Posts Tagged 'Russian Orthodox stamina'

Choral Masterclass and Workshop at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

I have been terribly remiss in posting about this; I got an e-mail about it just as I was making my way to Princeton last month, and I was quickly occupied with other things even once I was back.

Dr. Vladimir Gorbik, director of choral music at the Podvorye (“representation church”, the parish dependency of a monastery) of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra in Moscow, will be giving a masterclass and workshop at St. Vladimir’s 25-29 June. One must audition to be able to participate, and there are three ways to take part — as a conductor, as a singer, and as an auditor. There are four slots for conductors and 40 (10 for each voice type) for singers. Registration fees are $350 for the course and $250 for room and board on the seminary campus, which I have to say, is a fantastic deal for this kind of thing. Registration links and more information can be found here.

I’d love to go myself, but there are a couple of things that I will be occupied with right around that timeframe, one I’ve announced and one I haven’t yet. Nonetheless, this looks like it’ll be a great opportunity for any and all choral musicians with an interest in Russian Orthodox repertoire.

Here’s Dr. Gorbik’s choir singing Rachmaninoff’s Great Doxology:

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeyev) on the relative merits of different kinds of Orthodox liturgical music

With a tip of the hat to Subdn. Lucas the Blogless, an excerpt from a 2002 lecture entitled “Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology“:

Permit me to say a few words about church singing. Recently I visited the Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration, where I served an all-night vigil and Divine Liturgy in the monastery’s main church. The services there struck me by their prayerfulness, harmony, simplicity and grandeur. The monastic singing and Valaam chant used during the services made an especially strong impression. I suddenly recalled the words of St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who visited Valaam one and a half centuries ago and was also taken by the monastery’s chant:

The tones of this chant are majestic and protracted…they depict the groans of the repentant soul, sighing and longing in the land of its exile for the blessed, desired country of eternal rejoicing and pure, holy delights…These tones now drag on lugubriously, melancholically, drearily, like a wind through the wilderness, now gradually disappear like an echo among cliffs and gorges, now thunder suddenly…The majestic “Lord, have mercy” is like a wind through a desolate place, so sorrowful, moving and drawn out. The troparion “We hymn thee” ends with a protracted, shimmering, overflowing sound, gradually abating and imperceptibly fading under the vaults of the church, just as an echo dies out under a church’s arches. And when the brethren sing at vespers “Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me”, the sounds emanate as if from a deep abyss, are quickly and thunderously wrested therefrom and rise to heaven like lightning, taking with them the thoughts and wishes of those at prayer. Everything here is full of significance and majesty, and anything merry, light-hearted of playful would simply seem strange and ugly.

Valaam chant is a form of ancient Russian Znamenny chant, which itself absorbed the main characteristics of Byzantine church music. It is known that Byzantine chant was brought to Kievan Rus’ already during the time of Yaroslav the Wise. The “Book of Degrees” (Stepennaya Kniga, 1563) mentions that it was during this time that three Greek chanters came to Rus’ from Constantinople, bringing with them “special eight-tone, sweet, three-component, and most beautiful extended singing to praise and glorify God”. The word “three-component” has been subject to various interpretations by musicologists and theologians. In any case, it refers not to three-voiced, but unison singing. One could suppose that the word “three-component” points to the three dimensions of ancient church chant: the musical, verbal and spiritual, through which it differed from secular singing, which had only two: verbal and musical.

Being comprised of these three aspects, both Russian Znamenny chant and Byzantine singing are phenomena of the same order. They are characterized by a spirituality that is lacking not only in many works of secular music, but also in the contemporary western-style church singing, which is composed according to principles totally different from those of ancient chant. It is no secret that the concert-like, “Italianate” singing performed in many churches does not correspond to the spirit of the traditional liturgical texts to which they were written. The main aim of such music is to give pleasure to the ear, while the aim of true church singing is to help the faithful immerse themselves in the prayerful experience of the mysteries of the faith.

The structure and musical characteristics of ancient Russian singing are also diametrically opposed to those of Western-style singing. Znamenny chant was not written by composers but rather compiled from an already existing collection of canonical musical fragments, just like ancient mosaics were pieced together from a collection of stones of various colours. It is not easy for modern man to appreciate ancient chant, and just as difficult to “lay aside all earthly cares” and enter the depths of prayerful contemplation. But only this and similar singing is truly canonical and corresponds best to the spirit of Orthodox divine services.

Bishop Porfiry (Uspensky), the well-known 19th-century church archaeologist, wrote the following regarding the mystical “three-component” singing of the ancient Russian Church: “We have forgotten this mystery of music, but it was known to our ancestors. The history of our Church shows that at one time Greek chanters from Constantinople brought to Russia angelic three-component singing, that is, singing comprised of three intonations corresponding to the three faculties of the soul. It seems that it would not be too difficult to revive this singing”. It is indeed possible to revive it by returning to the ancient, time-tested models of Znamenny chant, as has already taken place in Valaam and several other monasteries.

At present, the monuments of ancient Russian chant are becoming better and better known. Just as ancient Russian icons, once-forgotten but relatively recently (at the beginning of the 20th century) restored to their original splendour once cleaned of centuries of accumulated soil, Znamenny chant is now being revived by masters skillful at reading its “hook notation”. In my opinion, the restoration of Orthodox liturgical culture to its original beauty, grandeur and instructiveness is unthinkable without the revival of canonical Church singing, which for the Russian Church is Znamenny chant. Concerts of Church music by Bortnyansky and Vedel, and Cherubic hymns by Kastalsky and Archangelsky may be beautiful and moving in certain respects, but their music does not teach us anything, since it only creates a kind of background that is more or less neutral with respect to the words of the service. On the other hand, Znamenny chant possesses enormous edifying power since it was created for prayer, fosters prayer and is irrelevant outside of the context of prayer.

Even the so-called “popevki” (canonical musical fragments), the main building components of Znamenny chant, are nothing other than a musical reflection of various prayerful movements of the soul. Moreover, each musical fragment has its own theological basis. If ancient Russian icons are said to be “theology in colours”, then ancient Russian chant can be considered theology in music. And if western-style church singing, like the Russian “academic” paintings on religious themes are at best a school of piety, then monophonic Znamenny chant can be regarded as a school of prayer and theology.

I may have more to say about this later, but in the meantime, how do we start a fan club for this man?

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be

ὅπου ἂν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, ἐκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἤτω, ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ῇ Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία. (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, 8:2. Full Greek text can be found here, or here as a pdf; there’s also a nice new edition of The Apostolic Fathers by Michael W. Holmes that has Greek-English facing pages and a very useful apparatus and set of notes.)

“Wherever the bishop is, there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the whole/universal/general/complete/according to the whole/lacking nothing/catholic church.” (Add whatever doctrinally-influenced translation of καθολικὴ you wish if I’ve left one out that’s particularly near and dear to you.)

(By the way, anybody want to tell me something about that sentence that demonstrates the limitations of a book like Hansen & Quinn when it comes to reading early Christian writings?)bishopmark.jpg

His Grace Bishop MARK visited All Saints over the weekend. I missed his last visit because, scheduled at the last minute as it was, it coincided with my dad’s (already rescheduled due to heart attack) wedding. So, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen him. We were originally supposed to have him present for Friday’s Akathist, Saturday Great Vespers, and then Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday, but he ended up attending the funeral services for Metropolitian Laurus of ROCOR (memory eternal) and thus couldn’t be there on Friday. (Or rather, I should say, he attended most of the services. He left, as he said, nine hours into it because he had to catch a plane; they still had about three hours to go.)

(Nine hours into it.)

(With three to go.)

(Sheesh. I can’t imagine anything more fitting for a man such as Metropolitan Laurus, but sheesh.)

Anyway,  every time I meet Bp. MARK, it strikes me that we are very lucky to have him. He is an imposing physical presence, but he is warm and gentle in a way that belies his size. He is completely unassuming — one gets the impression that he’d be just as happy as a reader or a subdeacon. (Imagine a world where all bishops were like this. Perhaps let’s also imagine, as part of this world, that we are also free of readers and subdeacons who would be just as happy being bishops.)

(But I digress.)

He had some interesting remarks; among other things, he expressed some reservations regarding the Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers that gets celebrated as the “Pan-Orthodox Show of Unity” in many places. Among is comments were, “If we want to have a service that shows our unity, why not make it Forgiveness Vespers?” When asked about the Ecumenical Patriarch, he said, “Well, let’s hope he doesn’t mean everything he says. But let’s also remember that his circumstances are not ours, and that the way we in the free world behave can have a negative impact on those who are not as free as we are.”

The big thing I’m trying to get to, however, is the services. Hierarchical services are a bit of a headache for the choir director and cantor; for my own part, I was sweating bullets over this weekend because I have made major mistakes the last two visits, and they were mistakes made because I either wasn’t told what I needed to know, or I was told the wrong thing. The hierarchical Trisagion in particular is one of those things which, if you’re not told exactly what’s going to happen, you will get lost very fast. And when the poor guy waving his arms in front of the choir doesn’t know what he doesn’t know… yeah. When he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and no matter who he asks nobody can seem to tell him what it should look like except to say, “Just read the Liturgikon, but prepare for it to be wrong,” well… what can you do? (I remember the time I thought he was going to be here for the Exaltation of the Cross, and, realizing I didn’t have a hierarchical “Before Thy Cross,” I cooked one up on Sibelius two days before. Then it turned out he was going to be here, but not celebrating.)

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch this weekend, and it really struck me (not for the first time) that the bishop being present for the Divine Liturgy is in fact intended to be normative. That is, during episcopal visits, the bishop is not celebrating in the place of the priest with extra stuff added; rather, on ordinary Sundays, the priest is celebrating in the place of the bishop and stuff has been taken out. As St. Ignatius describes, we are at our fullest when we, the local church, can gather around our bishop to celebrate the Eucharist. When all four orders — episcopate, presbytery, diaconate, and laity — are present for a Liturgy, it is more clear what our individual roles are. It is truly the bishop, the icon of Christ in our midst, who stands in persona Christi during the Liturgy — the presbyter, if the bishop isn’t there, stands in persona episcopi.

That said, on a practical level, I’m just fine with it only happening once a year. It’s quite a blessing to have him here, but it’s a stressful blessing nonetheless.


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