• Kathleen Holyoak

Cultural Celebration - Kiev, Ukraine

"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away."

Pablo Picasso


I love Picasso's statement! When we find our passion, we find our purpose and our gift. Along with a passion for music writing, I've been on a road of personal growth. Serving others has brought me immeasurable joy and greater meaning to my life. I've experienced the rising and setting of the sun in different countries, embraced cultures I knew nothing about and curiosity has helped me learn to love inclusively.



As mentioned in two previous blog entries, Garth and I have participated in humanitarian trips to other countries, but some of the dearest have been to Ukraine in the effort to help orphans. Our first trip in 2005 and then two more occurred within the following year. However, the trip in 2010 was for yet another purpose.


In 2009, I was asked to write orchestrations for the Cultural Celebration that would take place the night before the dedication of the temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Kiev August 28, 2010 at the Palace Ukraine. (pictured below). This concert hall can be compared in size to the Kennedy Center, seating 4,000 people.


When opportunity knocks to share my music, I am not only honored but thrilled so I didn't hesitate to accept. Musicians and dancers would be traveling from 8 countries to rehearse for an evening of music and celebration for which I would be writing arrangements for an orchestra and choir. In addition to my arrangements, there would be some individual solos and small ensembles performing along with the traditional heritage dances from each country. It was a project that excited me and I took it seriously. To prepare mentally, I knew I couldn't be creative if distracted by prior commitments so starting in January, 2010, I dropped my piano students and all church and community obligations in the effort to focus on my music writing. To further explain, and as ridiculous as it might sound, dishes in my sink, piled up laundry, outside pressures or any unfinished

projects become giant roadblocks and stunt my creativity.


In the meantime, workers were scrambling to complete the temple in Kyiv,

first LDS temple in the former USSR.

The deadline to finish my scores was April 1, 2010, so I began an intense study of the works of the great composers, mentors and listened to choral performances of famous choirs.



Among the list of instruments I needed to include in the orchestra was the bandura. "Bandura?" I thought, "What type of instrument is that?" Thank goodness for the internet! I learned that banduras were a folk instrument, had been around for centuries and were plucked like a harp. However, in 1926, a company in Kyiv began manufacturing this instrument in a new design as shown in the photo below.



During the Soviet era, the bandura (traditionally known as the lute) became more commonly the instrument for small ensembles. It combined elements of the zither and lute and up until the 1940s, was also often referred to as kobza. Earlier instruments had 5 to 12 strings and similar to the lute but in the 20th century, the number of strings increased initially to 31 strings, 56 and up to 68 strings on modern instruments.


Since I knew it would be impossible to write for an instrument I knew nothing about, I began searching for one to buy and was lucky to find one for purchase in California for $350. I was thrilled when Mike, my son-in-law, drove to Sacramento to pick it up and then flew with it to Arizona because it could not be shipped. The next few weeks were focused on learning to play via youtube videos as I could not read Russian but at least my ability of perfect pitch enabled me to tune the instrument.


My instrument was about 30 years old and had a range of 4-1/2 octaves with the lowest string a C sharp. There are 55 strings in two layers. The top layer of strings are the natural notes and the lower level are the accidentals, i.e., flats and sharps.


The left hand is held high on the neck and plays the root (or bass note) of each chord whereas the right hand plucks the melody. I was able to pick it up rather quickly to a beginning level as I prepared to play in the orchestra with 8 bandura players.


Now that you know some of the background of this venture, let's jump to our arrival in Kiev and the events that followed.







After 20 hours of travel, we arrived in Kyiv, a city of 2.5 million. We were picked up from the airport and driven 45 minutes into the city.


The Motherland Monument (photo right) stands to signify that Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine. The sculpture is a part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War.


Hi-rise buildings could be seen everywhere and where local residents live. The apartment buildings were built by the government and people rent individual units. At that time you could buy a one bedroom flat for $100,000. On an average wage of $250/month, it took a long time to save enough money to buy a flat so most people rent. The government does not maintain the exterior of the buildings so it is not unusual to see a building look really run down and walk inside to an apartment that is nicer. Nevertheless, apartments are very small and more often than not residents share a communal kitchen. One family we knew sacrificed by living in one room for all 5 members of their family because they wanted their daughters to take music lessons and they couldn't afford a larger apartment.

Interesting Facts about Ukraine

  • Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe

  • Arsenalna is the deepest metro station in the world and equivalent to a 33 floor skyscraper. A single escalator tunnel leads down to the train platforms and takes a full five minutes to ride up or down. It made me so dizzy I couldn't look down so I hung onto the rail. The station was completed in1960 and was named after the nearby Kyiv Arsenal Factory, founded in the 18th century as a production facility for the Russian army.

  • McDonalds in Kiev is among the most visited McDonald's restaurant in the world.



  • Ukraine is among most educated nation in the world. Ukraine stands 4th in the world in terms of most educated population. 99.4% of Ukrainians aged 15 and over can read and write. 70% of adult Ukrainians have a secondary or higher education.


  • Ukraine is the least expensive city to travel in Europe

  • Vishyvanka is the name of National Costume of Ukraine. Vishyvanka is a plain white shirt made of linen and decorated with floral or ornamental hand-sewn embroidery and worn by both men and women.


  • Russian or Ukrainian? Both languages work in Ukraine.



Photo below: Kreschatyk Street


Our flat was located on the 4th floor of a very old building but conveniently located in the center of the city on Kreschatyk Street which was also the main drag. We were thrilled to pay $99/night but when we found a towel as our doormat. we wondered what we would find inside.



Much to our surprise we found a spacious, modern and very clean apartment.

Below: Looking out the side window on the 4th level.


After a little time to rest, we took the rest of the day to explore. Kyiv is a beautiful city!


Riding a marshrutka was a whole new experience. You must jump quickly into a very crowded bus and then hang on!! Money is passed forward to the driver then the change is passed back through the crowd. The charge was about 25 cents.



We spent a couple of hours touring the Pechersk Lavra, a monastery (an area of 69 acres) in Kyiv with underground caves where monks lived in seclusion centuries ago. Also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, it is a center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. While being a cultural attraction, the monastery is once again active, with over 100 monks in residence and was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine in August, 2007.


Pechersk Lavra


Our first rehearsal was scheduled Friday at 4 PM at the church at 16 Shota Rustaveli. Excitement filled the air as singers, instrumentalists and dancers began arriving from the surrounding countries. We were so happy to see some of the musicians we had met on previous trips to Ukraine.





It was wonderful to see the Ludmilas, violinists, who had traveled 12 hours on the train from Donetsk to participate.






Love is friendship set to music.

Jackson Pollock

Musicians crowded into the recreation hall of the church in preparation for our first rehearsal.

The orchestra was a rather interesting combination of instruments!

Without music, life would be a blank to me.

Jane Austen


Our formal rehearsals were planned for the next day so we were asked to dress/or bring our costumes and be prepared to stay until after the concert that evening. As we were walking into the Palace Ukraine, we met up again with Lucy & Nastia Ludmila, violinists from Donetsk.


Walking into the concert hall and seeing that empty stage was an awesome experience and something I shall never forget! There was no doubt that something special was about to take place that evening.


Katia S., Director of the Cultural Celebration, was sitting anxiously for everyone to arrive and rehearsals to begin. We had corresponded for months and it was wonderful to finally have a few minutes to chat with her in person. As an interpreter, she spoke perfect English.



A seamstress was doing last minute embroidery of the traditional Ukrainian blouses.

Setting up for rehearsal.

Audio and lights were setting up and the event would be televised and recorded.

Dancers began rehearsing on stage and we watched with curiosity.

Marina Lavrik, center, with dancers from Donetsk.


During a break I walked outside and to my surprise saw the Lavrik family waving and walking toward me. I had heard that they might be coming because Marina would be dancing but I wasn't really sure. As I was running to meet them, I didn't realize there was a curb and fell flat, face down on the cobblestone street! Ouch!


Everyone rushed to help me because they knew I had fractured the humerus in my left arm in 2008. I put on a brave face but after some hugs and a few photos had to return back to rehearsal. Since visitors were not allowed into the auditorium, I knew I couldn't see them again until after the concert.




The Lavriks had traveled on the overnight train to attend this event. It was thrilling to see them again and my heart felt like it was going to burst!


Rehearsals continued and my foot began to throb and swell double in size. I knew the next 9 hours were going to be a challenge because the pain was excruciating! (I learned later that I had torn a ligament in my foot. When I reviewed the video after we had returned home, I looked visibly mad at the world but it was really the pain in my foot.)


Rehearsal continued. Dancers from each country began to practice in the hallways

prior to their stage rehearsal.

Soloists rehearsed and small ensembles

Participants were of all ages but the youngest bandura player was 8. (not pictured)

The costumes from each country were beautiful.

Before rehearsal, Pres. Thomas S. Monson sat at the piano and tickled the ivories.

Nobody knew he could play!


Getting ready for final run through and last minute preparations.

Dress rehearsal





The program was almost ready to start and the auditorium was filled. I wish I could have been in the audience to take photos from the front rather than from the orchestra where I was sitting.

President Thomas S. Monson welcomed those in attendance

then those officiating on the stand took their seats in the audience.

Choose your love and love your choice.

Thomas S. Monson

Marina performed in two dances.

I loved the costumes above.




Let us cherish life as we live it, find joy in the journey and share our love.

Thomas S. Monson


Final applause for a great evening!


A final bow from all participants.

Performers from each country gathered afterwards for photos.


The performance was a great success and I was proud to be part of it. Even though the we

didn't perform as dancers, Garth and I did our own little "happy dance" afterwards.



After the program, we met up with the Lavriks and when learning they didn't have a place to stay, invited them to share our flat. We pushed furniture together to make beds and some slept on the floor. We picked up some pizza and then we went to bed as we were all exhausted. We were grateful we had enough space to accommodate these dear friends.


Marina, in the meantime, had started to learn a little English but the love we felt for each other made communication easy!



Tomorrow would be the dedication of the Kiev temple.



The next morning we took the escalator down to the subway, traveled 45 minutes on the metro, took a bus and then walked to the Kyiv Temple. We were excited to see it for the first time because it was the LDS temple in the former USSR. There are currently 11,000 members in Ukraine and 20,000 in Russia.




The day of the dedication was overcast so it was difficult to get very good photos. The temple is located on a 13.5 acre parcel and is the ONLY structure in Kyiv that has grass and flowers.


Thousands of visitors attended the two week open house prior the dedication.




Marina's sister, Nastia, married Sasha Ludmila in June (middle photo)

and it was wonderful to spend a little time with them.

After lunch, it was time to bid them goodbye. We walked with them down Kreschaytk Street to the Metro and parted with hugs and kisses. Tears were shed when it was time to let them go, not knowing if we would ever see them again as they were taking the overnight train back to Donetsk.


Spending time with the Lavriks and Ludmilas was the frosting on the cake and little did they realize that they had been my inspiration when writing the orchestrations for the Cultural Celebration. I will always be grateful for these dear people and hope to continue our friendship the rest of our lives.


I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,

but they will not forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou


To listen to "Stand as a Witness" click the above photo. Or . . . click the link below then click REVIEW. https://holysheetmusic.com/music/stand-as-a-witness-holyoak-satb/


Marina's mother died from cancer in 2016 and the other members of her immediate family now reside in Russia. Looking at this photo truly warms my heart!


There are friends, there are family, and then there are friends who become family!
















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