Detroit, Michigan 2014 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2017
Once again it has been my privilege as President of the Polish Singers Alliance of America to represent you, our dedicated members, in the wider community. I was pleased to participate in District VII’s 2015 and 2016 Conventions, as well as their 125th anniversary celebration of the PSAA in October of 2014 when it was my last opportunity to enjoy the company of the late John Budzinski. I joyfully participate in all of District IX’s Festival of Carols as a singing member of the Chopin Singing Society. I am grateful to the Kalina Singing Society for the Scholarship they provide for a student at Buffalo’s Community Music School and annually enjoy their Wigilia and Scholarship Dinner. So much so, in fact, that I was recently recruited as a member. Of course, I am grateful to participate in the wide variety of events that Chopin Singing Society presents, especially our signature Dyngus Day Celebration. My niece’s wedding precluded me from attending the 65th Anniversary of Symfonia, but I have delighted in many of the other events by the chorus and am working with them to bring their performance of the Divine Mercy Oratorium to Buffalo. Celebrating the accomplishments of the members and choirs and of the Polish community at large has been a most humbling and enriching experience.
Though I am not always able to attend meetings of the Polish American Congress, I have served as a National Director on behalf of the PSAA and thank Frances Gates for her many years as liaison to the PAC. I offer thanks to Zbyszek Koralewski for acting in that capacity in the recent past. On a sad note, you may have noticed that we are down to four districts, only three of whom are represented in Philadelphia. Joan Ludwig of Kolko Mlodzierzy Polskiej requested that District III be dissolved into District IX. There are only a few members of the choir left, and they are the only choir associating with the PSAA. The Board agreed with her request. I also was saddened by the division which occurred in the Polonia Paderewski Chorus. I encourage members and directors to work together for the enrichment of Polish culture in America, rather than its destruction. None of us are perfect. We are volunteers trying to do our best. Respect the efforts even if the results are disappointing. Refrain from tearing down and do all that you can to build up.
On the other hand, the highlight of these past three years was the privilege of presenting Krzystof Penderecki and his lovely wife, Elzbieta, with honorary memberships. Maestro Penderecki was granted an Honorary Membership in 2004 but no formal presentation was made. As the Maestro was to be in Buffalo for a concert with our Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the opportunity arose to finally do so. An email vote of the Kapitula allowed us to offer the honor to his wife as well. She is a major figure in the cultural world in Poland and an organizer of prestigious music festivals. We, in Buffalo, delighted to hear that the Pendereckis have committed funding for our Philharmonic’s planned trip to Poland in 2018. Another honorary member, Ann T. Mikoll, accompanied members of the Philharmonic’s staff and orchestra, including their dynamic conductor, Joann Falletta, and their talented French hornist, Jacek Muzyk, on a fundraising and fact-finding trip laying the groundwork for this future major endeavor. As a note, Madame Penderecka was impressed that the PSAA had so many Conventions and such a long history. Dan Hart, the Executive Director of the Philharmonic, was pleased to offer this opportunity to us and was quite impressed with the pin we give! Of course, I was pleased to give all of them complimentary copies of our history book for their enjoyment. Perhaps Maestro Falletta and Mr. Hart will be future honorary members!
As president, I stand in a long line of leaders who have guided the Alliance in its goal of promoting Polish Culture through song. Like them, I have presided over the meetings of the PSAA Board held in Buffalo and have appreciated the efforts of this year’s Pre-Convention Committee, a small but dedicated ensemble. Debbie Majka and Liz Whitman kindly hosted me for a recent visit to the sites we will be enjoying. It is no easy task coordinating this event as we are notoriously late in making our reservations. I was as guilty as others! Remember, they are an all-volunteer staff, dedicating hours that they don’t have!
My predecessors had a vision of what they wished the organization could accomplish. So I outline a few accomplishments in these past three years and some hopes for the future. I am happy that we now have a considerable amount of music directly on our website, thanks to the efforts of Mariusz Bryszkiewicz. Perhaps it would be appropriate to add the libraries of member-choruses to the Music Page. We would be happy to do so, if you provide a scanned version of the music via a disc or flash drive. Please review our website as it is informative and eye-appealing. The Polish-American paper in Buffalo, the AmPol Eagle, is our provider and does an excellent job. We count on you to give us information to place on it, including a gallery of photos. Again, it is . Our next task is to make the Honorary Members page more engaging with photos and an easier layout. We offer links to facebook pages and websites of choirs, but sometimes these are outdated. Let us know of links to add. If you are not using such technology, please do. Ideally, we would even be sending out tweets (whatever they are) like President Trump. Well, maybe not quite like what he does, but we do need to enter the 21th Century with both feet.
Each of these past three years, I have prepared the Newsletter with your assistance. I welcome your input and suggestions on improving it. We created a more engaging and readable format in the most recent newsletter. I must request that choruses provide a brief narrative of their events, rather than the formal reports that are a part of the Convention. The Newsletter is meant to be entertaining. We also welcome photos of your events. I would also envision moving the mailing up to early January to make the Christmas Wishes more timely. That would require a report from each choir by the first week of December. Congratulations on sending your reports for this Convention as we were missing a number of them from the last Convention and have 100% cooperation this time.
One of the joys of this Convention is the attendance of our newest choir: The Polonia Choir Society of Edmonton, Alberta. It is wonderful to welcome someone new. Keep them coming! Is there a choir somewhere near you that might be interested in joining us? Let us know, let them know, recruit!!! Thank you Polonia Choir Society and Witamy! We hope you find this event enjoyable.
With the help of Frances Gates, the expert on our Constitution, and Barbara Blyskal, I have prepared a new and shorter Constitution and By-Laws, better reflecting what we are actually doing. We will review it here for approval. I have now become intimately familiar with the By-Laws as the disc they were on was unreadable by any computer I had access to. Fortunately, I took typing in high school! It was always interesting reading the comments and corrections of Frances Gates when I saw that they were typed at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning! This is part of the stream-lining of procedures. As you noticed, we adjusted the manner in which we received reports, mandates, Honorary Member applications, dues and resolutions. Committees met via email as was required. Izabella Kobus-Salkin emailed music to directors. Now that the process is more familiar, the future should be simpler. We need to do more of this. To do so, we need your email addresses. As you may recall, we also streamlined the Board, which now meets annually to conduct relevant business. Should something come up, we can communicate and do decision-making via email.
Another resolution from the last Convention was that each district host a Festival for Youth. Kudos to District VII and Izabella Kobus-Salkin who ran more than one. I took the reins to host the District IX Festival in October of 2015 which involved a talented Baroque Music Ensemble, led by Stefan Plewniak of Krakow. The Festival included master classes for a few musicians at Canisius College in Buffalo who then performed in a concert with the Il Giardino d’Amore Baroque Orchestra, along with a local high school choir. The Radosc-Joy Vocal Dance Group performed, members of PSAA. We were then introduced to the remarkable counter-tenor voice of Jakub Jozef Orlinski, who later was awarded the Leodadja Dombroska/Polish Singers Alliance Scholarship from District IX. More importantly, he later won the Metropolitan Opera Competition. He then joined District VII at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the 1050th Anniversary Celebration of Poland’s Christianity. I am grateful for the financial assistance of the Permanent Chair of Polish Culture at Canisius College who underwrote a considerable portion of the Festival. I am fortunate to serve on their Board. A few members of the orchestra and Mr. Orlinski were kind enough to come to a local Catholic grammar school where they joined in at Mass and then presented an impromptu concert to the delight of everyone, clearly the most enthusiastic audience they experienced. Of course, Mr. Orlinski’s youthful good looks (see our most recent newsletter) was delightful to the young girls in the audience. Again I encourage the Districts to present names for this scholarship. The newly-elected Board will meet after our Business Meeting to discuss our future and to grant scholarships as they are requested. Scholarships are in the amount of $1000 and our website outlines the requirements, as well as providing biographies of the recipients so far.
So this brings us to the most difficult discussion. We are aging, 128 years to be exact. Generally we are not successful in recruiting young people; and as immigration has decreased and changed, we do not have a new crop of Poles to begin new choruses. However, our most successful associates are the Lira Ensemble who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and Radosc-Joy who are celebrating 25 years. We do little for them, yet they are flourishing. In District IX, I hope we can engage Radosc through opportunities for performances. I am working on such a possibility currently and was very impressed with their performance in Buffalo for the Youth Festival. Radosc is aware of our scholarship which may be an opportunity to engage Lira also. They are associated with a University and this may be a benefit to both of us. I hope to pursue communication with our honorary member and driving force behind Lira, Lucyna Migala, to create lines of cooperation. Perhaps we could re-enliven District I with some assistance from Lira. I would also compliment Filareci Dudziarz’s association with a Gorale dance group which has been mutually beneficial. I would encourage choirs to look for a Polish youth group, be it a Saturday school, dance group, parish children’s choir or cultural organization, to engage with for performances or some monetary assistance.
I mentioned before that I am grateful to the Permanent Chair of Polish Culture at Canisius College in Buffalo for their assistance in the Youth Festival. They have also committed monies for District IX to run a benefit for the Scholarship Fund with Scholarship winners performing. On two occasions, that organization offered a $1000 commitment to professional and well-respected choirs in Western New York to include Polish composers in their concert performances. One also involved a recording. The most recent such collaboration introduced Polish composers to a largely non-Polish audience. The director, Rob Pacillo, was very complimentary in his remarks about the compositions. I am confident that they will take a more serious look at Polish composers in the future. While the PSAA did not collaborate on this, it is a good example of positive ways to promote Polish music. The collaboration of the Consulate with District VII and the KHORIKOS Choir at St. Patrick’s is such an example. In all the cases mentioned, the pronunciation by the non-Poles was excellent, and non-Poles were introduced to Polish music in a very positive way.
With that in mind, I would propose that the Central Administration provide a financial incentive for choirs who creatively engage young people with Polish music, whether in the native tongue or in translation. Specifically, I would suggest that we offer $1,000 on an annual basis to a PSAA choir who prepares a collaborative program which engages people, preferably young people, with Polish song. A simple one-page description and budget would be presented to be reviewed by the Central Administration by a particular deadline, after approval by the District in which it will take place. While it would be wonderful to offer more, we do need to be fiscally responsible. Of course, if someone would want to offer a matching grant, we are always appreciative of donors!
I would also encourage the translation of Polish music whenever it is feasible. The Chopin Singing Society’s production of Moniuszko’s Flis, in translation a number of years ago was a highly successful endeavor. The rich repertoire of Polish compositions in Latin are also an avenue to draw classically trained musicians. Programming which includes music with Polish themes, not directly by Polish composers, should be encouraged. Of course, that is more the responsibility of our directors.
I don’t know that we will make it to our 150th, but I do think we can hold at least one more Convention in our future. I thank my fellow officers of the PSAA: our Treasurer, Fran Cirbus, who has computerized everything and has efficiently managed our finances; our Vice President, Mary Jean Syrek, who faithfully handles our annual Lottery (by the way, tickets are available today!); our General Secretary, Adrienne Kusmierczyk, who handles the membership rosters and membership cards. I am grateful for the generosity of Izabella Kobus-Salkin, who is truly dedicated to this organization and to Polish music and culture. Her organization of District VII’s participation in the Koszalin Festival was very impressive. I thank Dr. David Troiano who continues to promote Polish music in other venues. I appreciate the work of the District Presidents and enjoy their visits for our annual meeting. I would remind everyone that essentially we are volunteers. For the most part, we have forgone accepting any stipends, though we do enjoy the food at our annual meeting! A modest stipend is offered in a Convention year to our choral directors, but it is not the amount that a professional should receive. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you these past years, and thank you for all you do to promote the culture and music of Polonia. Know that while I appreciate your support, I am willing to defer to another district or individual who may wish to serve. Gora Piesn.
Mary Lou T. Wyrobek, President