The 19th Annual Russian Orthodox Church Musicians' Conference Concludes

The 19th Annual Russian Orthodox Church Musicians' Conference in North America, held under the auspices of the Liturgical Music Commission of the Synod of Bishops, was convened from Wednesday, October 4 to Sunday, October 8 , 2006. The conference was hosted by the Canadian Diocese Music Committee and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The labors of the local organizing Committee, under the chairmanship of George Skok, were clearly evident when 100 people from all over the world gathered at the plush Crowne Plaza Don Valley Hotel (named for the Don River in Toronto) which served as the venue for rehearsals, lectures and workshops in preparation for the pontifical services which were scheduled as the crowning event of the conference.

The hotel provided all the needed amenities for a most successful conference. The halls where the rehearsals took place were spacious and with good acoustics, the dining room served well-prepared meals and was the central gathering place for fostering connections and relationships with like-minded people. The beautiful swimming pool and hot tub under a huge glass dome gave an opportunity for everyone to relax and wind down after and 11-hour workday. Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky) of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, came to the conference with a very extensive collection of CDs and liturgical music resources for sale; the bookstore was busy the entire conference. The hotel lounge also provided an opportunity for after-hours gatherings and “recreational” singing.

All this served as a wonderful backdrop for what was the most important part and the main purpose of the conference: the obtaining of knowledge from experts and specialists as well as the betterment of church singing in our parishes. This year's main emphasis was centered on three very important figures in the field of Orthodox Liturgical music: Alexander D Kastalsky (150 years since his birth), Protopriest Peter Turchaninov (150 years since his death) and Alexander T Gretchaninov (50 years since his death). The Liturgical Music Commission, consisting of five members (Very Rev. Andre Papkov, deacon Serge Arlievsky, readers Vladimir Krassovsky, Peter Fekula and Nicolas Schidlovsky), very carefully studied and chose the selections to be sung at the Divine Services. The participants were able to experience such masterpieces as the “Mercy of Peace” in Znamenny chant and the polyeleos psalms in Kievan chant by Kastalsky, a Cherubic Hymn by Turchaninov, the first antiphon and “Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord” by Gretchaninov. It should be mentioned that the Conference was also dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Aleksandrovich Prokhorov, the Cathedral's choir director for the past 15 years, who passed away several months ago after a battle with cancer. In his honor the 100 voice choir sang his composition, “None Who Approaches Thee.”

The Conference was honored by the participation of Dr Svetlana Zvereva, the world's most renowned expert on Kastalsky and celebrated editor and compiler of a multi-volume collection of materials and documents related to the history of Russian Orthodox Liturgical Music. Dr Zvereva gave a very informative lecture, accompanied by numerous slides and photographs, on the life and works of Kastalsky. She underscored how the celebration in Toronto of Kastalsky's musical legacy was the first of many such events to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, with related events scheduled around the globe, including at the Synod Cathedral in New York and in Russia. Another highlight was the conducting and lecture of Oleg Martynov from the Moscow Orthodox Choral Directing School under the leadership of Evgeny S Kustovsky, a past participant of our conferences. As always, the conference was fortunate to be graced by the presence of Dr Marina V Ledkovsky (Professor Emerita, Columbia University), who gave a paper on the life and sacred music of Aleksandr G Chesnokov, brother of the better-known Pavel Chesnokov, who died 65 years ago in Paris.

Other important lectures and workshops were also delivered at the conference: Dr Kurt Sander (Northern Kentucky University), “A Layperson's Theoretical Examination of the Kastalsky 'Aesthetic';” Dr. Stuart Campbell (University of Edinburgh, Scotland), “The Russian 'New Direction' in Church Music, and Some Parallel Contemporary Movements in Western Church Music;” V. Rev. Andre Papkov (Chicago, IL), “Vocal Techniques;” Maria Naumenko (Rochester, NY), “Practical Advice for New Choir Directors;” Vladimir V Krassovsky (San Francisco, CA), “The Art of Liturgical Reading in the Tradition of the Russian Church;” Michael Hritz (Milford CT), “Techniques in Sight-singing;” Dr Timothy Clader (Rochester, NY), “Chanting Without Music: Marking Stichera for Beginners;” and Dr Denis Brearley (Ottawa, Canada), “The Discography of Kastalsky by Choirs Outside Russia.”

Throughout the conference the participants felt the pastoral presence of the rector of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Father Vladimir Malchenko who, with his kind words of support made everyone feel very welcome and warmed the hearts of all.

The crowning points of the conference, on the day the church commemorates St Sergius of Radonezh, were the Divine Services in the overcrowded Cathedral, presided over by Hs Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan in concelebration with Protopriest Vladimir Malchenko, Protopriest Vladimir Morin, Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky), Protopriest John Hrihoriak, and Deacon Serge Arlievesky of the Liturgical Commission (who celebrated his Saint's day), Deacon Vassily Milonov and Deacon Alexander Morin. Portions of the services were chanted antiphonally by two choirs of 50 voices each, while the better part of the services were sung by the full 100 voice choir, a spectacular sight to behold and hear. The conductors were Peter Fekula, Vladimir Krassovsky, George Skok, Oleg Martynov and Michael Hritz. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Grace spoke with gratitude about the importance of such conferences in the life of the Church. After the Vigil and Liturgy, the Sisterhood under the loving guidance of Maria Slinko served meals that were ‘fit for a king'. The speeches at the banquet after Liturgy summed up the entire conference, reminding everyone of the vital importance of their commitment to serving the Orthodox Church.

St Nicholas Cathedral in Seattle, Washington will host the 20 th Annual Russian Orthodox Church Musicians' Conference from October 3-7, 2007. See you all in Seattle!



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