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Ethnic City: a Polish-American Christmas Gala

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Lucyna Migala is expounding the rich though admittedly obscure heritage of Polish music. "Polish culture, with its distinctive language and customs, has flourished since the year 966 when the king of Poland was converted to Christianity by the pope. The size of the country has changed over the centuries due to invasions and alliances--that's why there are major regional differences in the music. In the Carpathian Mountains to the south, the Podhald [highland] music is dissonant and wild--like the people there; it uses light voices absolutely devoid of schooling. Music from Silesia tends to be in minor keys, evocative, introspective, often sad. The music of my birthplace, Krakow, is bright, spirited, and 'wow.' In central Poland, of course, we have the mazurka, the kujawiak [a slow waltz]--much more rhythmic music."

For 25 years Migala has championed the music of her native land with the help of the Lira Singers, an all-women troupe she cofounded in 1965. Effusively friendly and solicitous, Migala speaks with the clear diction of a broadcast journalist, which in fact she has been since graduating from Northwestern back in the 60s. In 1979 her family started WCEV (1450 AM), a "multicultural ethnic voice," where she still spends a great deal of time as program director and announcer. Migala credits her parents with having exposed her to indigenous music early in her childhood. "When I was about 19, I started taking voice lessons from Alice Stephens at the Chicago Conservatory College. Alice was a Lithuanian who loved Polish music, and she had all these Polish and Lithuanian girls as students. So one day, we said, 'Why don't we perform as a group and do all those nice Polish songs no one's ever heard of?'" They named themselves Lira, Polish for lyre, the traditional emblem of music.

The Lira Singers went professional five years ago, and, Migala says, "I am sure we are the only professional all-women ensemble from coast to coast who sing in four-part harmony."

The core of the Lira's ever-expanding repertoire is Polish. "Fortunately," says its director, "much of Polish folk music has been notated and arranged. Musicians there sometimes send us newly discovered scores, and we have turned ourselves into mini musicologists. Every time we tour Poland, we also visit the archives to search for scores. I believe we now own the world's largest collection of vocal music that is truly Polish. . . . The Poles tell us that we perform Polish music beautifully yet we have added an American twist. I suppose we must come across as a very strange animal. You see, we are not doing an immigrant art. What we do is an ethnic art form that is a mix of two cultures, two traditions."

The Lira Singers' Polish-American Christmas Gala commences Sunday, December 2, at 3 PM in the Morton East High School auditorium, 2401 S. Austin in Cicero. Migala will provide narration (in English), and the ensembles will be conducted by Lucy Ding. Tickets are $14, $12 for seniors, and $5 for children. For more information about Lira's activities, call 539-4900.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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