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Musicians in War and Tragedy

An apartment complex in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 25, 2022. Creative Boom is an Ukraine-based content platform which launched a free image collection that shows what's happening in Ukraine with additional images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia.
palinchak. Creative Boom.
An apartment complex in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 25, 2022. Creative Boom is an Ukraine-based content platform which launched a free image collection that shows what's happening in Ukraine with additional images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Stephen Galloway.

Stephen Galloway’s driver for his novel is the bravery of a lone musician who defies the snipers and shells to play the cello in memory of the dead. Based on a real musician, 35-year-old cellist Vedran Smailovic, it was not the first time that music has defied war, or disaster, nor the last.

Music has been the vehicle for solace, and respite, and cultural resistance.

In 1912, the eight-member band, ages 20 to 33, on the Titanic played as the ship sunk. 39% of first-class passengers died, 58% of second-class passengers died. And 76% of both crew and third-class passengers died. Surviving British and American passengers said the last song the band played was “Nearer My God to Thee.”

When the Nazis swept through Europe, pushing people into segregated areas, ghettos, and into concentration camps, many ghettos formed musical groups which gave clandestine performances. Some concentration camps forced performers to give concerts for SS officers and dignitaries. This was a type of “work” which could mean survival for the performers, though not guaranteed.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch said that on arrival at Auschwitz being a cellist gave her high value, saving her life in the camp and her sister Renata’s because Anita had extra rations she could get to Renata. After the war she married and, at 97, has a cellist son and a psychologist daughter. Her other sister, Marianne, who had escaped to the UK before the war, who had brought her sisters to the UK, died shortly after the war, in childbirth.

Today, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, numerous reports of musicians and orchestras and dance companies perform in resistance of the invasion.

In Ukraine, almost immediately after Russia invaded the country, performers resisted with music and dance. In a hotel lobby in Kharkiv a young pianist played Philip Glass music. Glass, who lives in the East Village of New York City said he never imagined the music as political, but it is now. Also, the East Village has a lot of Ukrainians and is sometimes called “Little Ukraine.”

In Kyiv, on the 14th of March 2022, a Ukrainian pianist, Irina Maniukina played Chopin in her ruined house before fleeing. Chopin, too, had to leave his homeland of Poland when Poland rebelled against Russia but was crushed anyway.

On the 8th of March, two weeks into Russia’s invasion, a Ukrainian violinist, Vera Lytochenko, played to her bomb shelter mates. She is a member of the Kharkiv City Opera Orchestra.

And another young violinist in a bomb shelter was joined, via Zoom, by nine other violinists in bomb shelters and they were then joined by one set of musicians after another across the globe, finally becoming a virtual orchestra of 94 violinists from places such as London, Tokyo and Oslo.

Young Illia Bondarenko started with a Ukrainian folk song ‘Verbovaya Doschechka.’

The virtual concert was organized by British violinist Kerenza Peacock. Peacock said she wanted to create “an international violin choir of support” for those hidden in shelters.

Illia Bondarenko filmed between explosions because he could not hear himself play.

From the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Ukrainians across the globe turned to music for solidarity and strength. Ukrainian opera baritone Yuri Yurchuk was in London where he had been performing at Covent Garden. As bombs fell on his home city, Kyiv, Yurchuk stood outside number 10 Downing Street to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

History connects wars. Music, and Zoom, connects people. This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

Selected References (additional available upon request):

Titanic Orchestra

Titanic Orchestra
Titanic Victims

Holocaust music in ghettos and concentration camps


Surviving the Holocaust through Music - March 30, 2017 (NYC public TV WNET channel 13)

Surviving the Holocaust through Music

Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz


Cellist: Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz – Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (age 97)



Ukrainian pianist 4 March 2022


Ukrainian pianist plays a final Chopin melody before fleeing ruined home near Kyiv 14 March 2022


Ukrainian violinist Vera Lytochenko plays to her bomb shelter in moving and powerful footage - 8 March 2022, 17:59


Ukrainian cellist plays solitary Bach suite in abandoned bombed-out streets of Kharkiv

24 March 2022, 16:48


94 violinists play alongside young Ukrainian soloist stuck inside a bomb shelter

14 March 2022, 14:23


Ukrainian operatic baritone sings his national anthem at 10 Downing Street in ‘call for peace’


Dance in the park – head down page to the Mavka Ukrainian Dance Group (folk dance)


Spring Read 2023: In Touch with the World 2023 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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