Monday, March 5, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (Part 1)

Lost in the LeHigh Valley

We were inching our way along a Pennsylvania country road, the way mostly illumined by the headlights and tail lights of hundreds of cars in front of us. Nicholas Chapman, publications head at Holy Trinity Monastery—my boss—sat in the driver’s seat. “Lost in the LeHigh Valley,” he said.

Nicholas Kotar, sitting in the passenger’s seat, turned to me. “John! Take notes!” And thus was born this post.

We were on our way to Philadelphia for a concert of epic proportions, combining the strengths of four different singing groups: The EA Diocese Youth Choir, the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Mission Choir, Byzantine chanters from Princeton, and the Holy Trinity Seminary Choir (our first concert since Boston). In all, there were going to be over forty singers from all around the Eastern seaboard. Nicky was going to be the conductor (natch).

We had left just after lunch on Friday, February 17th. Our way was for the most part free and easy, with nothing unexpected except for a flaming car on the side of the road. The GPS predicted our ETA to be 5:30pm. What the GPS didn’t anticipate was the massive roadwork which diverted all the traffic off the interstate. It added at least two hours to our travel time.

We finally got to Philadelphia a little after 7:30, and dropped off Mr. Chapman at the train station (he was going to stay in Princeton, then come to Philadelphia for the concert). Nicky also got off, because he wanted to hang out with some college friends. That left just Anthony and I to fend for ourselves and find the parish house where we were staying. We finally found it thanks to Dimitry Doohovskoy, local organizer of the event, fan of this blog, and all-around good guy. Mitya stayed up very late making sure that the people arriving to stay at the house were taken care of.

Most of the men were staying at the ROCOR parish of Our Lady, the Joy of All Who Sorrow. Anthony and I got to the parish house and we made sure to choose decent spots to sleep. The people in charge of the house explained to us various things. “Are we the first guys to arrive here?” I said. “No,” said Ivan, one of the residents, “there are two guys from Boston, John and Nick.”

John and Nick…Kasarda? Surely enough, the two Distinguished Gentlemen from Ipswitch were already there. I was happy to see them again, the first time since before Christmas.

“Nick looks like old and grizzled Tintin.” —John K.

The house was relatively empty (most of the other guys didn’t show up until late at night) so we were mostly by ourselves. We made friends with a cat, which I failed to attract by wiggling my fingers. “What are you doing, John? Are those spirit fingers?” said John Kasarda.

Later that night, more guys came to join us, including three from the Bulgarian parish in Boston, some folks from Albany, and a musical prodigy from Miami.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast. I met and reunited with more people, and then we all assembled in the parish hall, where we were shunted off to St. Michael’s, another Orthodox church where the actual concert was supposed to take place. This wasn’t an actual rehearsal but more like stage blocking for the concert.

Nicky: “Move IN!”

Suzie, who was in charge of the blocking, worked with the readers for the concert, or rather she sort of held auditions.

“Give me your best Baptist preacher.”

Soon, we got back to the ROCOR parish. I had happy reunions with many people; it was like a who’s-who of ROCOR youth. After lunch came the rehearsal. Nicky took the conductor’s stand and explained the raison d’ĂȘtre behind the concert. Unlike many concerts of sacred music, this one was tied to a unified theme: a depiction of the hypothetical life of the Good Thief, told through readings and song. “We want to show the audience something beautiful, something Other…which is why the next four hours are going to be excruciating,” said Nicky.

Sure enough, rehearsal was very long, but nobody seemed to mind, and it felt pretty productive. Something was starting to gel. We had a break and split up for separate rehearsals. We got back together again just in time for Vigil. The Vigil service was split up between the youth choir and us Jordanvillians, who sang most of the Church Slavonic stuff. It went pretty well.

After vigil, we had a dinner of pizza and lasagna. The people at my table told me not to eat too much as we were going to Outback afterwards. Outback! I readily agreed, and despite a little confusion about who was riding with whom, a sizable number of us managed to get to Outback (which was in New Jersey, no less) before the kitchen closed. I had a ribeye steak, my last steak before Great Lent!

Censored by the Postnyi Police for being too tempting.

We got back late at night. I stayed up a little, anticipating an exciting Sunday.

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