Bandura players have shared stories through song for centuries, and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America intends to continue doing so. The members serve as ambassadors of music and culture related to the Ukrainian string instrument.
“It’s a bit strange to hear someone say that, but it’s an instrument, a musical instrument, that has been persecuted,” said Oleh Mahlay, conductor of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, adding that the threat to bandura players living in Ukraine is growing. now the country is at war.
“It imposes a greater responsibility on us here in the free world as members of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus to be guardians of this instrument and to help our colleagues. [in Ukraine] and get the message out that this isn’t just a war on people, it’s a war on culture,” he said.
The ensemble comprises approximately 40 bandura players and singers living in the United States and Canada, including nearly a dozen musicians who call northeast Ohio home.
The band will reunite in Cleveland on Saturday at the Severance Music Center for a benefit concert aimed at raising awareness and support for Ukraine. Musical selections will include songs from previous wars, such as “The Guelder Rose in the Meadow”, written during World War I.
“Music has always played a very important role, not only in documenting, but in expressing what is happening,” Mahlay said.
In addition to music, Saturday’s event will feature poems written for Ukraine, with an invitation for members of the public to submit theirs as part of a project by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. .
“We think poetry is a powerful tool, a very simple, inexpensive and powerful tool to help people slow down and have deeper conversations with themselves and with each other and with the world around them,” said said David Hassler, director of Wick Poetry. Center.
The center recently launched ‘Dear Ukraine’, a community poetry project that provides a space where people can read and write poems in response to the war. A poem by Ukrainian-born Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach serves as a model to elicit further responses.
(an excerpt from “Dear Ukraine” by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach)
Dear Ukraine, you are snowfall
and ashes. Your water vapor and your smoke
hang heavily in the air.
Even here they soak the earth.
Take shelter, if only in this
song and floor, if only
for a moment take refuge here.
On the project website, there are responses from community members in nearby locations, such as Parma and Youngstown, as well as participants from other states and countries. The website also offers optional translation into Ukrainian or Russian.
“I think one of the themes [in the responses to date] it’s no surprise, it’s that feeling of ‘Ukraine, you’re so far away,’” Hassler said. “What should I do with my own feelings of frustration, anger, fear and grief? How can I express it in a way that can be helpful to you? »
The Wick Poetry Center and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus have only recently known each other, and they embraced their shared desire to do what they can to support Ukraine.
After all, bandura players “were poets with music, weren’t they?” Mahalay said. “It really was a natural bond.”