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NEW YORK: December 31, 2007
Journal of a Participant of the Synodal Cathedral Youth Choir

I was fortunate to take part in the first youth choir assembled to sing at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York. This endeavor, the brainchild of conductor Peter Fekula, allowed us to replace the Synod Cathedral Choir during the all-night vigil and subsequent hierarchal Divine Liturgy on December 1 and 2, 2007. His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan officiated at these services, the beauty of which will be long remembered by all who participated.

On the morning of Saturday, December 1, over 45 singers, aged five to twenty-five, gathered inside the Park Avenue mansion that is the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Most of the singers were locals, from areas surrounding New York City, but others had traveled from New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, and even San Francisco. We immediately began a day-long rehearsal at which we learned a wide range of Russian Orthodox sacred music that ranged from znamenny chant, to stichera, to freely-composed pieces, to harmonized chant, to the works of emigre composers such as Boris M Ledkovsky and Michael S Konstantinoff. Almost five hours of rehearsal, we gathered inside the Cathedral for the All-night Vigil. Under Petya's guidance, we sang the music we learned with pride, and joy in each other's company. I was astounded at the result. Over the course of a single day, Petya had managed to communicate his love of church music and its tradition into our hearts, and even the youngest of us sang seriously and earnestly.

The next day, against a backdrop of snow quietly settling on Park Avenue, we celebrated the culminating Divine Liturgy. It was a difficult morning, with sore throats and delayed journeys into the city, but nevertheless we all managed to come together and sing one last time before parting ways. For many of us this was a continuation of the previous summer's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the atmosphere of those services accompanied us here. The weekend was almost too short; we were happy for an excuse to prolong the day during trapeza . After a word of thanks from Bishop Gabriel, we congratulated four of our singers with their birthdays. We then spent the rest of the day together, reluctantly saying our goodbyes and promising to return for the next meeting of our newly formed choir.

I didn't at all regret my trip from Chicago. I was honored to be part of something so vital for the life of our Church's youth. Most importantly, I felt the mutual good will of all the participants, the remarkable absence of any discord, even simply the sincerity of all the singers, ensured what each of us felt in our hearts—that this was a sanctioned endeavor strengthened by the grace of the Mother of God, in the presence of Whose holy icon we sang and prayed.

May God grant that this event will grow into a semi-annual tradition and that we, the youth of the Russian Church Abroad, will always be willing to meet with the mutual desire to celebrate our rich musical heritage together.

AS Kotar
Chancery of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America