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Uzhgorod's Cantus Choir shares songs, culture with local high schoolers

    16 January 2021 Saturday

    Though they don't speak the same language, members of Cantus, a professional 20-member a capella choir from Uzhgorod, Ukraine, and the Crescent Valley and Corvallis High School choirs found a common language Wednesday as they raised their voices in song.Cantus took time from their Northwest "Cultures in Concert" tour to hold master classes with both choirs and to participate in a cultural exchange forum with students in the schools' social studies and humanities classes.

    Cantus, which sings liturgical and folk music from the Transcarpathia region of Eastern Europe, as well as modern pieces, is on its first visit to the United States. The choir is here as a result of a two-and-a-half year effort by the Corvallis and Uzhgorod Sister Cities Associations.

    Since arriving April 5, Cantus has performed 10 concerts in Seattle, Eugene, Salem, Corvallis and Albany. The choir will spend the next two days performing in Portland before ending its Corvallis stay with a Choral Festival on Saturday at the LaSells Stewart Center, and a final concert Sunday in the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan.

    Speaking through a translator, Kateryna Bizilya, who is accompanying the choir, Cantus director Emil Sokach spoke Wednesday to an auditorium full of high school students.

    "This is our first trip to the U.S., which is good, not only because of the fact that we can introduce our culture to you but it is also a good opportunity to communicate and share ideas," Sokach said.

    At both schools, the high school choirs sang a couple selections for Cantus, and then Cantus did the same. The second half of the hour was spent in questions and answers, with high school students asking about Ukrainian politics and popular culture.

    Cantus performed fragments of classical Ukrainian music from the late 18th century, liturgical music and a more modern piece from the early 20th century. A folk song from Transcarpathia, in which Cantus members use their lips as instruments and sang the lowest basses and highest sopranos, brought the students at Crescent Valley to a standing ovation.

    At Corvallis High, Cantus and the high school choir each sang their national anthems and then combined to perform "Bogoroditse Devo" by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Wednesday evening, the two high school choirs and Cantus performed a combined concert at Crescent Valley.

    Sokach explained to the students the difference between the two countries' political systems and how that relates to being able to sing freely in a choir.

    "You must be very proud here," Sokach said. Fifteen years ago, things were quite different concerning music in the Ukraine, he explained.

    Cantus was formed in 1986 with a dedication to reviving sacred and folk Ukrainian music. Ukraine's independence in 1991 offered the first real opportunity for the choir to travel abroad and to perform in international festivals, which is something that, previously, would have required special permission from the government. Since 2001, Cantus has held its own Festival of Modern Sacred Music in Uzhgorod.

    Students at both schools were interested in the 2004 presidential Ukrainian elections.

    Cantus choir member, Taras Petishko, shared with the students his happiness with the results.

    "Though the choir is young, many were born during Soviet times," Petishko explained. "A couple months ago during the orange revolution, was the first time in my life I was so proud that I live in such a country as the Ukraine. ... And we are very happy that we got our independence and freedom, but still it's very difficult to change the mentality of the people. The world is small but the role of (individual) people is very important."

    According to Sally McBride, member of the Corvallis Sister Cities cultural exchange committee, the Sister Cities Association applied for and received a grant from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation in the amount of $738 that will be used in the social studies curriculum at both Corvallis high schools. McBride said one thing the group is looking at purchasing is updated maps of countries such as Ukraine. Wednesday's events were sponsored in part by the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation.

    If you go

    Saturday, April 23: Steven Zielke, chairman of choral studies at OSU, and Cantus conductor Emil Sokach will lead a master class at 2 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center at OSU. Open to the public.

    Saturday, April 23: Cantus will perform in a Choral Festival with six local choirs — First Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, Heart of the Valley Chamber Choir, OSU Chamber Choir, the OSU women's chorus Bella Voce, Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir and Jubilate!

    The Choral Festival will be at 7 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center.

    Tickets are $15 and are available at Grass Roots Books & Music, Rice's Pharmacy, Gracewinds Music, the Scandinavian Trading Co. and at the door.

    Sunday, April 24: Cantus will perform Orthodox liturgical music in the "Fourth Sunday at Four" series at 4 p.m in the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan, 333 N.W. 35th St. No charge, donations accepted at the door, and seating is limited.


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