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For forty years, the Hryhory Kytasty Cleveland School of Bandura has helped students in Parma, Ohio develop their knowledge of the bandura and of traditional Ukrainian music and song.
In the late 1960s, Hryhory Kytasty—bandura virtuoso, composer, and conductor of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus—was invited to conduct the St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral choir. He began teaching and promoting the bandura and sharing his love for Ukrainian musical culture. In September 1983, after Maestro Kytasty's departure from Cleveland, a group of students officially established the school to continue to expand his work and legacy. After his death in 1984, the school was named in his memory.
The school's first administrator, Dr. Ihor Mahlay, managed the school from its inception. Through individual or small group lessons, students learn basic bandura technique and develop musical repertoire. Since its establishment, over 150 students have taken lessons through the school. Some have advanced to become instructors, members of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, bandura soloists and ensemble performers.
The music of the bandura has greatly enriched the northeast Ohio community. Members of the school have performed in Taras Shevchenko concerts, Plast and CYM events, schools, church and community functions, concerts, festivals, and other special events. Beginning in 1987, the annual student recitals have become a joy to families, friends, and bandura music enthusiasts, as students proudly perform specially prepared compositions that they have worked on throughout the school year.
Students also shared the bandura among non-Ukrainians, through demonstrations and performances at libraries, school, ethnic and cultural festivals, and concerts. In addition, the school has hosted visits and performances by other well-known bandura soloists and ensembles, such as Volodymyr Horbatiuk, Victor Mishalow, Mykola Lytvyn, the Lvivyanky Trio, the Charivny Struny ensemble, and the Shpylyasti Kobzari.
Members of the school also joined other North American international bandura groups for national events organized by the Society of Ukrainian Bandurists. In December 1983 at the World Congress of Free Ukrainians in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 148 bandurists took the stage under the direction of Maestro Kytasty, setting a precedent as the largest bandura concert ever performed in the free world. Another joint concert series in New York and Philadelphia during the winter of 1984 featured over 120 bandurists from the US, Canada, and the UK. The 2000 Bandura Festival in Toronto, a series of educational sessions, discussions, and concerts organized by the Canadian Bandura Foundation brought together bandurists from Canada, Argentine, France, Ukraine, and the US – including Cleveland.
Through ongoing dedication of the administrator and instructors and the undying enthusiasm of its many students, the Ukrainian bandura tradition continues to thrive and grow in northeast Ohio as the bandura's beautiful notes and melodies continue to captivate the hearts of Ukrainians.
Written by Irka Zawadiwsky
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