We recently witnessed one of Ms. Kuzmenko’s works performed at the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, which put on her Ukrainian Oratorio, The Golden Harvest, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Ukrainian immigration to Canada. The SSO was one of five orchestras performing this. It was a wonderful homage to the cultural landscape of the prairies. It looked at the hopes, disappointments, hardships and strength of spirits of the early immigrants to harsh Canadian lands.
The Golden Harvest
The Orchestra overture opens with a famous Ukranian folk tune, the title of which translates as “The Mighty Dnieper River Roars and Bellows”. I grew up loving this folk tune and felt that since the tune is almost a kind of Ukrainian national anthem that it would be perfect for this piece. The tune becomes an important element that runs through the course of all the movements in some sharp or form. The overture represents the immigrant’s ocean journey to Canada. The music reflects the sound of the waves and wind. Exciting and fearful at the same time. The choir gently enters on the words “The wind whispers in Canada.” The movement ends with an ominous oboe solo, while the choir becomes the sound of the dark wind, foreshadowing the many struggles to come. Perfromance Program SSO
Part 1. Journey
Words by Talia Zajac
CHOIR (Voice of villagers):
The wind whispers… Canada, Canada…
Stories and rumours circle the village…
There is a land with endless fields…
Stories of a land so vast, it’s unimaginable…
MOTHER: I have five children: how can I feed them all? We have neither a cow nor a chicken, neither milk nor eggs.
FATHER: I have a bright son: but how can I send him to school? My cousin writes to me: “Come to Canada: here is enough land for everyone! Here there are no lords or emperors, but rather everyone lives like a prince!”
Leaflets secretly pass from house to house:
The priest in our village reads them aloud for us.
It is forbidden for us to leave our land,
It is forbidden for us to want to leave.
FATHER: They show us a picture of a wonderful farm, such that I could never have in the village. The immigration agent counsels us secretly: ‘You see how good things are in Canada? And you are living here like slaves!’ I make the leap of faith: I sell my land; I sell all that I own. We will make our fortune in a foreign land.
Adieu my land, adieu my village! Here I grew up; here I stood on the cloth [i.e was married]. Here my parents are buried: here all my ancestors rest in the earth. O my native village, my land, my country! I’ll never see you again. What awaits us in a foreign land?
The immigrants carved a chest from precious wood
To take with them on their journey and laid within:
Seeds, potatoes, sickles, the warmest sheepskin cloaks.
The chest was placed on a train traveling to Hamburg
Then sixteen days rocking gently in the hold of a ship
It bore their hope of land, of food and of better days.
Part II: The Struggle
CHOIR (Voive of Villagers):
We came by train across an unknown land,
a vast country that seemed to stretch forever
No promised farm in sight:
nothing but rock after rock, bush after bush
Too late to learn that a homestead is no farm.
Too late to learn that agents earned five dollars
For every settler brought by ship.
There is no help here for us,
Save what we can do with our own hands.
One hundred and sixty acres to clear
And only then will the land be ours.
MOTHER: No human voices, no song: only the sound of prairie grasses rustling in the wind. Where will I lay my children to sleep? With what will I feed them? We will starve to death in this wilderness.
FATHER: Don’t cry, wife, but look how much land is here! The earth will give us shelter, the earth will give us bread.
MOTHER: And in the meanwhile how will I feed my children? We will die of hunger in the wilderness.
FATHER: Don’t cry, wife, I will go seek work. I will return in the autumn. Watch over our children, o wife…
MOTHER: If I knew how to write I would write a letter to my husband, to tell him that our youngest son has not survived. Alone, I bury my child.
No priest for the funeral of her child, no burial ground, no church.
The mother calls her neighbours from all the homesteads around:
We raise a pine cross over the grave.
The land is ours now, because a child of ours is buried in its earth.
Beside the solitary place where once a boy’s grave lay
we build a chapel of white-washed logs.
In time we raise the golden domes of a church
over this sacred earth.
Part III: Settlement
The wind brings strange news…
Strange new rumours on the wind that
far from the prairies, far away in Sarajevo,
a car turns a corner and a gunshot rings out.
Our neighbours start to look at us with suspicion in their eyes.
They ask themselves: who are these strangers among us?
These “Enemy aliens”?
MOTHER: Where are they taking you my love?
FATHER: They are taking me to the camp as a prisoner.
Behind a barbed wire fence,
in the sharp cold air
we work as slaves
prisoners in our new land.
Behind stone walls,
we work as slaves
And for this we came to Canada?
We gave this land our youth, our lives,
And for this we came to Canada?
FATHER: I took my family to Canada to seek a better life! And now I am imprisoned, I can only dream of them…
MOTHER: Alone I wait for my husband, and my children are ashamed to be Ukrainian.
(addressign her children) My children, do not throw away your heritage. I have faith that you will see your father again, I have faith that we will yet find happiness in Canada.
(to her husgand) For years waited for you, my love!
While the world fell apart around me, I faithfully waited.
FATHER: We gave to Canada, our youth, our life.
One more time I plough, one more time I sow the grain,
I shall give to Canada my final years as well.
For five long eyars the war rages and prison camps fill.
And yet we keep sowing the harvest year after year.
At last when the war is over, the men come home to the Red Fife wheat.
We sell Canadian wheat the whole world over,
Form east to west.
Where once women gathered the harvest by hand with scythes,
A thousand acres of wheat like a golden woven fabric
COver the fieds.
Ukrainians preserved their language,
Founded academic societies and institutions,
And helped build Canada.
In all the vast prairie,
Ain in the deep forest-
Like bright sparks
Ukrainian-Canadian songs have flashed voer the land,
A golden harvest for Canada.