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Ukrainian Week collaboration creates cultural learning opportunities

Feb 14, 2024

Ukrainian scholars have been working with Indiana University students and faculty to host “Ukrainian Week at IU” events, as the anniversary of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine approaches. The collaboration has created many opportunities for student learning.

Svitlana Melnyk Students learning Ukrainian in senior lecturer Svitlana Melnyk's class helped translate song texts into English for the performers and audience. Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies

The concert Art Song of Ukraine is central to the week, featuring Ukrainian composers and performances by IU Jacobs School of Music voice students, coached and accompanied by professor Allan Armstrong. The concert will take place at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 in Ford-Crawford Hall in the Simon Music Center and will also be livestreamed.

Halina Goldberg, director of the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute in the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, said the scholars in the IU-Ukraine Nonresidential Scholars Program were instrumental in the concert’s inception. Through the program, scholars continue their research in Ukraine while also contributing to IU’s academic community.

“Through the work of professor Iryna Tukova, a nonresidential scholar, I became familiar with Ukrainian composers’ emotionally powerful musical responses to the war,” said Goldberg, who is also a professor of musicology. “Especially now, as the Ukrainian people courageously fight for their sovereignty, it is imperative that we take the time to learn about the abundant riches not only of Ukrainian music but, more broadly, of Ukrainian arts.”

The nonresidential scholars are supported by the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute, and this year, two are supported by the Jacobs School of Music. Scholars worked with Ukrainian Week co-organizers, the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, and the Ukrainian Studies Organization.

Iryna Yahodzynska, associate professor at Kharkiv Kotlyarevsky National University of Arts, helped locate musical scores for the concert. She said it is significant that most pieces in the concert will be performed for the first time in Bloomington, Indiana, by the Jacobs School of Music.

“It is important that Ukrainian art music, especially now that we are fighting for our freedom in many ways, wins the stage, and new listeners and performers,” Yahodzynska said.

Iryna Tukova, associate professor of music theory at the National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kyiv, helped select composers and repertories for the concert.

“To me, the project Art Songs of Ukraine represents a profoundly impactful step in supporting my country,” she said. “Every cultural project aimed at popularizing Ukrainian culture, particularly its music, signifies a new global attitude and understanding toward my country and its people.”

Tukova said that to her, one of the most crucial aspects of the concert is the participation of IU students.

“The concert provides young performers with the opportunity to explore other cultures, discover new music and incorporate new compositions into their repertoire,” she said. “I am especially grateful to lecturer Zachary Coates for providing such opportunities to his students.”

Maria Fokina, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology, spearheaded concert preparations and worked closely with the nonresidential scholars.

“Dr. Tukova and Dr. Yahodzynska informed every aspect of the project,” Fokina said. “Not only are they specialists in the field of Ukrainian music, but they offer new ways of considering the richness and diversity of Ukraine’s musical cultures.”

In addition to concert planning, Fokina wrote program notes and is preparing to teach a class on Ukrainian art song for Jacobs students in Coates’ course on song literature.

Students also had the opportunity to learn Ukrainian diction, with the help of Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad, a Ukrainian American vocal coach. Polstiankina Barrad is on music staff at San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera and had already planned to be at IU in February as a diction coach preparing Jacobs School students for the opera “Eugene Onegin.”

Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad IU students also had the opportunity to learn Ukrainian diction, with the help of Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad, a Ukrainian American vocal coach on music staff at San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Lugar School

“There is so much beautiful music out there that was purposefully destroyed to support imperialistic narratives,” she said. “It is a privilege to be able to discover this repertoire myself and to help other people get familiar with this music.”

The concert also created opportunities for students at the Hamilton Lugar School. Students learning Ukrainian in senior lecturer Svitlana Melnyk’s class helped translate song texts into English for the performers and audience.

“I marveled at the challenge of trying to convey the flow and nuance of Ukrainian into English,” said Aaron Kennet, one of Melnyk’s graduate students. “It was a lovely challenge and a great way to continue to celebrate Ukrainian life.”

Kennet is studying the language for his job at an international development consulting firm.

“My academic and professional interest in Ukraine spans a nearly seven-year record of interacting and supporting international development programs in Ukraine,” Kennet said. “In 2017 I received a Fulbright Award to teach English in Sumy, Ukraine, and basically ever since have worked on different initiatives and programs related to Ukraine: everything from eastern Ukrainian economic resilience, to supporting design and implementation of decentralization reform programming.”

Graduate student Elijah Kelsey also helped with the translation. Kelsey is pursuing Russian and East European studies with a focus in community development and humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

“I think it’s important for students like me to get to know not just Ukraine’s language and history, but also its culture, its literature, its art,” Kelsey said. “By studying these things and helping to translate them for an American audience, we can help people understand why Ukrainians have fighting for freedom for so long.”

As concert planning wraps up, Goldberg extended thanks to all involved, and to Catherine Compton, managing director of the Jacobs School‘s Opera and Ballet Theater.

In addition to the concert, Ukrainian Week will include a film screening of “Ukraine’s Stolen Children” at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Hamilton Lugar School’s Shreve Auditorium. A poster exhibition on the Holodomor, the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33, will open at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Hamilton Lugar School’s first floor Southwest classroom wing.

The Indiana Slavic Choir will perform at the poster exhibition opening. The choir, whose members include IU students and faculty, has grown since its establishment in 2021 and has performed at IU and beyond.

Lecturer Melnyk, who is also a choir member, said one song in particular that will be performed is meant to inspire hope.

“This song has amazing harmony, with five parts intertwining in one powerful piece,” she said. “It is about a soldier who is going to the military and asks his mother not to cry. It is a very moving song that resonates with the current situation. Every time I sing this song, I feel that a Ukrainian song is one of those things that keeps our spirit alive.”


Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies

Sarah DeWeese

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