The Lira Ensemble was founded in 1965 as the Lira Singers, an amateur youth group, by Alice Stephens and her student, Lucyna Migala. A well-known Chicago voice teacher and choral director, Alice Stephens served as musical director and conductor of the Lira Singers until her retirement in 1980. A Lithuanian American, she was devoted to the Lira Singers and helped popularize Polish music until her death in 1984.
Lucyna-Migala is artistic director, general manager, and narrator of the Lira Ensemble. Born in Poland, Miss Migala immigrated to the United States with her family as a small child. Her parents, Joseph and Estelle Migala, became popular Polish language radio personalities in Chicago and prominent Polish-American community activists. Miss Migala is a radio and television journalist who was a producer and reporter for NBC News before resigning to create an ethnic-concept radio station with her family. In addition to her work with Lira, she is vice president and program director of WCEV/1450am, one of Chicagoland’s major multi-ethnic stations.
Miss Migala has served as a national board member of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America, as an officer of the Polish Arts Club of Chicago, and was co-founder and vice president of the Chicago Chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation. She is founder and past chairman of the chapter’s Chicago Chopin Piano Competition. Miss Migala served as a member of the board of directors of the Illinois Humanities Council; and the Illinois Arts Alliance; was a founding member of the Ethnic and Folk Arts Panel of the Illinois Arts Council; and served on the CityArts Panel of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. She was co-chair of Chicago’s Polish-Jewish Dialogue and board member of the Illinois Ethnic Coalition. Miss Migala holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and studied voice at the Chicago Conservatory College with Alice Stephens and with Kathleen Kaun of the Northwestern University School of Music. She studied dance with Evelyn Zwiefka of Chicago, at Northwestern University, and at the Stone Camryn School in Chicago. She has won many awards and distinctions in both the US and Poland, among them the Cavalier’s Cross of Merit from the president of Poland.
Mina Zikri is conductor of the Lira Ensemble. A violinist and teacher, he was born in Cairo, Egypt and came to the United States in 1999.
In 2010, he served as guest conductor for the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in Egypt in February and returned to conduct concerts with the Cairo Symphony in the 2011 season. Also in 2010, Mr. Zirki won a fellowship at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Mina Zikri is a De Paul University graduate, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree and a performer’s certificate in violin. In 2007, he was named one of twelve finalists out of 223 candidates from 40 countries in the Second Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany.
Mr. Zikri has been a standing member of Daniel Barenboim’s West Eastern Divan orchestra since 1999. He has also been a member of the Northbrook Symphony since 2003, and is a former member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He is founder and music director of the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and is a faculty member of the DePaul University Community Music Division. Mina Zikri has performed under the baton of respected conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Christoph Eschenbach, Nemee Jarvi, Lorin Maazel, Pierre Boulez, and others and venues such as Carnegi Hall (New York), Royal Albert Hall (London), and Victoria Hall (Geneva). As a chamber musician, he has performed with Yo Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, Jamie Lorade, and Cho Liang Lin.
Iwona Puc is choreographer and dance director of the Lira Dancers. She was born in Poland and began her dance career in 1980 in the city of Rzeszow where she earned a master’s degree from Marie Curie Sklodowska University and received certification as Dance Instructor from the Provincial Cultural Center of Rzeszow. While studying in Rzeszow she served as assistant choreographer and dancer with the Wislok Theater of Polish Dance, toured many cities of Europe and Asia with this company and participated in many international dance festivals. She also created and led the Dance Ensembles of the Pedagogical Institute and the Construction Institute of Rzeszow.
In 1987, Ms. Puc immigrated to the United States. For 18 years, she served as choreographer for the “Rzeszowiacy” Dance and Theater Ensemble of the John Paul II Cultural Center in Chicago where she co-produced many concerts, musicals, and historical presentations. She is known in the Polish-American community of Chicago as a choreographer and dance instructor working with children, teens and adults. She has served as guest choreographer for Dance Ensemble of the Kolbe Polish School, the Chopin Song and Dance Ensemble of the Alliance of Polish Clubs in Chicago and the Dance Ensemble of the Emily Platter Polish School.