Young Bay Area musicians organize recital for Ukraine relief


Sam Savanich, 16, has spent several weeks immersed in Ukrainian orchestral music.

Savanich, a junior at Clear Falls High School and violinist in the school’s orchestra, and at least three dozen fellow student musicians from the Bay Area are rehearsing for a recital to assist relief efforts in Ukraine that is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Nassau Bay. The group will perform music from Ukrainian composers as duets, large ensembles, quartets and solos.

The For Ukraine project was initiated, organized and arranged by the students, who attend Clear Creek ISD campuses including Clear Falls and Clear Springs high schools and League City Intermediate School.

Joining in the project are two young Ukrainian musicians who fled to the United States after the war started who will also talk about their experiences.

The effort has been led by Savanich, who has been fixed on TV news and social media platforms since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24.

The war’s effect on him has been emotional.

“With the Ukraine situation, I have felt very stressed knowing that there are people on the other side of the globe who are dying due to violent war, and it hurt to know that at the time, I couldn’t do anything to help out,” Savanich said.

Money raised from the concert will go to a National Bank of Ukraine fund opened for the Ministry of Social Policy at to allow people around the world to transfer money for humanitarian relief.

What: The For Ukraine recital will raise funds for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

When: 7 p.m. March 26

Where: Sanctuary at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, 18300 Upper Bay Road, Nassau Bay

Cost: Donations will be accepted at the door. The effort is contributing to a relief fund set up by the Bank of Ukraine at

Savanich and many of the students participating in the recital are students of Margaret-Mary Hunter, a professional musician who teaches advanced high school students, and at Music Moves Violin Studio, operated by Shulamith Barbe, an instructor in violin and viola who teaches private lessons for junior high school students in the Clear Creek district.

According to Hunter, Savanich and his stand partner in the school orchestra, Anisa Roshan-Zamircq, approached her expressing their thoughts and feelings about the war, and Hunter recognized a potential teachable moment.

“I told them that if something bothers you, the best thing to do is do something active and not make you sad (and helpless),” Hunter said. “They turned this around by using their talent to do something productive. That was my goal as a teacher.”

Savanich, who also is a member of the Houston Youth Symphony, and a few of his orchestra friends had been on vacation at Disney World the week of Russia’s first attack, and it was something he had only heard about. It wasn’t until he returned from Florida and was eating dinner with his family that he saw the war play out in real time in a news segment on a Denny’s TV screen. The images of bombed out buildings as Ukrainians fled on foot and buses from their homes shocked him.

“It captivated me,” Savanich said. “They were showing things I’ve only seen in textbooks. Seeing pictures of innocent kids, families underground … it broke my heart that this is still going on and that this is still a thing. It hit me hard, and it was a lot to process.”

Having been at Disney before delving into preparations for the concert was a jarring juxtaposition, Samanich said. He felt grateful for his safety and his stable life, and that gratitude, in part, prompted him to want to do something

“I looked at their point of view versus mine, and I’m so fortunate to go to Disney, that I’ve been able to do so many things, and then just seeing the state of fear and stress in Ukraine,” he said.

Following the encouragement from Hunter and Barbe, who brought her own pupils on board, Samanich began to research music for the performance.

“Doing the concert is a way I can give back to innocent people (impacted by the war), and I’m really thankful my friends supported my idea,” he said.

The students designed fliers, took part in choosing the orchestral pieces and arranged the music.

They also researched the best avenue of relief. The money given to the bank, said Savanich, will go towards providing food and shelter for refugees, as well asclothing, medicine, staple goods and other essential needs for residents. .

The group will perform music from such composers of Ukrainian heritage as Reinhold Glíere and also will play American composer Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto Op. 14.

Barbe, who helped with the music selection, said no one wanted the recital to be somber, and most of the songs chosen derive from Ukraine’s folk tradition.

“Like any folk-song culture, the music is about life and the history of the country,” she said.

Barbe came to the United States in 2005 from the Netherlands; so she understands what it means to be in proximity to conflict.

“Coming from Europe and having been there during the war in Yugoslavia, this war in Ukraine is close to home for me personally,” she said. “It’s an atrocity, and an absolute disaster.”

“When the students were asking for help for this concert, of course I was going to help,” she said.

In the last few days before the event, the group welcomed two new collaborators to the project, fellow musicians with a closer connection to the war’s impact.

Just days before the invasion, Ukrainian-born Julia James, who lives in League City, recognized the warning signals from Russian President Vladimir Putin and brought her 14-year-old daughter, Valerie, who had been enrolled in school in Voznesensk, Ukraine, while staying with her grandparents, to the United States. The day after the invasion, the James family evacuated Valerie’s friend, Anna Kovalchuk, a 20-year-old college student and violinist, from Ukraine.

The James family is working to enlist an immigration attorney to help Kovalchuk secure a U.S. visa.

Both Valerie James and Kovalchuk will perform in the recital, and they and Julia James will give testimonies. James has family in Ukraine and her daughter worries about her classmates, and the concert is a way to show their solidarity.

“She’s in touch with her friends, and they text her when they have to hide underground, and its heartbreaking for her,” James said of her daughter.

Samanich said the participation of the James family and Kovalchuk is meaningful to the group of diverse students who make up the For Ukraine ensemble.

“When I found out they were going to be part of this, it just hit me,” Samanich said. “As a musician, being able to use your talent and perform for people is the best, and it almost brings me to tears knowing that I’m able to give this opportunity (to Valerie and Anna). Their involvement deepens this experience for us.”

Also performing will be Savanich’s stand partner, Anisa Roshan-Zamir, with whom he alternates between first and second violin at Clear Falls. Roshan-Zamir’s mother is from Romania, a country that has its own history of hard-won independence from Russian control.

Samanich’s favorite piece in the recital is “Cradle Song” by Reinhold Glière, a Russian composer of Ukrainian descent. It’s a piece that he’s known for three years and had always wanted to play.

“In these last three weeks that I’ve been immersing myself in the music for the recital, I discovered Gliere’s Ukrainian roots, and this music sticks out the most to me because he’s become an inspiration,” said Samanich. “I feel as if there’s never a dull moment in this piece, it has a strong emotional pull and it brings you to tears. Ukrainians have always been trying to pick themselves up, fighting for their place, and composers like Gliere were able to capture that feeling in their time.”

James, who has become active in anti-war, pro-Ukraine events in recent weeks, said she hopes the concert and the participation of both her daughter and Kovalchuk will move more young people to be involved in relief efforts and to promote a peaceful end.

“We want them to understand that Ukrainians are fighting for freedom, for democracy, and it’s not just soldiers, but women, young people, old people,” she said. “I’m an adult; so maybe they won’t listen to me, but they will listen to my daughter.”

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