Fonds MSS 438 - Olexander Koshetz Choir fonds

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Olexander Koshetz Choir fonds

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  • Multiple media

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  • 1939-2011 (Creation)
    Olexander Koshetz Choir

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Physical description

1761 photographs (including 1175 mounted in 5 photo albums)
2 positive photo contact sheets
6 sheets of photo negatives
2 transparencies
1 photo reproduction
18 computer images
13 postcards
2 VHS tapes
3 commercial Compact Discs
5 CD-R music discs
113 MDs (mini discs)
19 reel-to-reel audio tapes
10 (33 1/3 rpm) LP record albums
11 posters
12 laminated sheets
14 artefacts

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(ca. 1941 -)

Administrative history

The Olexander Koshetz Choir traces its origins to the annual summer Higher Education Courses (HEC) sponsored in Winnipeg from 1941 through 1962 by the Ukrainian National Federation (UNF). In addition to Ukrainian language, literature, culture and history classes, the courses offered instruction in the art of choral singing and conducting. Initially the music program was directed by the renowned New York-based Ukrainian choir conductor and arranger Olexander Koshetz (Oleksander Koshyts’; 1875-1944), who had served as conductor and choirmaster of the Kyiv Opera during the Great War and led the Ukrainian Republican Capella (Ukrainian National Choir), on very successful tours of Europe and the Americas between 1919 and 1926. After his death in Winnipeg, in September 1944, Koshetz was succeeded by his widow Tetiana Koshetz (-1966), a voice teacher, and his local colleague and assistant, the musicologist Dr. Paul Macenko (Pavlo Matsenko; 1897-1991). Each year the courses concluded with a choral concert in which all of the students, conducted by Koshetz and/or Macenko, participated.

In 1946, a number of HEC participants and alumni, led by Halia Cham and encouraged by Tetiana Koshetz and Dr. Macenko, established the Winnipeg Ukrainian National Youth Federation (UNYF) Choir. The first permanent Ukrainian youth choir in the city, it received moral and financial support from the UNF’s Winnipeg and St. Boniface branches, doubled as “a school of Ukrainian culture,” and initiated the practice of touring Ukrainian rural communities and performing at local festivals. When the choir’s founder and first conductor Halia Cham moved to Eastern Canada in 1948, Dr. Macenko and Mrs. Koshetz led the choir until 1951. At that point Walter Klymkiw (1926-2000), who had immigrated to Canada as a child with his parents, attended the 1944 HEC, graduated from the University of British Columbia, and recently entered the teaching profession, became the choir’s conductor and musical director. He would lead the choir (which became known as the Ukrainian National Federation Choir in 1964, and officially changed its name to the O. Koshetz Memorial Choir in 1967) for the rest of his life. In the process, he made it one of Western Canada’s finest amateur choirs, the most prominent and representative Ukrainian choir in the country, and an important cultural bridge between Ukrainian Canadians and the land of their ancestors during and after the Cold War.

Among the many highlights in the history of the Olexander Koshetz Choir during its first 30 years, the following events stand out: the Choir’s first trip to the United States and successful performance in Minneapolis (1955); back-to-back victories in the choral competition at the Manitoba Music Festival (1961 and 1962); an invitation to perform at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto (1962); the first of many performances on the CBC radio and television networks (1962 and 1963); selection as pre-centennial musical ambassadors to Eastern Canada with performances at Moncton NB, Halifax NS and Montréal PQ (1966); an appearance as guests of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) under Victor Feldbril at one of the orchestra’s Pop Concerts, the first of many engagements with the WSO (1966); performances at Expo ’67 in Montreal where Walter Klymkiw first met Ukraine’s Veriovka Choir, directed by Anatoliy Avdievsky (1967); a Winnipeg concert with guest soloist Andrij Dobriansky of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company (1969); a concert marking Manitoba’s centennial at the new Centennial Concert Hall also featuring the Rusalka Dancers and Roxolana Ruslak of Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company (1970); a performance in the WSO's 'Great Cultural Heritage' series (1975); 'The Ukrainian Gala Concert and Ballet' also featuring the Rusalka Dancers, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the WSO followed by the Dmytro Bortniansky 150th anniversary concert with the WSO (1977); and participation in the first of several Associated Choirs of Winnipeg concerts (1978).

In 1978, after Anatoli Avdievsky spent a month in Winnipeg conducting workshops, the choir embarked on its first tour of Soviet Ukraine (Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil) which brought the works of Koshetz to the attention of the Soviet Ukrainian elite at a time when they were officially ignored by the regime. 1978 also marked the beginning of a period of intense activity that would last for almost two decades. Highlights during this period included the choir’s ‘Tribute to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’ concert as well as participation in the ‘Chorus 1000’ performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the WSO (1980); a second tour of Soviet Ukraine (Lviv, Ternopil, Kyiv) featuring Broadway star and recording artist Ed Evanko as guest soloist (1982); the ‘Family Christmas Fantasy’ concert with the WSO (1984); a tour of Ukrainian colonies in South America with concerts in Buenos Aires, Posadas and Apostoles, Argentina, Encarnacion, Paraguay, and Curitiba and Prudentopolis, Brazil (1985); the ‘Millennium of Ukrainian Christianity' concert tour of western Europe with performances in Paris, Rouen, Liseux, Vangenbourg and Strasbourg, France, Antwerp and Genk, Belgium, and Munich, Germany (1987); the ‘Project 1000/Celebration of Note’ concert in Winnipeg which marked the millennium of Ukrainian Christianity, and featured the WSO (directed by Virko Baley), Yuri Mazurkevich (violin), Nina Matvienko (soprano), John Martens (tenor) and the world premiere of Evhen Stankovych’s ‘When the Fern Blooms’ (1988); the National Millennium Celebration Concert at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (1988); a guest performance on CBC’s popular ‘Hymn Sing’ television broadcast (1990); the choir’s third tour of Soviet Ukraine (Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil) which featured a much broader repertoire of national and religious music and also included concerts in nearby Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Warsaw, Poland (1990); the choir’s 45th anniversary concert, banquet and reunion (1991); the world premiere of Evhen Stankovych’s ‘Black Elegy’ in a nationally broadcast concert with the WSO during the Canada-wide CBC ‘Festival of New Music’ (1992); the choir’s fourth tour of Ukraine (Kyiv, Ternopil, Lviv, Ivan-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia, Uzhorod) with performances in nearby Rybnytsia and Rashkiv, Moldova (1993); concerts in Winnipeg and Montreal marking the 50th Anniversary of Olexander Koshetz's death (1994); the Taras Shevchenko concert in Edmonton AB (1995); and the choir’s 50th anniversary concert featuring guest conductors Anatoli Avdievsky and Laurence Ewashko, as well as the WSO conducted by Bramwell Tovey (1996).

In 1992 the O. Koshetz Choir was awarded independent Ukraine’s prestigious Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian State Prize, becoming the first individual/organization from the Ukrainian diaspora to be so honoured. The choir and Walter Klymkiw were praised for propagating Ukraine’s musical heritage and for bridging the divide that had existed between Canada and Ukraine in the past. During the late 1990s, Klymkiw’s declining health obliged him to slowly curtail his activities with the choir. In 1999 the choir honoured his many years of service with a special tribute concert at which Anatoli Avdievsky, Laurence Ewashko and Henry Engbrecht spoke. In recent years the choir has been conducted by Walter Zulak (1998-1999), Roman Worobec and Corinne Villebrun (1999 – 2001), Tetyana Rodionova (2002-2006) and Miroslava Paches (2007-present).

Performing highlights since 1996 have included a concert of choral works by Mykola Leontovych and Paul Macenko featuring the University of Manitoba Singers and the Hoosli Male Folk Ensemble (1997); a performance at the International Society for Music Educators gathering in Edmonton (2000); participation in the ‘Bridges of Manitoba’ concert with the WSO (2003); participation in the Manitoba Choral Association’s ‘Diversity Sings!’ and ‘Manitoba Sings!’ festivals (2005 and 2010); a concert marking the 25th anniversary of the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba (2006); the choir’s 60th anniversary concert conducted by Laurence Ewashko and featuring a number of guest soloists including Andriana Chuchman and Irena Welhasch-Baerg (2006); the ‘Spring Celebration’ concert (2010); the choir’s 65th anniversary gala concert (2011); the ‘Celebrations of Winter’ concert (2012); the ‘Call of the Bells’ concert (2013); and participation in the annual ‘Festival of Ukrainian Carols’.

Custodial history

The executive of the Olexander Koshetz Choir was in charge of the records for the past few decades. In the fall of 2014, Scott Artmstrong, who was President of the choir (on behalf of the executive board), officially donated the fonds to the U of M Archives.

Scope and content

The accession consists of brief notes and articles on the history of the choir; minutes of executive meetings (1964-1965, 1974-1999) and annual general meetings (1969-1999); the choir’s incoming and outgoing correspondence (1964-2000, and fragments from 2002-2003, 2009, 2011); some contracts and agreements (1966-1996); incomplete financial records (1967-1997); some records of fundraising efforts (1978-2006); choir bulletins and announcements (1970-1999); choir rehearsal attendance records (1981-1996); leaflets and programs advertising and chronicling local, national and international concerts (1943-2014); records and photographs of major tours and performances (including tours of Ukraine in 1978, 1982, 1990 and 1993, and tours of South America in 1985 and Western Europe in 1987); the Project 1000 celebrations of the Christianization of Ukraine in 1988 and the performance of Evhen Stankovych’s “Black Elegy” in 1992, both with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; the choir’s 45th and 50th anniversary concerts in 1991 and 1996, etc); various choral groups (Children’s Choir, Chamber Choir) sponsored by the choir; newspaper clippings; sheet music; materials (mostly bulletins and newsletters) from various local choral and Ukrainian-Canadian organizations; photographs; VHS tapes; commercial LP albums and CDs produced by the choir; reel-to-reel master tapes of recording sessions as well as mini disc (MD) recordings of choir rehearsals; posters; and artefacts (primarily memorabilia from international tours).

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The collection is arranged into fifteen series:
1: General History
2: Minutes of Meetings
3: Correspondence
4: Financial
5: Bulletins and Announcements
6: Attendance
7: Concerts, Trips and Tours
8: Internal Choral Projects
9: Newspaper Clippings
10: Sheet Music
11: Other Organizations
12: Photographs
13: Audio-Video
14: Posters and Laminated Articles
15: Artefacts

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A finding aid can be downloaded from the fonds-level description by clicking on the “Download’ link under “Finding Aid” on the right hand side of the screen.

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Created by Orest Martynowych (2018). Revised by N.Courrier (January 2019).

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