Did you know that Carol of the Bells comes from Ukraine?
Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych wrote Shchedryk in 1916, originally as a winter folk song.
The Ukrainian National Chorus brought the carol to the U.S. a few years later, when they performed it during a concert at Carnegie Hall in October 1922. It was the first stop on their tour of North America, as part of a cultural diplomacy mission. At that time, Ukraine was working to assert its independence and define its own identity (it would end up becoming part of the Soviet Union in December 1922).
American composer Peter Wilhousky gave the song its English lyrics and title in 1936, creating the contemporary Christmas staple. Its Ukrainian roots have been largely buried — until now.
Carnegie Hall Rose Archives
Shchedryk Children’s Choir, along with several choruses and soloists, took to the famed stage on Sunday to perform a slew of Ukrainian carols.
⚡️The famous Ukrainian carol ‘Shchedryk,’ also known as ‘Carol of the Bells,’ was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Dec. 4.
The carol had its first performance at Carnegie hall 100 years ago, in 1922.
The concert included the Shchedryk Children’s Choir from Kyiv. pic.twitter.com/N0i3bwXOvQ
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) December 5, 2022
Just a few days earlier, the children’s choir performed the carol at New York City’s Grand Central station.
Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, shared a video of the performance on Twitter, calling it “light amid darkness.”
Light amid darkness. Beautiful performance of the Ukrainian carol Shchedryk, also known as Carol of the Bells, by the Children’s Choir of Ukraine at Grand Central. Proud @USEmbassyKyiv joined @UA_Institute and @razomforukraine in bringing Shchedryk back to NYC.
— Ambassador Bridget A. Brink (@USAmbKyiv) December 1, 2022
Sunday’s concert was truly an international production, organized by entities including Ukraine’s foreign ministry, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and the Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.
It aimed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that first performance, shine a spotlight on Ukraine’s distinct culture and support its efforts to defend — and rebuild — itself from Russian attacks.
“A 1919 review of the Ukrainian Republic Choir in the Genevan journal La Patrie Suisse mused that the Ukrainian National Republic established its independence through the motto, ‘I sing, therefore I am,’ ” concert organizers wrote. “Ukraine continues to sing and continues to be.”
Proceeds from the event are going to United 24, the global non-governmental organization and crowdfunding platform that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched in May. Funds from the concert will be specifically allocated towards the reconstruction of public services, organizers say.
The concert also featured recorded messages from Zelenskyy and the first lady, and a speech from American film director Martin Scorsese — one of the concert’s hosts — urging audiences to donate to the campaign, the Kyiv Independent reports.
Marichka Marczyk, one of Sunday’s soloists, spoke to NPR’s All Things Considered last week about performing in such an important concert — “it’s responsibility, it’s happiness, it’s like everything,” she said.
“My brother is on the front line, fighting for our freedom, independence for me to be free, live in a peaceful sky and sing [these] Ukrainian old traditional songs,” she added. “So my performance I am dedicating to him and for all the Ukrainian people who [are] now fighting for freedom.”