It all began modestly and without much publicity in the small town of Hajnówka in 1981. The originator and organizer of the future Festival is Mikołaj Buszko, who, with the help of two allies: Fr. Michał Niegierewicz and Fr. Jerzy Szurbak, organized that year ” Days of Orthodox Church Music” in Hajnówka. Initially, they were planned for the month of January, but fate, or rather „great politics”, decided that they could take place only in the spring – in May, and so it remained. Could there be a better time to praise the Lord together, meeting the SINGING OF THE HEART AND SOUL?
The first Days of Orthodox Church Music – Hajnówka 1982 lasted from May 13 to 16. Nine parish choirs took part – mainly village choirs, genuinely folk Orthodox church choirs came then, giving the image of the singing of the Orthodox villages of the Białystok region. At the end of the First Days, a professional Ensemble of Orthodox Church Music of the Warsaw Chamber Opera performed under the direction of Fr. Jerzy Szurbak.
The next year was a breakthrough in the history of the Festival, as it was moved to the newly opened Holy Trinity Cathedral – the temple which is the pride of Hajnówka.
The late Father Dean Antoni Dziewiatowski, who was over 40 years pastor of the Orthodox parish in Hajnówka, after several years of efforts obtained permission to build this temple. Its design was developed by Professor of Architecture Aleksander Grygorowicz. The interior design – wall paintings – was designed and made by the Greek artist Dmitri Andonopulos. This is how the joint work of the Priest, mentioned artists, craftsmen and members of the Orthodox parish in Hajnówka became a meeting place for the Festival, starting from the 2nd Days of Orthodox Church Music in Hajnówka.
In 1983, Romuald Twardowski, who joined the Festival on a permanent basis, joined the group of regular Festival organizers, also composing songs originating from the Orthodox Church culture tradition.
Beginning with the 3rd Days of Orthodox Church Music, the development of this event gained acceleration. The Festival creates its tradition, its increasingly diverse and rich shape, accompanying events appear for the first time. In addition to the exhibition of tapestries and folk embroidery, the organizers offered for the choirs participating in the competition – evening meetings in the Forest by the fire. 10 years later, „Music Movement” will write in a report from the Festival:
„The tradition of this event entered ‘forest echo’: every day late in the evening and at night in the middle of the Białowieża Forest in the focal glade there were meetings accompanied by roasting sausages and singing of these choirs, which a few hours earlier appeared in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in front of several hundred people and jurors. There was no church in the Forest, there was no competition: it was a full musical fraternity. Just what once was the source of the idea of music festivals … „
During the Third Days of Orthodox Church Music, a foreign choir appeared for the first time in Hajnówka – a youth group from Kuovola in Finland, singing Orthodox church songs in Finnish and Greek.
In 1991, the „Days” will transform into the International Festival of Orthodox Church Music, whose first sign were these young Finns. But the name change only symbolically expressed what really happened in Hajnówka: modest meetings of parish choirs turned into a great international event with a high artistic level. And most importantly: despite this expansion, the event has not lost its character of musical holiday, musical fraternity and non-commercial meetings with the music of the soul
Opening the 13th International Festival of Church Music, Metropolitan Basil defined the main message of this event: „The guiding idea of the Hajnowka Festival, which from the review of parish choirs turned into a traditional international event, is to reach the sources of Orthodox Church music and the beginnings of Christianity, cherished for centuries and then forgotten, the extraction and dissemination of its most beautiful pearls, songs connecting heaven and earth, and souls in unity.” That year came to the Festival Romeiko Choral Ensemble from Philadelphia, consisting of American Greeks, who performed Orthodox Church music created one and a half thousand years ago. If we add that this year we could also listen to choirs singing Orthodox songs in Old Church Slavonic, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Finnish, Russian, Belarusian, and even in the Lemko dialect and in Swedish, it will become clear that this is the only festival in the world, of the rank and importance, which cannot be overestimated.
A journalist of the conservative-liberal journal “Highest Time” reported: „Seven days from Yerevan to Hajnowka travelled by a bus a choir under the direction of the aged professor Emma Caturian, who for the first time presented the multi-voice Armenian liturgy in Poland – Patarag. All the colors of Transcaucasia’s music shimmered in it. I haven’t found such greatness at any other festival. ” The rapporteur of the National Herald from New York also emphasized that „this is a great festival presenting the variety of songs of the Orthodox Church.” And the reviewer of the Swiss magazine „Kirche – Schweizerische Kirchenzeitung” pointed out that „The festival is a meeting place for the East and West. There was no competition in the church: it was full of musical fraternity. Just what once was the source of the idea of music festivals … „
Another aspect was emphasized by „Kurier Podlaski”: „A thousand years ago, Kiev prince Vladimir sent his representatives to find out which religion would be most suitable for Russia. After returning, they stated that, only being at a service at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and listening to Orthodox Church songs did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth. Polish and foreign tourists who in large numbers visit Hajnowka in May participating in the only event of this type – Festival of Orthodox Church Music – may be of a similar opinion.”
Reading such opinions, the creator of the Festival and its Director, Mikołaj Buszko, can be proud. But he probably knows best how much work and struggle it cost to create such a big event today.
There were also some difficulties, but despite the difficult moments and problems that the organizers of the Festival have to deal with when organizing it, no one in Hajnówka waits with folded arms until difficult days for culture pass and the Festival has not been stopped for a year. Instead of annual meetings, to organize a biennial of Orthodox Church music, director Buszko replied: „The Festival can be organized every two years, then every three or four. I’m just asking: what for? whom should it serve? It would only be deluting the event, and we should remember, that the Festival’s life does not end at one week in May, it extends to the whole year. First of all, it should become a center for the musical promotion of the Orthodox culture.
It should be mentioned that, starting with the fourth Days of Orthodox Church Music (1985), all festival concerts are recorded phonographically and in the morning you can get a cassette with the recording of the previous competition day, prepared at night. Ten years later, CDs with the best recordings of the last Festival began to appear, and they were inaugurated by the CD „Lord have mercy” (“Hospodi pomiluy”) from the 13th Festival of Orthodox Church Music – Hajnówka ’94.
The formula of the Festival provides, that throughout the week of its duration, competition auditions, seminars, exhibitions, and accompanying concerts take place in other churches and cities. (Recently, also with the „subfestival” in the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit in Bialystok). Each year the Festival hosts over a thousand singers from thirty several choirs not only from Europe. The Festival has a reputation. The queue of those willing to sing in the interior of the Hajnowka Cathedral is long. Some choirs, also from abroad, have to wait a few years for an invitation to Hajnowka. The Festival’s formula includes several categories in which there are separately evaluated choirs:
1 village parish choirs,
2 city parish choirs,
3 other parish choirs,
4 amateur secular choirs,
5 professional secular choirs.
The organizational team that operates at the Hajnowka House of Culture under the direction of Mikołaj Buszko was described by the Parisian „Culture” as follows: „Thanks to such people as Irena Parfieniuk, Sławomir Kaliszuk, Rościsław Kuncewicz, Halina Wojskowicz – because they are the organizers of the Festival – with the help of dozens of social activists, young people from the Orthodox Church Brotherhood, the International Festival of Orthodox Church Music in Hajnówka runs flawless year after year. „
„- I bow to these people,” said Father Sergey Bieschasny from Moscow in 1995, who co-organized major events, including the World Congress of the Brotherhood of the Orthodox Youth Syndesmos. – In our country in Russia it would be impossible for some very significant cultural phenomenon to survive in the province. I know how much money, organizational measures, nerves and, above all, enthusiasm are needed to organize a festival in the countryside. Only part of this work is visible here, and how much invisible? You have to write, call, talk, send a bus, meet, feed, put to sleep … „
The conductors of the choirs coming here say:
Festival Days in Hajnówka are a small Passover for us (Sławomir Jurczuk)
- Hajnówka is a new experience and education for conductors (Eugeniusz Skowroński)
The Festival raised the level of singing in many Orthodox churches (Fr. Bazyli Dubec)
The Festival in Hajnówka is a great mobilization for choristers, it is a summary of the year of our work (Dymitr Tichoniuk).
What is this Festival for Hajnówka itself?
– This is our window to the world. Before, we knew almost nothing about Orthodoxy in the world. We know a lot now, but the world is learning about us. (Mikołaj Demianiuk).
– In Hajnówka, even every day, no parish choir can sing badly. Every old woman will notice that something is wrong. (Tomasz Danilecki „Gazeta Wyborcza”).
– We consider the Festival in our city as a great holiday and a kind of manifestation. It is a manifestation of the superiority of cultural goods over our materialized everyday life, in which man too often becomes the object of violence and destructive actions. We are overwhelmed by the fear of informations about crimes and wars, which kills hope, and that is why in Hajnówka we want to show the superiority of art and spirit over destructive activities. This Festival has a deep humanistic and theological, educational and pastoral message addressed to all people. (Jadwiga Rudzińska – Patejuk, Mayor of Hajnowka).
In 1995, the Polish Ministry of Culture qualified the International Festival of Orthodox Church Music in Hajnówka to musical events of the highest rank, giving it the „zero category”, i.e. the Chopin Competition and the „Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music, which are the most known in the world Polish music events.