Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Music of Survival: The Story of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus

There are few sounds that stir the Ukrainian soul like the sparkling harmonies of a bandura capella. A distinctly Ukrainian instrument, it has become one of the most prominent cultural symbols among the diaspora community, uniquely patriotic as it is heart-wrenching and emotional.

To purchase tickets call 416-763-5575 x028 or email

Similarly, documentary film director & producer Orest Sushko's newest feature, The Music of Survival, tells the complex story of the original 17 members of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus - a group of musicians who triumphed over incredible hardship and persecution during WWII to reestablish their ensemble in Kyiv after the war and continue to share their tradition with the world.

Tickets for the world premiere on September 25, 2014 at 8PM at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox are available through this link, or available for purchase by phone at (416) 599-TIFF (8433). (Note: Tickets purchased online and via phone are printed at the box office. Visitors are asked to bring the confirmation number and a piece of photo ID.)

Proceeds from the film will go toward a music education scholarship set up through the Taras Shevchenko Foundation in Canada. Read below the jump for more details and the official synopsis of the film from Director Orest Sushko.

From Orest Sushko:

The story of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus is one of courage and true grit - a vivid chronicle that celebrates the human spirit. This is the triumphant story of the original seventeen members of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus who survived World War II as a musical ensemble.

The early Chorus, and the musicians who played the instrument known as the bandura had been systematically persecuted during the repression years in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of bandura players went missing and were executed in the 1930's. The Chorus was nearly wiped out in the early days of WWII - but with a stroke of fate, 17 men re-established the ensemble in Kyiv.

In short order, the Chorus was forcibly transported out of Ukraine by the German occupying authorities, and incarcerated in a labour camp in Germany. In time they were assigned to perform in all the OST (Ostarbeiter) slave labour camps across Germany. The Chorus and their music brought hope to tens of thousands of Ostarbeiters displaced from Eastern Europe, many of whom were children. Their gift of music eventually carried them across the ocean to freedom in 1949. The Chorus thrives to this day upon the foundation these artists forged for future generations.

The film brings out the deepest roots of a fragile tradition, celebrating the resiliency of a music culture that has survived centuries. It provides an educational, informative and compelling perspective - the personal stories of the last two survivors inter cut with the collective history of the bandura throughout the ages. Interwoven with contemporary musical performances, the film illustrates the bandurist as bard, as seer, as spiritual emissary for the soul of the Ukrainian people, then and now, in Ukraine and beyond.


In a further effort to support this noblest of cultural legacies, a portion of proceeds from the film will go towards a music education scholarship in the name of my late father, Makar Sushko, and late grandfather, Paul C Stepowy. The fund is set up through the Taras Shevchenko Foundation in Canada. Makar Sushko was the first Canadian member of the Chorus. Paul Stepowy was the first Canadian Bandura craftsman and an honorary patron of the Chorus. A portion of proceeds will also go to the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus. The life-long devotion and sacrifices of the early members has made this film possible.

Together - their lives, and their gift of music have forever left a mark upon me, and future generations.

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