Monday, February 18, 2013

Youth Choir: Back in Boston!

I was lying in bed listening to the sound of my cell phone going off. It was…way too early to be getting up. My door opened. “John, time to get up!” My next-door neighbor, who was serving that week, was making sure that I got up in time to leave for Boston.

Nearly two years ago, the Eastern American Diocese Youth Choir sang in several parishes in the Boston area for the weekend. This time, we were doing a genuine concert at Holy Cross/Hellenic College, extensively advertised and to be professionally recorded and even streamed live online. Plus, two Byzantine choirs from HC/HC and singers from St. Tikhon’s and of course Jordanville joined us (or, I guess, we joined them?). The concert we were doing was a revised version of the “Good Thief” concert we did in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

That was the reason why I was getting up at that very pious hour. Nicky Kotar was already ready to go. Thankfully, I had a bout of insomnia and had the time to pack my weekend bag. We primed the seminary van and waited for Fr. Deacon Ephraim and family, who were continuing up to Maine, to show up. Fr. Ephraim, his wife Joanna, baby Pauline, and their Border Collie Tighe went in the car, and we had an uneventful 4.5 hour drive to Boston.

We arrived at Holy Cross in the middle of a New England winter. Snow made the ground slippery and I was prepared to use what little I remembered from that judo class in college in case I fell. I walked in wearing my Coke-bottle glasses and green sweatshirt to cries of “Axios!” from some of the people meeting for rehearsal in the auditorium. I graciously accepted their congratulations for my recent tonsure as a Reader, and headed to the restroom to freshen up. I came back and caught up with several friends, one of whom, to my delight, actually reads this blog (shout-out).

Nicky Kotar, along with Benedict Sheehan (from St. Tikhon’s) and Alex Cooley, directed the various formations and arrangements of the youth/seminarian choir: male, female, seminarians, 16th century Renaissance sextet, etc. We rehearsed, rehearsed, and rehearsed some more, taking a lunch break in between. Since I was both one of the singers in the sextet and a seminarian, I was one of the few who rehearsed the most.

Unlike Philadelphia and other youth choir events, we didn’t have a set parish to go to for weekend services, so we were on our own. The three of us from Jordanville were all very tired, so we decided to stay at Holy Cross and attend the Sunday vespers there. It was a beautiful service with antiphonal Byzantine chant.

After vespers we were hungry, so we drove to West Roxbury and ended up eating at a Nepalese restaurant. We ordered curry, which we enjoyed while continuing to ask the passing waitresses where our drinks were. The goat curry I ordered tasted like…goat, I guess like a stronger version of lamb. In each bite bone shards threatened to lacerate my esophagus. I don’t recommend it as a meal for a date, or for any other occasion for that matter.

We realized that our host was at vigil at Holy Epiphany, where Metropolitan Hilarion was serving. So, we realized that we had to go to vigil after all. We drove to Roslindale, cassocked up, and strode into the church just in time for the end of the service. We got a  lot of looks from the other youth choir members in attendance wondering what in the world we were doing for the last two hours. “Well…it’s a little past the eleventh hour, but still!” I said.

That evening we stayed at Ilia Jarostchuk’s house to the north of Boston. Ilia played for the NFL, and pictures from various games adorned the walls of his well-furnished man-cave where we were going to spend the night. We stayed up late drinking tea and other potent potables and had (well, Fr. Ephraim, NK, and Ilia; I was exhausted) a thoughtful discussion about Holy Scripture and its various translations.

The next day we went to liturgy at Holy Cross again. The three of us did not receive communion, but an older lady standing next to me, a stranger, gave me a piece of antidoron. During lunch I got to make the acquaintance of Scott O’Rourke, the man behind the Orthodox Arts Journal and a student at Holy Cross. Then it was time for another rehearsal marathon. I spent the little bit of time before the final dress rehearsal lying in a comfy chair.

The dress rehearsal went well, with continual tweaking from our perfectionist (and always professional) choirmasters. I was happy to see things coming together. The Byzantine choirs were a great addition; in my opinion, we didn’t have enough of it in the Philadelphia concert.

Then came a short break, and then the concert. Dressed completely in black, we marched out onto the stage, music binders carefully held on our right sides. Nicky introduced the concert and we all opened our binders at the same time.

Then we began. Or, rather, I began. I gathered my strength and chanted: “Blessed is the man…alleluia.” The rest seemed to flow outward like a rushing river, which, as it changed course, at times became meandering and peaceful. At the end, we got a standing ovation. Success!

There was a reception set up in the lobby of the auditorium, but the three of us had to go back to Jordanville. So, we made our Russian-style goodbyes (sometimes more than once) and drove back up.

As I write this, somewhat sleep-deprived, I think of the wonderful new memories and the new friends I made this weekend. I am very grateful for everyone who came to sing and watch our concert, and to the people, who with their hard work and creativity, made last night a success.

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