The other day Euromaidan Press posted some 20 renditions of “Shchedryk” – the New Year carol known in English as “Carol of the Bells” – by Mykola Leontovych ( see http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/ 12/21/a-ukrainian-composers-gift-to-the-world-of-christmas-music/). The renditions – performed in different parts of the world, in various arrangements and musical media – are exquisite. Included are a 1920s choir in Prague, dribbling by U.S.A National Basketball Association’s stars set to its music, the magical David Hickens on the piano, and the incomparable Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose musical conductor popularized the piece.
There is also the singing of “Shchedryk” by various services of the U.S. military. Remarkable!
What an impact this little musical gem has had! And all because one man decided to put pen to paper and write down an ancient melody from Ukraine’s cycle of winter celebrations.
Teary-eyed, I listen to this panoply of sounds, proud to be related to this musical genius via my mama, Natalia Leontovych Bashuk.
Here’s the link: Mama’s father, Roman Leontovych was a grandson to the Rev. Petro Leontovych who had six sons and a daughter. Mykola, the composer, was a grandson too.
Perhaps Mykola inherited his musical talents from the Rev. Petro who built a church, directed the choir and, of course, wrote its music. He passed the commitment to Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural development to his son Adrian – also a priest. Besides being into music my great-grandfather Adrian organized Prosvita, and established a library and a small money-lending operation. Was it a part of the sizable credit union movement, indeed the national renaissance that swept through western Ukraine of the 19th century and endures today?
In turn, the Rev. Adrian’s son, my dido (grandfather) Roman Leontovych, the school director in the border villages of Ukraine’s frontier with Poland, was an author. He wrote numerous plays for the school’s productions. They highlighted national and religious holidays.
Mama was convinced that this treasure trove of works – including her favorite “Vechir Sviatoho Mykolaya” (St. Nicholas Eve) – is still buried somewhere in Tenetyska. Burying was a common way to hide anything indicating Ukrainian patriotism from the Polish Communists and Bolsheviks. They were tearing up Western Ukraine’s countryside following World War II, and forcefully inflicting repatriation on the population.
Dido’s work was published, including contributions to Lisovyk, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s (UPA) journal. Notably, in the 1930s two of his historic novels came out. “Zveneslava” was gifted to me in Winnipeg, Manitoba, by its publisher, Ivan Tyktor. It is dedicated “To the granddaughter of ‘Vuyko’ Roman Leontonvych, the-brother-in-arms in Sichovi Striltsi.” The monarch-era heroine of the book saves her people a la Joan of Arc. I am still searching for his other book “Na Pru” (a reference to a no-holds-barred fight). Is it still buried?
Dido’s wife, my babtsia (grandmother) Anna Zatwarnytska, was a teacher, village doctor, psychologist, choir conductor and artistic director of his plays. His sister, Yulia Leontovych, had a long and distinguished career as the wardrobe designer at the Zankovetska Theater in Lviv.
I recall Myron Kyprian, the set-designer, telling me several years ago while offering a tour of the theater that “Yulka,” as he knew her, came from “a “fine family.” That was code during the ugly Soviet years; it meant that someone was not a Communist apparatchik or lackey.
The Leontovych clan spread to other parts of the world, but continued its love affair with Ukraine’s culture.
Roman’s daughter, my mother, Natalia Leontovych Bashuk, was a devotee. Our Winnipeg bungalow was eternally filled with singing around the piano or theater rehearsals. She founded the Perepylychky Singers, a girls’ octet that performed in Rome at the celebration of Ukraine’s 1,000 years of Christianity. Mama also organized the Winnipeg Ukrainian Children’s Theater that performed at Expo ‘67 and Canada’s National Art Center.
As the theater’s producer for some 30 years, she collaborated with notable artists like the prima donna of the Lviv Opera, Irena Turkewych-Martynetz, and a former ballerina/choreographer Nadia Nezhankivska -Snihurovych. One of the theater’s singers, Irena Welgash – cast in most of its leading roles including the fox in Mykola Lysenko’s “Koza Dereza” – become a lead soloist with the Canadian Opera Company. At its zenith in the 1960s-1970s mama’s ensembles comprised some 100 performers and support.
Natalia Leontovych Bashuk also wrote extensively in children’s publications, including Veselka. As national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Women’s Division, she commissioned the English translation by Vera Rich of Lesia Ukrainka’s dramas and poems. Mama tackled political themes in Homin Ukrayiny.
Most notably she left behind her memoirs, “Na Mezhovii Zemli: Spomyny z Zakerzonnia,” written under the nom de plume Nata Lenko. It is a seminal document dealing with the 1945-1946 repatriation of Ukraine’s territory east of the Curzon line given to Poland after the War. The historic memoir depicts the daily heart-wrenching survival of the dispossessed people facing the horrific dilemma: to turn traitors and be repatriated to Poland or face forced labor in Soviet kolhosps. Akcja Wisla became the final chord in this calamity.
Those memoirs, published in Kyiv in 1999 are slated for republication and are being translated into English by further descendants of the Leontovych clan – me and my children. The working title is “The Borderland.” A Polish translation is also on the way.
Now, back to Mykola Leontovych, the musical genius who gave the world “Shchedryk.” He composed some 300 pieces. Until they become global sensations like the “Carol of the Bells,” there’s no end in sight to all the work that needs to be done.