Over the past three decades, many conferences have focused on the varied body of literature of Orthodox liturgical music. Of these, only a small handful have brought attention to the work of living composers who are actively writing for the Church. This was the initial vision behind the 2014 Pan-Orthodox Liturgical Music Symposium, a choral music conference which took place in the Greater Cincinnati region June 12-15, 2014. The Symposium, which was sponsored by Northern Kentucky University and the Farrah Foundation, began by asking the question: “How can we cultivate a living Orthodox music tradition in the English-speaking world?” It was clear from the proceedings that a possible answer might be found in the work of contemporary composers who write organically from the English language. There were many composers in the sizable group of 70 participants who traveled from 22 states and two provinces to weigh in on this important question. Many Orthodox jurisdictions were represented with some of their most active church musicians in attendance.
The Symposium was organized by Dr. Kurt Sander, chair of the department of music at NKU; Larissa Kaminsky Sander; and Dcn. Alexander Petrovsky, all members of the Liturgical Music Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America. Participants came from a variety of Orthodox jurisdictions, and included some of the most active musicians working in the Church today. The keynote presenter was the renowned archpriest and composer Fr. Sergei Glagolev who spoke passionately about the role of music as a form of prayer. He relayed stories and experiences from his work a priest, composer, and professor—an inspiring career that has spanned six decades! Fr. Sergei stressed that if we are ever going to cultivate a living creative tradition in our churches, we must begin by regaining a culture of singing. He urged the listeners not to rely on electronic gadgetry to define our musical world, but to seek out the beauty of sacred music and understand its ability to speak to those who are searching for truth. Adapting the biblical account of Phillip calling to Nathaniel, Fr. Sergei reminded the attendees that some will “come and see,” but others will “come and hear” as well. For this reason, we must always remember the missionary role that music plays in the church.
Other speakers included Dr. Vladimir Morosan, founder and president of Musica Russica, who presented a fascinating presentation on how znamenny chant formulas can be applied to the syllabic characteristics of the English language to create a whole new body of chant melodies. The presenter list also included Dr. Nicolas Schidlovsky, a faculty member at Westminster Choir College at Rider University, whose insightful inquiry explored the many cultural, theoretical, and historical signposts that formulate an Orthodox compositional identity; Richard Barrett, founder of the St. John Damascus Society who presented a talk on the marriage of English language with Byzantine chant models; and David Lucs who focused his talk on ways to develop a choral tradition among our youth.
Among the many registrants and singers were Protopsaltis John Michael Boyer, a Boston-based chanter from the Byzantine tradition; Christopher Holwey, chair of the Department of Sacred Music of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese; and Vicki Pappas, former National President of the Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians.
One of the high points of the Symposium was unquestionably the Friday evening concert by the East/West Festival Choir, conducted by Dr. Peter Jermihov, current faculty member at Triton College and music director at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago (GOA). Jermihov’s artistry was evident to all as he skillfully led the 30-voice choir through a stunning array of newly-composed works for the Orthodox church. The choir, comprised of professionals and invited choral musicians from all across North America, sang a program that included the music of Fr. Sergei Glagolev, Tikey Zes, Fr. Ivan Moody, Arvo Part, Richard Toensing, Kurt Sander, Mark Hrebinka, Nazo Zakkak, Roman Hurko, Eugenia Temidis, John Revezoulis, William Kraftician, and Karen Summers. Many of these composers were in attendance and had the opportunity to speak to the audience prior to the performance of their works.
The university-sponsored portion of the Symposium culminated Saturday afternoon in a round-table discussion moderated by Larissa Kaminsky Sander. Long-time church music advocates Alice Hughes and Anne Schoepp joined Fr. Sergei and the other speakers in a robust discussion ranging from music education to intellectual property issues. While many topics were discussed, one point found a resonant consensus among the audience: if we are going to enrich the musical tradition of our church, we must look beyond volunteerism as a permanentsolution. Each parish must support its musicians, both spiritually and financially so that our talented faithful can look to the church as a place to invest their careers and creative talents.
The Symposium culminated in true Orthodox fashion with an All-Night Vigil and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at St. George Russian Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, celebrated by His Grace, Bishop Peter of Cleveland. Peter Jermihov, Irene Riazanova, and Fr Alexander Petrovsky conducted the services of recently-composed music in English. The singing was heavenly and showed what gifted conductors can do, even with just two days of rehearsal. One local Russian-speaking parishioner remarked after the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy that he could understand every word, even though everything was sung in English.
Visiting clergy included Archpriest Sergei Glagolev of Our Lady of Kazan in Sea Cliff, NY (OCA) , Hieromonk Alexander (Frizzell) of Holy Cross Monastery (ROCOR), Fr. Stephen Frase of St Gregory in Columbus, OH (OCA), Protodeacon Vadim Gan of Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in Chicago (ROCOR), and Dcn. Patrick Mitchell of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington DC (ROCOR), and Dcn. Gregory Ealy of St Mary Orthodox Cathedral (OCA).
After the liturgy, the Symposium concluded with a festive banquet in the hall of St. George. A special thanks was given to Fr. Daniel Marshall, the parish rector, and to the St. George Sisterhood who hosted the Saturday and Sunday dinners. The participants left with great memories and a revitalized commitment to seek out new opportunities to enrich the musical life of the Church. In the words of one participant, “I can't express what a blessing it was to be with everyone, and sing amazing music with amazing people.”
Photos by Darina Petrovsky and Jacqueline Astahoff