2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko – Ukraine’s most famous cultural icon – and Ukrainian organizations all around the world have been commemorating this historic anniversary in different ways. The US-based Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus celebrated this remarkable poet (after whom the ensemble is named) with a CD release of Shevchenko’s most famous prose, set to new musical arrangements, some of which have never been heard or recorded before. Shevchenko’s words, written nearly 200 years ago, are powerful, dynamic, rousing… and continue to inspire Ukrainians everywhere. His timeless narratives are fiercely patriotic and illustrate the richness of the Ukrainian culture, and are as relevant today as they were when he originally wrote them. Similarly, the UBC has a rich history and are reputed “modern-day bards”, preserving Shevchenko’s poetic legacy and igniting Ukrainian pride with their powerful voices and the sounds of the bandura.
It was a privilege to design the CD artwork for this extraordinary group of talented singers and instrumentalists. I enlisted my husband’s input on this project too – for additional art direction and a male perspective. We felt it was important to visually connect Shevchenko’s historic past with the present Kapella. But how to do that? Luckily, Shevchenko was a renowned artist as well, and, through the magic of technology, we were able to blend his illustrations with present-day UBC photography. The cover artwork combines today’s UBC (2014, photo by Andrew Zwarych, UBC instrumentalist) and Shevchenko’s Cossack Feast, illustrated in 1838. Shevchenko’s sketch depicts a cossack wedding – a celebration of brotherhood and camaraderie – just as the photo illustrates the brotherhood of the ensemble. The CD’s title, Брати! Будем жити! (Brothers! We Shall Live!) not only emotes both images, but is also a timely battle-cry to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, reinforcing our solidarity and allegiance with them in these challenging times.
Throughout the rest of the CD art, we meshed Shevchenko sketches (including his self-portrait, 1843) with current photography, contrasting the old, black and white, with today’s vibrant, colourful Kapella – bridging the past with the present, in a visual tribute to Shevchenko. Two of the UBC’s instrumentalists were the photographers for this project – Andrew Zwarych and Julian Hayda – talented young men, both behind the camera lens and on the bandura.
It was an honour to work with this organization – a multi-generational group of volunteer instrumentalists and singers dedicated to preserving our rich and centuries-old culture through the art of music. Visit bandura.org to order copies of Brothers! We Shall Live! and for more information about the ensemble.