All Ears on Ukrainian Choir Where All Voices Welcome
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, there's a Ukrainian choir, which sings at a local church every Sunday. The choir accepts everyone willing to join them - even those who doubt their singing abilities
Every Wednesday, Ukrainian singing fills the St. Joseph Cathedral in Utrecht. The Catholic cathedral is not in use and is rented out to the Ukrainian church.
“It’s located in the center so we decided to start it here in Utrecht so that people could come from different corners of the Netherlands. We took into account the transport and how convenient it is to each of us,” choir conductor and opera soloist Lesia Lenyshyn said.
Lenyshyn came to the Netherlands in 2001 when she was invited to sing in the national opera.
“In Ukraine, I sang not only as a soloist. I also sang in the church choir. I always liked when there’s a rich multitude of voices. And the service itself is better when one participates in it,” she said.
During the Euromaidan Revolution, Ukrainians in the Netherlands took to the streets to voice support for the protests in Ukraine. This is when the idea to organize a Ukrainian church — and the choir — was born.
“I’m used to everyone singing in Ukraine. Everyone sings in churches, the choirs are huge everywhere. But here, when I asked around if people could sing, they were, “No, I’ve got no voice,” “Oh no, I can’t sing.” As a choir, we really emerged when we began holding a weekly service. That’s when we needed to work on it more seriously. So we began rehearsing more,” Lenyshyn said.
During the services, Lenyshyn is always on the lookout for new choir recruits.
“The priest is making fun of me, you know what he says? ‘Oh, Lesia spotted a new person. She patrols the rows asking if people can sing. There she’s dragging someone to the choir. And that’s how we create our choir.’ I always said that ‘Amen’ and ‘God Save Us’ is something that everyone can sing. So we start from there,” Lenyshyn said.
Lenyshyn’s daughter, Solomiia Romaniuk sings in the choir and helps her mother manage it.
“I personally like church music a lot. I’m so fascinated by this – I even serve as a clerk at our church,” Romaniuk said.
Two-and-a-half years ago the choir found its first bass line singer, Ruut de Vries, who was also the first Dutchman to join the collective. He almost never misses rehearsals.
“I got here due to my – I married a Ukrainian girl. About 18 years ago I got christened and went to church,” de Vries said.
Although the first, now de Vries is not the only Dutchman to join the choir together with his Ukrainian wife.
“I came with her to the church, and then we decided to join the choir… I like the songs, even it is very hard for me. I cannot read the letters, I speak very little Ukrainian. So, I try my best, so its more on hearing and reading the notes. That’s about it for me,” choir member Rienk Mud said.
Besides the one in Utrecht, there are two more Ukrainian church choirs in the Netherlands — one in Alkmaar and one in the Hague. They help the Ukrainian diaspora in the Netherlands feel more at home.