For over three weeks, an unprovoked and brutal war has besieged the Ukrainian people. Millions have fled their homes, thousands have been injured and hundreds have died, though the true number of casualties is likely far higher.
Around the world, there has been an outpouring of support and displays of solidarity for the people of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands have rallied to call for an end to the Putin-lead incursion; blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, have illuminated monuments and buildings; and, Ukrainian songs and anthems have been sung proudly by Ukrainian speakers and non-speakers alike.
Now, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble has added their magnificent voices to the resounding chorus of support, with a little help from a Winnipeg mens choir.
“As musicians, it feels sometimes like our options are limited as far as what we can do to support,” says Chanticleer music director Tim Keeler. “Of course, what we have at our disposal most readily is our voices, and our musicianship so that seemed to be the most obvious way we could support Ukraine.”
Founded in 1978 and known around the world as an “orchestra of voices,” San Fransisco-based Chanticleer has sold millions of records, featuring a wide variety of repertoire from Renaissance, jazz, gospel and contemporary classical music.
“Prayer for Ukraine” was heard by millions when New York’s Dumka Choir performed the spiritual anthem in lieu of Saturday Night Live’s cold open, and it was the first piece that came to mind for Chanticleer, says Keeler.
After scouring the internet for a four-part TTBB (tenor, tenor, baritone, bass) arrangement, Hoosli’s rendition stood out for its “power and strength” and inspired Keeler to reach out to the group.
For Hoosli board chair and member of the second tenor section Christopher Sklepowich, the request came in the midst of a “flurry of attention” after the choir performed both the Ukrainian and Canadian national anthems ahead of the March 1 Winnipeg Jets Montreal Canadiens game.
“We were getting requests for sheet music from Norway, from Sweden, from Austria,” says Sklepowich. “Then when this one from San Fransisco popped up… it was a very humbling feeling.”
After providing music, as well as translations and transliterations of the Cyrillic text, Sklepowich was blown away by the result.
“I never would have guessed that every single person in that room didn’t know how to read and speak and sing in Ukrainian,” he says, with only a native speaker being able to pick out small minutia. Not mincing words, Sklepowich called the final result, “Just an incredible, incredible production by — obviously — very, very, extremely talented singers.”
Chanticleer is encouraging others to get involved in the singing of the “Prayer for Ukraine” by making their music as well as the translations and transliterations available online.
“We hope that we would be able to not only share our version of (the hymn) but be able to share the tools that would allow other choirs to make their own recording,” says Keeler. “That’s really what it’s about. If you can inhabit that sphere, inhabit that music, you become even closer to the spirit.”