribution to the trend. A considerable amount of Ukrainian pop music has been recorded on the V label by Mike Domish and the folksinger and choir conductor Mae Chwaluk (b Seech, Man, 8 Aug 1917).

While their native traditional and national music has been preserved proudly by Ukrainian-Canadians, the broader musical life of their adopted country also has claimed their attention. Musicians who have contributed to musical life in Canada include the accordionist Ted Komar; the CBC TV (Winnipeg) producer Ernie Zuk; the conductors Ivan Romanoff and Ted Kardash; the composers Gary Kulesha, Larysa Kuzmenko, Zenoby Lawryshyn, William Pura, Wasyl Sydorenko, and J.B. Weselowsky; the fiddler Al Cherny; the mezzo-sopranos Renata Babak and Hanna Kolesnyk (former members of the Bolshoi and Kiev Operas respectively); the pianists and teachers Richard Gresko, Lubka Kolessa, Larisa Lyusternik, John Melnyk, John (1955-) Melnyk, Alissa Mitchenko, and Ireneus and Luba Zuk; the singers Ed Evanko, Juliette (Sysak), Debbie Lori Kaye, and Wally Koster; the bass Cecil Semchyshyn; the sopranos Anna Chornodolska, June Kowalchuk, Roxolana Roslak, and Lesia Zubrack; the string bassist and mandolinist William Kuinka; the violinists Walter Babiak, Michael Barten (the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1966), Philip Bassa, George Bornoff, Mikhail Brat, Donna Grescoe, Basil Gresko, Frederick Grinke, Halyna Holynska (1902-76), Michael Humenick (b 1909), Eugene Husaruk, Anne Pomer, Walter Prystawski, and Steven Staryk; the violist Gerald Stanick; and the cellist Olga Kwasniak. Violinist John Moskalyk, b Toronto ca 1918, d Toronto 15 Aug 1966, member of the teaching staff of the Faculty of Music University of Toronto and the RCMT, was an outstanding teacher whose pupils included Kuinka, Staryk, and Campbell Trowsdale. Jury Krytiuk, the co-founder of Boot Records, and John Cripton, the director of the Canada Council's Touring Office until 1980, are both of Ukrainian descent.

The bass Yosyp Hoshuliak (b Ukraine, 7 Oct 1922) settled in Canada in 1950. Living in Toronto, he has appeared in recital, performed with the COC, the Manitoba Opera Association, and Stuart Hamilton's Opera in Concert, and (with the Canadian Symphony Orchestra under Ernesto Barbini) has recorded Bass Arias and Monologues (1975, Boot BMC 3005).

Several Ukrainian artists have visited Canada. In 1961 Yuri Lutsiv, the director of the Lvov Philharmonic, conducted the Calgary Philharmonic while its leader, Henry Plukker, conducted orchestras in Lvov and Kiev. The soprano Tamara Didyk, the mezzo-soprano Valentina Reka, the tenor Anatoli Solovianenko, and the bass Andrei Kikot all appeared at Expo 67 in Montreal, as did the bandurists Yulia Gamova, Eleonora Mironiuk, and Valentina Parkhomenko. In 1978 the conductor Anatoly Avdievsky, the baritone Dimitri Gnatiuk, the coloratura soprano Evgenia Miroshnitchenko, members of the Shevchenko State Opera and Ballet Theatre, and the pianist Alla Tolstych performed in 16 Canadian centres in an exchange arranged by the governments of Canada and the USSR. The State Bandura Ensemble of the Ukraine, USSR toured North America in 1988 performing in Toronto, and the Dudaryk Ukrainian Boys' Choir from Lviv visited Canada in 1990, performing in Edmonton and at the International Choral Kathaumixw in Powell River, BC.

Victor Feldbrill conducted several orchestras in Ukraine during a tour in 1963, and the Oleksander Koshetz Memorial Choir performed there in 1978.

Special Ukrainian events in Canada have included the annual National Ukrainian Festival held each summer at Dauphin, Man, and Edmonton radio station CFCW Tsymbaly [cymbaly] Competition, begun in 1967. Toronto's Canadian Ukrainian Opera Association has offered Ukrainian operatic works. In 1975 and 1984 it presented Semen Hulak-Artemovsky's The Cossacks Beyond the Danube (1863), and in 1979 in Toronto it gave the North American premiere of Anatole Vachnianyn's Kupalo, a work which had received only one previous performance, in Ukraine in 1929. Also in 1979, the Vesnivka Girls' Choir of Toronto presented the children's operetta Koza Dereza by Mykola Lysenko.

The Millenium of Christianity in the Ukraine (988-1988) was celebrated in Canada by events such as a gala concert 8 Nov 1987 by the Canadian Ukrainian Opera Association in Roy Thomson Hall, featuring the premiere of Fiala's Concerto Cantata, and the Winnipeg concert series'A Celebration of Note'. The Winnipeg series consisted of concerts and workshops by the touring Veryovka Chorus and Dancers of Ukraine, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Oleksander Koshetz Memorial Choir and included premieres of three Ukrainian works.

The 1991 centenary of the beginning of Ukrainian immigration to Canada was marked by many celebrations, including the Ukrainian Canadian Centennial Festival, a series of three concerts organized by the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and the Workers Benevolent Association. The concerts were held in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto and each used the same program but involved different performers to ensure the greatest possible participation across the country. Guest artists from the Ukraine included Stepan Petrovych, Lydia Ivanivna Kondrashevska, and Myron Vaslovych Cherepanyn. Also in 1991, Gary Kulesha and Larysa Kuzmenko travelled to Lviv on invitation from the Ukrainian Composers' Association to hear performances of their works.

Canadian musicians who, in addition to several mentioned above, were born in Ukraine include Sara and Jacob Barkin, Boris Berlin, Jan Cherniavsky, Jacob Groob, John Konrad, Peter Koslowsky, Nicholas Koudriavtzeff, Isaac Mamott, Vladimir Orloff, Elie Spivak, and Maurice Zbriger.

Further Reading

  • Simpson, G.W. Alexander Koshetz in Ukrainian Music (Winnipeg 1946)

    Bassa, Philip. 'Ukrainian musical culture in Canada,' MA thesis, University of Montreal 1951

    Wytwycky, W. 'Ukrainian music in Canada,' Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia, vol 2 (Toronto 1971)

    Klymasz, Robert B. 'Social and cultural motifs in Canadian Ukrainian lullabies,' Slavic and East European J, vol 12, 1968

    Macenko, Paul. Narysy fo istoriji ukrajins'koji cerkovnoji muzyky (Winnipeg 1968)

    Klymasz, Robert B. A Bibliography of Ukrainian Folklore in Canada, 1902-64, National Museum Anthropology Paper 21 (Ottawa 1969)

    - An Introduction to the Ukrainian Canadian Immigrant Folksong Cycle, National Museum Bulletin 234 (Ottawa 1970)

    - The Ukrainian Winter Folksong Cycle in Canada, National Museum Bulletin 236 (Ottawa 1970)

    Marunchak, M.H. Ukrainian Canadians: A History (Ottawa, Winnipeg 1970)

    'Canada's music ambassadors to the Ukraine,' CanComp, 54, Nov 1970

    Klymasz, Robert B. 'Ukrainian folklore in Canada: an immigrant complex in transition,' PH D thesis, Indiana U 1971

    - '''Sounds you never before heard'': Ukrainian country music in western Canada,' Ethnomusicology, vol 16, 1972

    Henderson, Alan, and Proracki, Anthony. 'Ukrainian-Canadian folk music of the Waterford area,' CFMJ, vol 2, 1974

    Pelinski, Ramón. 'The music of Canada's ethnic minorities,' CMB, 10, Spring-Summer 1975

    Bandera, Mark J. '"The western Canadian championships": tsymbaly competitions at the Red Barn,' CFMJ, vol 11, 1983

    Erickson, Kim. 'Stella Trylinski and the Ukrainian Women's Choir of Thunder Bay,' Musicworks 38, Spring 1987

    Berthiaume-Zavada, Claudette. 'Stratégies musicales de préservation et adaptation chez les Ukrainiens-Montréalais,' CFMJ, vol 17, 1989

    Crossley, Peter. 'Centenary jubilee,' Bravo, May-Jun 1991

    Cherwick, Brian Anthony. 'Polkas on the prairies: Ukrainian music and the construction of identity,' PhD thesis, U. of Alberta 1999

    Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre Archives. Winnipeg