Christmas Gift From Ukrainians

“Veselka” is the one to bring joy

[Dallas, Texas] In December, Dallas will host a Ukrainian Christmas Concert. We will see Zorya Dance Ensemble (sometime people call them “The Flying Ukrainians of Texas”) and Veselka Folk Singing Group. It will be major cultural event in Dallas. Today Ukrainian Desk of The Dallas Telegraph talks to leaders of both groups: Andrew Chobany, director of Zorya, Oksana Toporina, founder of Veselka, and to members of their teams.

– What can guests expect at Ukrainian Christmas Concert?

Andrew Chobany: A pleasant evening experiencing Ukrainian Culture is guaranteed! Only one concert in DFW will feature Veselka-Ukrainian Folk Singers of Dallas singing Ukrainian Christmas Carols! And of course the one and only Zorya-Ukrainian Dance Ensemble will show you the beauty of Ukrainian Folk Dances! To start the evening we are inviting everybody to visit our Christmas Bazaar with lots of souvenirs, handmade toys, organic soaps, wool felted scarfs, Christmas wreaths, and of course some pastries with a cup of warm tea on a beautiful December night!

What does Zorya and Veselka mean in Ukrainian?

Andrew Chobany: Zorya translates as rising star and Veselka means rainbow.

Natasha Rozhdestvenska: I personally like the second meaning of the word “veselka”: the one to bring joy – this is what we do – bring the contagious joy of Ukrainian Music to the diverse American audience. Our songs are hand selected from the variety of Ukrainian folk song; we pick the songs about love, with good spirit and good endings. We proclaim the joyful vitality of Ukrainian culture through Ukrainian folk music.

– What inspired Veselka to sing Koliadkas?

Andrew Chobany: Koliadka is Ukrainian Christmas Carol. We were contacted by representatives from the Allen Public Library last year asking if we could put together a Ukrainian Christmas program. Inspired by this challenge, Veselka worked hard and learned completely new material to perform a 40-minute program of Christmas Carols. Zorya agreed to join us with their typical beautiful and colorful dances.

Natasha Rozhdestvenska: When Ukrainians come to U.S. hearing the carol of the bells is especially warm and inviting. Not too many people know that the American famous Carol of the Bells in fact is the old Ukrainian folk chant. We are proud to present Shchedryk in original Ukrainian language during 2014 Holiday Season to our American audience.

– Did any Americans come to see you perform? How has your program changed this year?

Andrew Chobany: We had a huge audience. All the seats were taken, some people were standing. We had a lot of Ukrainians, Russians and Americans. We got a lot of positive feedback and that inspired us to organize another Ukrainian Christmas Concert this year. We are doing a Christmas Bazaar this year so people could come earlier and socialize before the Concert, as well as maybe buy Christmas gifts for friends and family. We will have a raffle at the end of the event with a lot of pleasant surprises. Every person will get a raffle ticket at the door and lucky winners will leave the concert with something that will remind them about the beautiful Ukrainian Christmas Concert.

– What is the history of Veselka members singing Koliadkas?

Oksana Toporina: I was singing Koliadkas growing up in a choir when I was 12 or 13. We were traveling around Christmas time and one of the moments that I remember most clearly is our choir performing Koliadkas in Minsk, Belarus. People were just amazed with how we sang and it was received very warmly. One of my favorite Koliadkas is “Shedryk” (from Ukrainian: Щедрий вечiр, “Bountiful Evening”), known around the world as “Carol of the Bells”. It was arranged by composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1916, and tells a story of a swallow flying into a household to sing of wealth that will come with the following spring. My mom, Valentina Toporina, arranged “Shedryk” for Veselka and about 12 kids aged 4-12 will join on the stage for this carol. Carols are even more beautiful when you remember that many tell the story of the birth of Christ.

High energy Ukrainian dances from Zorya always amaze the audiences

Bill Borozny: I grew up in St. Catharines (a.k.a St. Kitts), Ontario, Canada. It is a very multi-cultural community, with different ethnic groups from around the globe that celebrate and share their heritage throughout the year. At Christmas time most other ethnic groups celebrated Christmas, by their many traditions, on the Gregorian calendar, December 25. And the Ukrainian community had a special added bonus of also celebrating Christmas on the Julian calendar, January 7th. It was a great time of year for kids with Ukrainian heritage because it was an extended Christmas season (December and January), it was spiritually uplifting and there were many Christmas events at regular schools, Christmas masses at churches, and concerts. As well as lots of families and friends visiting. Since Ukrainians comprised a significant portion of the population in St Kitts (with several churches, halls, schools, stores, etc.), it was very common for Ukrainian youth and adults to take time off from work and from school around January 7th, to go on a mission of singing Koliadky. Walking through the snow in the neighborhoods, visiting homes to share Christmas caroling and Vynchuvanya (offer good tidings), and usually to collect donations on behalf of the church or an organization. People always accepted Koliadniky (carolers) into their homes and also sang along, and were very generous with offering treats.

– Tell us why you feel so strongly about promoting Ukrainian carols?

Andrew Chobany: We would like to educate people about caroling. Using Christmas magic we would like everybody to imagine that they are in a little Ukrainian village. People are gathering on the streets and singing together. Carols that we will sing include: Dobriy Vechir Tobi (Good Evening to You), which describes the Christmas table and all the goodies on the holiday table, Sviatiy Nikolai (Saint Nikolas), Nova Radist Stala (New Happiness is Here), Na Nebi Zirka ( A Star on a Night Sky) and many more.

Natalia Quillin: Caroling brings back heartwarming memories of my grandmother when I was visiting her in Ukraine (Pereyaslav Khmelnitskiy) around Christmas time. Usually in the evening of January, 6 kolyadniki, or we also called them Hristosslavi (Proclaimers of Christ) were going from house to house singing koliadki and spreading good news about upcoming holiday. And that tradition brought the best out in people making everyone filled with pure joy and kindness. The lyrics of carols also reminds me about true meaning of Christmas and fills me with happiness; this is what I want to share with other people.

– Did members of Veselka sing Koliadkas back in Ukraine, or did they learn of this fine tradition here in America?

Andrew Chobany: Some sang back in Ukraine or Canada growing up. Others recalled hearing them in their childhood, but began to sing only in America.

Natasha Rozhdestvenska: I grew up as a city girl that had a big family in the country to visit. I use to spend the whole summer in the village with my cousins learning country chores: gardening, taking care of animals and helping on the farm. During time of work, you really will learn to appreciate holidays, which would give you time of rest and fun such as Ivana Kupala in the summer. My father use to play accordion, and my aunt was always playing tambourine and folk drum on parties. She still plays French horn in a community band. Everyone sung: beautifully, intricately braiding men and women voices together into a river of music. And winter was always special: life slows down, days are short, white blanket of snow brings peace and beauty to the country side. Then a holiday season comes full of good food, gifts, and fun. We use to go in groups to visit houses of our neighbors with songs and good wishes to collect holiday food items for our party. And now in America many years later I sing songs of my childhood and have a chance to relive the fun experience again with my children Katia and Misha by my side, dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothes, playing violins in Veselka.

– Americans also have many Christmas traditions. Why should they come and attend the Ukrainian Christmas Concert?

Andrew Chobany: America is multi-national community with many traditions of Christmas. Ukrainian tradition is very bright and colorful. Americans have always liked new experiences and this will be a real eye opener for first-time listeners.

– What dances will Zorya perform this year?

Andrew Chobany: Some of the traditional dances to be performed include: Zhentsi (Wheat Collectors), Chumak (Salt Traders), Vesnyanka (Spring), Zaporozhets (Cossacks from Zaporizhzhya) and Hopak (Celebration). One unique dance for Zorya is the Texan Ukrainian Dance. Children in the Zorya Ukrainian Dance Ensemble are taught from a young age the meaning behind the various traditional dances that the group performs. Tightly woven into the stories behind these dances is the story of Ukraine and her people. As the children perform these dances, they feel the ties to the agrarian culture of their ancestors, and develop an appreciation for the lives they lived. By the time they grow into adults, they have learned to perform the high energy Ukrainian dances that amaze audiences. This ties entire families together and gives them a sense of ownership of their Ukrainian heritage, even as they live here in Dallas.

– We know any extra proceeds from the concert may be used to purchase audio equipment for Veselka or new colorful Ukrainian costumes for Zorya. How can the readers of our newspaper contribute to this noble cause?

Andrew Chobany: First of all, you can support us by helping sell out the venue, which seats just under 400 people. Then, cheer our performers on as they entertain the crowd. We could always use more volunteers to help keep the event well organized, so let us know if you are interested.

Natasha Rozhdestvenska: The best advertisement is the word of mouth: let your friends know about us, invite them to come to the concert to enjoy live Ukrainian music and dancing. Beside audio equipment, we need good strings and new bows for violins and some important accordion repair. If someone is moved to be a sponsor for two young musicians Katia and Misha and their teacher Valentina, please, let us know. Get more copies of our famous The Dallas Telegraph where this interview will be published and give it to friends and family. And please buy tickets and come to share our joy and see us performing live in concert.

– For you, Andrew, for you, Oksana, for you, Natasha, and for you, Bill and for everybody in your singing and dance groups, all your shows are products of your commitment and dedication, what drives you to do it?

Bill Borozny: I participate in Ukrainian events because I think it is important that our kids, families, friends and community understand and are reminded that there is a rich tradition in the Ukrainian culture.

Oksana Toporina: I am proud to educate the American community about the country I where I came from. I love bringing Ukrainian songs into children’s lives, including my own kids. Also, to be able to share this with my mother, a true musician, makes it that much more special. In some ways, we both feel more “Ukrainian” here than when we lived in Ukraine.

Natasha Rozhdestvenska: You know, if you have something good, you always want more of it. We are like a sparkle of joy that sets everyone around us on fire.

Aleksandra Morel: I have decided to join both groups for my son. I have been trying to teach him to live in the cosmopolitan world, so learning yet another culture was a wonderful opportunity for both of us. People of Zorya and Veselka are super talented and friendly. We love learning traditional Ukrainian music and dances. I feel inspired, uplifted and very much loved no matter how many times I participate or see the shows. They are all unique, never the same, and always wonderful. Please, come and see us, we will be happy to sing and dance for you.

By The Dallas Telegraph

Photo by Serge Taran

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