For a quality musical ensemble to thrive for nearly half a century, talent, vision, dedication and persistence are the minimum requirements. The Promin Vocal Ensemble, founded in 1972 by the indefatigable and inimitable conductor, vocalist, musician and arranger Bohdanna Wolansky, has all these qualities and more – most notably, a passion for singing in general, and for Ukrainian song in particular. All accentuated by a genuine camaraderie and the pure joy of making good music together.
In the late 1970s and ’80s, Promin was a staple at the now legendary Ukrainian Youth Festivals in Glen Spey, N.Y., at the time, the premiere U.S. showcase for leading Ukrainian ensembles and soloists from the United States and Canada. Later, Promin performed at such prominent venues as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the United Nations in New York, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
The ensemble has appeared with the foremost Ukrainian artistic organizations of the Ukrainian diaspora, including Roma Pryma’s Syzokryli, Lydia Krushelnytska’s Drama Studio, the Ukrainian Music Institute, the Dumka Chorus, the Grazhda Music and Art Center of Greene County, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus and the Echo of the Steppes Bandura Ensemble.
Since its inception in 1972, Promin has been under the direction of Bohdanna Wolansky – the ensemble’s music director and artistic voice.
On Saturday, December 2, 2017, at the venerable Ukrainian National Home on New York’s Lower East Side, the Promin Vocal Ensemble celebrated its 45th anniversary with a seasonal concert of Ukrainian “koliady” and “shchedrivky.” Several international and American Christmas selections were included for good measure, as befits an ensemble that has been an integral part of New York’s multicultural fabric for decades. Many of the selections were accompanied by an exquisite ensemble of “bandurysty,” comprising Promin vocalists performing double duty as accompanists.
“Kolyada Yide” (arranged by Ms. Wolansky) served as the “introit” – the ensemble entered from the rear of the hall and then took the stage, all while singing. “Oy Tam Za Horoyu” (arr. Mykola Leontovych) and “Oy Na Richtsi, Na Yordani” (arr. Kyrylo Stetsenko) followed. The first non-Ukrainian selection was the popular British carol “Ding Dong! Merrily on High!” (arr. George Woodward). Then, another arrangement by Ms. Wolansky, “V Nashoho Pana Noviyi Dvory.”
Midway through the program, Promin provided several surprise treats, the first of which was Ms. Wolansky’s arrangement of the Scottish New Year’s favorite “Auld Lang Syne.” Leontovych’s classic, “Shchedryk,” was followed by a Ukrainian version of Irving Berlin’s timeless “White Christmas,” sung by an ensemble composed entirely of Wolansky family members, accompanied by Bohdanna and Lev on guitars.
Three more Ukrainian selections followed, namely, “Shchedryi Vechir, Dobryi Vechir” (arr. K. Stetsenko), the familiar “Na Yordanskyi Richtsi” (arr. K. Stetsenko) and “Vo Vyfleyemi Zorya Siyaye” (arr. Alla Kutsevych).
The closing selection, “Silent Night,” was sung in three languages – the original German, English and Ukrainian.
The full house, comprised equal parts Promin alumni, friends and supporters, and music enthusiasts, greeted the ensemble with tumultuous applause. Promin received flowers and congratulatory greetings from the Consulate of Ukraine, the Dumka Chorus, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, the Ukrainian Music Institute and the Grazhda Music and Art Center of Greene County.
Guests were treated to a reception with refreshments and libations, during which former and present Promin members and their friends had ample opportunity to reminisce and rekindle past experiences. Not surprisingly, a “koliada” sing-along soon broke out, led by several Promin members, the highlight of which undoubtedly was the reprise of Leontovych’s “Shchedryk.” Given the many singers in the audience, the effect of nearly the entire hall singing this world famous Ukrainian “shchedrivka” – all vocal parts accounted for – was literally spine-tingling.
On this night, as had been true for the past four decades and then some, the hallmarks of Promin’s style featured the core principles consistently espoused by Ms. Wolansky: proper vocal technique, subtlety of interpretation, sonic balance, quality repertoire and the often elusive “good taste.” Promin members past and present know full well how fortunate they are to have had in Ms. Wolansky an expert vocal coach, a musical mentor, an enthusiastic motivator and an aesthetic compass, whose expertise and guidance will serve them well not only as performers, but as informed listeners of music.
It is no wonder that, through the years, Promin’s ranks have produced several popular Ukrainian recording artists, such as Danchyk (Bohdan Andusyshyn) and Olya Chodoba-Fryz, as well as prominent vocal soloists Oksana Bodnar and Maria Wolansky (still a member of Promin), among others. Promin has also helped seed the ranks of the above-mentioned bandura ensembles, and molded future music instructors, all enriched by their Promin experience.
It should be noted that Promin has released several recordings of its own, the first of which dates back to 1984. Its most recent CD, “Sing A Song of Christmas,” was released just this year. More information is available on the ensemble’s website, www.ProminVocal.org, or by writing to the ensemble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After 45 years, it would hardly suffice to simply congratulate Promin on nearly half a century of musical achievement. A heartfelt thank you is more in order. Since its inception, Promin has endeavored to present the very best of Ukrainian vocal repertoire in the most worthy possible guise. As such, Promin stands proudly at the forefront of the Ukrainian diaspora’s cultural achievements, alongside its most prominent exponents. And it has achieved all this in the spirit of camaraderie, and with the pure joy of singing that is irresistible to all who have had the pleasure of hearing them.
Mnohaya lita, Promin! Many happy years!