Shchedryk Children’s Choir Performs Away in a Manger at Carnegie Hall
Founded in 1971, the Shchedryk Children’s Choir is Kyiv’s oldest professional children’s ensemble. The choir’s repertoire spans from Renaissance and baroque to classical music, arrangements of Ukrainian songs, and modern domestic and foreign composers.
It’s been a year since Russia’s invasion shattered the choir’s plans. But they’ve kept going, even as they continue to lose friends and family back home.
What is it like to be a member of the Shchedryk Children’s Choir?
The Shchedryk Children’s Choir is one of Ukraine’s most recognized youth musical ensembles. They perform a rich repertoire that spans classical, modern and folk music as well as American show tunes. This year the choir was celebrating its 50th anniversary, a milestone that would have been marked with recordings and a world tour. But Russia’s full-scale invasion in February put an abrupt halt to the plans. The children and their families were scattered, some fleeing the country, others hiding in their homes.
In the midst of the chaos, a Plymouth goodwill offering raised $2,000 to send the singers home to Ukraine with clothing basics, multi-vitamins and plenty of food. Saul Zaks heard about the need and jumped in. His work was a success. The audience stood up and applauded for minutes. But the real triumph was on the faces of the performers, who were glowing with pride and joy. Especially when they sang Shchedryk, the song that gives the choir its name.
How did they become so popular?
When the world saw that video of Ukrainian children signing Away in a Manger at Carnegie Hall, it didn’t just grab media attention. It also highlighted Ukraine’s unique culture, resilience and spirit.
The choir had been planning to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a series of recordings and a tour, but Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February put that on hold. Families were scattered, and the children were unable to meet and practice together.
Saul Zaks heard about the crisis, reached out to Tanya and the rest of the choir’s directors and volunteers, and put the wheels into motion. They worked through a conductor contact in Poland to organize a bus that could carry them. They partnered with the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of Norther America and the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York to submit an application to Carnegie. They hoped to bring the choir and its music to a wider audience and support Ukraine’s struggle to defend itself from Russian attacks.
What is their philosophy?
The choir’s ethos is one of inclusion and tolerance. They encourage their choristers to learn from each other, respect different viewpoints and work together as a team. The result is a joyful energy that radiates through their performances.
The choristers aren’t just performing for themselves; they’re sharing their music with the world to celebrate Ukraine’s rich culture and shine a light on its struggles in the face of Russian aggression. Their videos have received over 82 million views, and the choir’s channels now have 1.16 million subscribers.
In the softly lit sanctuary of First Congregational Church Downtown in Columbus, Ohio, Dasha Tkachenko, a 9-year-old Ukrainian refugee, belted out a Ukrainian folk song, “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna,” meaning “In the valley red viburnum grows.” The song is about resistance and aspirations for Ukraine’s freedom; it is banned in Crimea and other occupied areas. The words resonated with the children, who sang their hearts out.
What makes them so special?
The choir’s performance wasn’t merely entertainment, though. It was also a message of solidarity and hope for Ukraine, where many refugees like Yanina Tkachenko have resettled in the Greater Columbus area. Adding to the emotional intensity of the evening, world-renowned drummer Koshio Gumi and Piestewa Peak Sunrise Drummer Ken enthralled the audience with their virtuosity.
The refugee children in the choir – some of whom have fled Russia’s brutal invasion of their homeland – have spoken about how music helps them heal and feel less lonely. Yevheniia Diachenko, who founded the choir in Oxford, has set up one-hour sessions where she teaches them Ukrainian and English songs and practices vocal techniques.
For hosts like the ones in Des Moines, the concert was a trip back to 1991, when the Shchedryk Children’s Choir first journeyed to town to both amaze audiences with their talents and steal the hearts of Plymouth Church members. When the choir’s plans to record and tour the world were shattered by Russia’s invasion, their host families jumped at the chance to help them out.