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.

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