Music Ministry in the Ukrainian Evangelical Christian- Baptist Church
Stephen John Benham
Ukrainian Evangelical Growth
Beginning with perestroika (1987) and following Ukraine’s secession from the USSR
(1991), the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (AUAECB) experienced a great spiritual awakening and dramatic growth.1 During this period, the number of churches and church membership expanded at an astounding pace (54 percent since 1990)–– this in spite of emigration that reached staggering 95 percent in some areas, such as the Crimea. The AUAECB had 991 churches with80,117 members in 1990, and 2,236 churches with 131,950 members in 2000. This made the AUAECB the second largest union in the European Baptist Federation. By May 2002 the AUAECB had surpassed Great Britain in reported church membership, with more than 146,000members in 2,680 churches.
The Prominence of Church Choirs
With the dramatic growth of the church since1990 and the influx of Western ideas, changes
are taking place in the organizational structure and the music ministry of larger Ukrainian churches. In the past, choirs might sing anywhere from three to six anthems during a service. In larger churches, there would be three or four services a week in which the choir performed. A choir then might sing anywhere from 12 to 20different anthems in a week. As a result, choirs in Ukrainian Baptist churches usually have had a standard repertoire of pieces that are more frequently repeated than in Western churches. Now, however, some congregations have two or even three choirs that participate regularly in-services. This has eased the burden on pastors and musicians considerably.
A Melancholy Strain
Ukrainian church worship is substantially more somber and solemn than in Western churches. Explanations include the repression and persecution experienced by the church, the very difficult manual labor required by many jobs in the former Soviet Union, the emphasis on minor tonality, a deep reverence for God that has its historical basis in the Orthodox Church, and cultural view of God as the Almighty, Triune Creator.2Hymns familiar to Westerners may be virtually unrecognizable as they are sung much more slowly than in the West. Ukrainians consider clapping and other demonstrations of praise found in Evangelical churches in the West to be inappropriate. Acceptable expressions of gratitude and praise would be such statements as “SlavaBohu Dyakuyemo [Praise God]” or “Blagadarim”[Thank You] (in Ukrainian and Russian).
The Influence of Orthodoxy
The solemn and reverent nature of worship services in Ukraine (and Russia) has its origin in the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church and reflects what musicologist Olga Dolskaya-Ackerly calls velichestvennost or torzhestvennost,untranslatable terms that in English mean roughly uplifting, dignified, solemn, and intense spiritualelevation.3 Orthodox churches and the extremely conservative wing of the AUAECB allow only a cappella singing during services, whereas the majority of AUAECB churches permit instrumental music and accompanied choral and congregational singing.4
Ukrainian- Versus Russian-Language Worship
Choral music is performed in both Ukrainian and Russian with the specific proportion in each language determined by local preferences and the degree of state-imposed Russification in a given locale in the past. Many churches use both Russian and Ukrainian interchangeably throughout the service. This is true particularly in the central region of Ukraine where Russian and Ukrainian cultures intermingle. In Western Ukraine, some traditional hymns and choral anthems have been translated from Ukrainian into Russian. The opposite is true in Eastern Ukraine. Other former Soviet countries, such as Russia, Belarus, and Moldova, have also taken Ukrainian hymns and translated them into Russian.5
The choral repertoire of AUAECB churches has its roots in the Orthodox choral tradition. In the 18th to 20th centuries, Ukrainian composers such as Maxim Sozontovych Berezovs’kiy (1745–1777), Artem Luk’yanovich Vedel’ (1767–1808), Dmytro Stepanovych Bortnyans’kiy (1751–1825), Mikhaylo Verbyts’kiy (1815–1870),Mykola Vytaliyovych Lysenko (1842–1912),6
Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877–1921),7and Kyrill Hrihor’yevych Stetsenko (1882–1922) made substantial contributions to religious music.Although their compositions were intendedprimarily for the Orthodox Church, their worksare also found in the contemporary choral music of the AUAECB. As Oleksandr Kreshchuk,director of music ministry for the AUAECB, explains,Protestant churches of Ukraine use variety of music during worship services, including traditional European hymns and our own musical compositions. But a significant portion of music, especially choral music, is taken from the Orthodox liturgy, especially fragments of the liturgy that were written by Ukrainian composers at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. These include the texts “Our Father,”
“I Believe,” “Magnify the Name of the Lord, “and also choral cantatas which were written on individual psalms or from portions of the books of the prophets (Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah).8
Financial and government restrictions limited the availability of choral music during the Soviet period. In many churches, it is still typical to find choral collections that have been meticulously notated by hand. In addition to the Ukrainian composers mentioned above, these collections include standard works of other Slavic composers, such as Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804–1857), Alexander Andreyevich Arkhangel’sky (1846–1924), and Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippoloitov-Ivanov (1859–1935).Many of these works were originally written for use in the Orthodox Church, but have been adapted for use in AUAECB churches.
Because of state-imposed educational restrictions, few trained composers emerged in Baptist ranks during the Soviet period. Nevertheless, a number of talented, typically self-taught composers produced works for use in AUAECB churches. Ukrainian composer A. F. Kazymyrs’kiy (1905–1975) wrote 95 works, including a number of choral cantatas. Sergey Andreyevich Batsuk (1910–1983) composed more than 400 works, including hymns, cantatas, and large choral arrangements.
Odessa native Nikolay Ivanovich Visotskiy (1898–1988), who directed church choirs in Odessa, Kyiv, and Moscow, wrote many hymns and choral works which are still performed in AUAECB churches. Restrictions placed on education during the Soviet era resulted in a lack of trained composers or composition teachers for students in the current era. In spite of this obstacle, the AUAECB is producing new choral music for church use. Two composers in particular, Pavlo Sidko inL’viv and Serhiy Khashchuk, now residing in Sacramento, California, have written music that is used in AUAECB churches. The Christian Music Academy of the AUAECB is making a concentrated effort to train a new generation of composers in order to continue the development of contemporary Ukrainian Protestant church music.
A Choral Collection
Since 1991, the choral music department of the AUAECB, under the leadership of Oleksandr Kreshchuk, has published a number of choral music collections that are now widely used in AUAECB churches. The primary collection, Khrista khay velichayut’ vsi [Let Everyone Magnify Christ], was published in1998. It contains 25 choral arrangements taken from traditional Slavic church music, with additions from the European classical repertoire(Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Handel), and from traditional and modern composers from the West(Phillip Bliss, William Bradbury, Andrae Crouch,Jack Hayford, Tom Fettke, Graham Kendrick, and John Peterson). The collection contains both Russian and Ukrainian arrangements, some with texts in both languages. A second volume, Khvala Tobi, Nash Bozhe [Praise to You, Our God], was released in 1999. This collection contains an additional 36 hymns in styles similar to the first volume.
Since its formation the AUAECB has made a concerted effort to provide resources for congregational singing, including new hymnals, with music notation, in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages. Before 1991, the primary hymnbook in Ukraine and Russia was Pesn’Vozrozhdeniya [Songs of Revival], based on the hymn collection, Desyatisbornik, produced in St. Petersburg by Ivan Prokhanov at the beginning of the twentieth century. Pesn’ Vozrozhdeniya is still the standard hymnbook in many churches throughout Ukraine, Russia, other former Soviet republics, and Russian-speaking churches in the United States and Canada. The Russian-language Pens’ Vozrozhdeniya contains 1,640 hymns of Russian, Ukrainian, European, and American origin. The Western hymns were present in Russia before the 1917 Revolution, having been introduced by Baptist missionaries working in Russia and by Slavic Christians who had traveled to Europe prior to the closing of the borders. These songs remained part of the tradition of the church throughout the Soviet era and are still
commonly sung. Examples include Velikiy Bog[How Great Thou Art], Tverdo ya veryu [Blessed Assurance], Tikhaya noch’, Divnaya noch ’[Silent Night, Holy Night], Snom pogrebennogo [Up from the Grave He Arose], Pastyr dobriy, sterezhy nas [Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us], Vsevishnemu slava! [To God be the Glory!], and Vernost’ velikuyu [Great Is Thy Faithfulness]. The standard form of the hymnbook provides only text, although some editions include hymn tunes and tonality.
With Ukrainian independence in 1991, the AUAECB determined that a completely new hymnbook was needed for use in its churches. The editorial committee formed for this project attempted to coordinate and standardize the various versions of hymns which had developed in various regions of Ukraine during the Soviet period. It is interesting to note that the editorial committee consisted of musicians and pastors from churches in Ukraine and from Ukrainian immigrant churches abroad. The project,Yevanhel’s’ki Pisni [Gospel Songs], completed in 1997, contains 521 hymns in a contemporary Ukrainian translation.9 The selection of hymns reflects the European heritage of the Evangelical twentieth century Slavic composers and poets.
This collection includes hymns drawn from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, the Baltic states, the Caucasus, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Churches and mission organizations in Europe and North America provided financial support for these hymnals which are widely used not only in Ukraine but in Ukrainian immigrant churches in North America. Churches in Russian-speaking countries asked the AUAECB to produce an analogous Russian language hymnbook. After the completion of the Ukrainian hymnbook, the AUAECB immediately began work on a new Russian hymnbook, Evangel’skiye Gymni “Vozrozhdeniya” [Gospel Songs – The Revival], which was completed in 2000. As with the Ukrainian version, the editorial committee worked to unify and modernize practice and language usage. Other than listing the publisher as the AUAECB, Evangel’skiyeGymni contains no references to Ukraine or the Ukrainian language.
Since the initial run of 10,000 hymnbooks has been completely distributed, it would appear that the project has general church support.10Many churches use both the Russian-language Pesn’ Vozrozhdeniya and the Ukrainian-language Yevanhel’s’ki Pisni. This practice meets the needs of members of congregations who are familiar with the older hymnbook and those who prefer the new Ukrainian-language hymnbook. ♦
Editor’s note: The author has provided the following update, commenting on developments since the completion of his dissertation. “In the past five years, music ministry in Ukraine has undergone still more change. Four new volumes of praise songs, Pisnyi Khvali [Songs of Praise] (Irpin, Ukraine: Center for Christian Life, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2005), are now widely used across the country. There are also many Western style churches complete with PowerPoint, praise bands/teams, etc. It’s hard to generalize anymore!”
Edited excerpt published with permission from Stephen John Benham, “Music Education as Identity Construction: An Investigation of the Church Music Schools of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christian- Baptists,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester, 2004.
Stephen Benham is associate professor of music at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.