Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Music School

Last Saturday, I finished a grueling fortnight in the Summer School of Liturgical Music. Every summer, students take classes at the SSLM in order to become better readers, singers, and choir conductors. There are a variety of classes in liturgics, music, and choir conducting. The entire program is a three-year process, at the end of which a passing student gets a certificate in choir conducting.

I wasn’t interested in a certificate, having no expectation or desire to become a choir conductor any time soon. But, since I didn’t have much else to do besides work at the bookstore, I spontaneously decided to jump into the program. I had already taken the first year of the music program in 2009 (my first time at Jordanville!), so I signed up for second-year classes.

This year’s class size was smaller than I remembered it had been in 2009, but it was filled with some very smart and interesting people. On the night of Ss. Peter and Paul, some of us got together at a local seminarian’s house, where we shared our life stories and enjoyed some pizza. We also had a barbecue the following Sunday which turned out to be quite convivial.

Because of my work schedule, I only took two classes: Music History and Solfège. In music history, I studied the continuing development of church singing after the changes wrought by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, which introduced foreign-style singing into churches and nearly shunted off the ancient forms of singing into the dustbin (at least in parishes). Thankfully, due to the efforts of some composers resistant to these developments, church music began to sound more chant-like, even if it was still harmonized. I remembered the earlier history of Russian church music, so it was easy to follow along.

Solfège was a little trickier, because my sight-reading skills are not so great and I have scant knowledge of music theory. However, my ear isn’t so bad, which helped me do the intoning of the initial chords of various sample pieces that our instructor, Dr. Kurt Sander, had given us. “Katya [the sole third-year student] got one of these in about 2.2 seconds.” We also got to do some dictation, which involves writing down on music staff paper the notes to melodies that Dr. Sander would play. The trickiest parts were when we had to name the top intervals to various chords he played on the keyboard. “I would go to my class at my university [Northern Kentucky University] with a windchime and tell them to name the notes while I shook it for a twenty minutes. Drove them nuts.”

Besides that, I also had private voice lessons with Irina Mozyleva, a pro singer who gave me some good tips. She also partnered me up with another student, a deep bass named Peter. She had us do a duet—a song called “Горные вершины,” based off a poem by Lermontov:

Like this, but with guys.

We made our debut on Wednesday night, at an informal get-together. I would have sounded better if it weren’t for the fact that I felt like a scared rabbit while singing in front of an audience.

The real deal, however, was on Saturday (July 21st), which was the final conducting exam for the second- and third-year students. We had practiced for two weeks the several pieces they were conducting. There were many bumps and difficulties on the long path to the end, but it went pretty well, all things considered. I had to sing tenor (for lack of tenors), which was, to put it lightly, quite a challenge. In the end, however, I thought we sounded pretty good for a choir who had never worked together before the beginning of the program.

After we sang the pieces, there was a general feeling of relief. All that was left was a thanksgiving moleben service in the monastery church and then an ice cream social! However, I couldn’t stay long, because I had to leave for a very big wedding somewhere in Long Island!

…to be continued.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pilgrimage Week (Part III)

Finally an update!

Since most of you haven’t been here in over a month, here’s a quick recap:

  • We did some singing.
  • We traveled around a bit.
  • There were many people in black.
That’s Pilgrimage Week for you. The tail end of it, after St. Tikhon’s, Holy Protection, and St. Nektarios, was of course Jordanville. I taxed my brain making sure that everyone got to the monastery in time and was had food and shelter for the weekend. Thus, I was on the phone quite a bit.

“Sign of an organizer,” one of the “neighbors” of the monastery said to me. “Always on the phone.”

People came at random times. I connected them with Fr. Cyprian, who put them to work. By the evening, most of the pilgrims arrived. We all went to Ephraim’s house, where we had grilled salmon burgers and enjoyable conversation.

The next day we had liturgy and some work around the monastery. After lunch, Fr. Cyprian had a discussion with us. He talked about various spiritual/life issues, including (natch) relationships. After that, we had some free time. A few of us, led by Nicky, went up to the cross. Then, we went down to the lakeside chapel. There, we did the pre-communion rule. After that was a long vigil and rest.

The next morning was very busy, since it was Pentecost. I was assigned to do the service in the early morning (6 am) liturgy. I sang the liturgy with Nicholas Chapman, Orthodox historian and my boss. I then went to a diner called the Tally-Ho with Nicholas and his wife for a hearty breakfast.

The rest of the morning was spent in the bookstore. I unfortunately missed the later service, including the Kneeling Vespers. I got leave from my shift in time to get everyone organized for a group photo, however!

Dimitry, one of my good friends, organizer of this whole Pilgrimage Week, and avid reader of this blog, went up to me and asked: “So, what are we going to do now? A final discussion about spiritual matters? How this trip affected us?”

“We’re going to Mr. Shake,” I said.

Mr. Shake, located about ten minutes from the monastery, is a local hangout for many of us hankering for an X-Large X-Thick Monster Shake. I gave the group some rudimentary directions, and they managed to find their way to the place.

It was a great end to the pilgrimage! We laughed and talked about our experiences. One of us (Anastasia) had her birthday that day, so we had a communal sundae served in her honor.