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Choir Conference, Spring, TX 2019

On February 8-10, 2019, singers, choir directors, and youth gathered at St. Jonah Orthodox Church in Spring, Texas, for the annual Diocesan Liturgical Singing Seminar. This gathering was a continuation of the work of the Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee (Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, ROCOR) in addressing the needs of the parishes of the diocese and in cultivating the future generation of church musicians. The conference of 30 singers participated in interactive workshops, rehearsals, and the divine services on the Sunday of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

Following an opening prayer on Friday morning, the sessions began with a presentation by the Diocesan Music Committee Chairwoman, Larissa Kaminsky Sander, entitled “Vocal Technique for the Church Singer.” This presentation focused on the core aspects of singing and were reinforced throughout the conference, giving the singers an opportunity to understand the importance of consistently proper singing technique. The next workshop, “Exploring the Eight Tones,” was presented by committee member Demetra Durham and explained the structure of the tones in the Russian liturgical singing tradition. The participants studied texts and shared tips on learning the tones, building the foundation of liturgical singing from text. The final workshop of the day, “Basics of Church Conducting,” was presented by Deacon Alexander Petrovsky, and focused on the techniques and methods of conducting the growing church choir. The participants were split into two groups and nearly everyone had the opportunity to experience conducting a selection with the choir. The evening concluded with dinner at a local participant’s home, allowing everyone to enjoy their old and new friendships.

On Saturday, the morning session began with the workshop, “Musicianship 101 for the Liturgical Musician” by Deacon Alexander and Demetra. This interactive workshop looked at the application of music theory in liturgical music, addressing the common questions and pitfalls found in most church choirs. The second workshop, “Chanting in Church,” was led by Larissa and specifically aimed at reading in church. Volunteers read as participants listened from different points in the church and offered constructive feedback, giving everyone a sense of what is needed to effectively read in church. The workshop portion of the conference ended with a round table session with the participants providing questions from the presentations. Throughout the conference, rehearsals were interspersed during the day, not only to learn the music of the services, but to teach the points that were presented. Methods of vocal technique, learning music, conducting, musicianship, and delivering the text in the musical setting were all reinforced in the rehearsals, giving the participants a practical application of the materials presented.

St Jonah parish deacon, Fr David Shephard, offered these words of observation to the conference organizers:

“This was my first time participating in a liturgical singing seminar sponsored by the diocese, and I am so glad to have been part of it. Topics ranging from vocal technique and conducting to chanting and the Octoechos were designed to be introductory, and were presented in a manner to make church singing seem approachable. It was enlightening to learn from Larissa, Demetra, and Fr. Dn. Alexander, who have decades of combined experience in singing and conducting. I have been singing and serving for over 20 years and still came away with a wealth of new information. I feel that the organizers had great foresight in focusing on the basics at this critical time for the Church, when we need more young people to embrace and engage in the liturgical lives of our parishes. I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in church singing should attend one of these future events.“

The conference culminated with the All-Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia under the direction of the conference presenters. The services, sung entirely in English, elevated the prayers of the Resurrection of our Savior and the Feast in joyous hymnody, giving all those present in prayer the full understanding of the rich hymnography and musical traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, the parish rector, Archpriest John Whiteford, greeted the participants of the conference with a message from His Eminence, Archbishop Peter.

Notably, the conference was enhanced with the participation of a large number of young singers who have been recent attendees at the Diocesan St. Herman’s Youth Conference, during which all the youth sing the divine services in the choir (many for the first time). The entire conference was enriched by their energy and enthusiasm for church singing, where all the singers, regardless of experience, could sing praises to our God.

The Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee is especially thankful to the parish of St. Jonah, its Sisterhood, clergy, and all those that welcomed the conference participants. This conference was organized with the needs of the parish choirs of the diocese in mind in their essential ministry of liturgical singing, fulfilling the mission of the committee in promoting proper and prayerful singing and chanting in church, to the glory of the All-merciful Savior.

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