Liturgical Music Seminar at Holy Protection Parish, Cabramatta

At one point it seemed there would not be a 2010 Russian Orthodox Choir Singer’s and Conductor’s Conference, due to its cancellation (in Brisbane).  Fortunately, the wonderfully committed and stoic Andrei Laptev, a considerable musician and veritable asset to the Russian Orthodox Community in Australia, decided to not accept this travesty and asked the community if there was sufficient interest to maintain the venue in another location (Cabramatta, NSW).  We all answered ‘yes’, and Andrei obtained a Blessing to  proceed with a plan which would ultimately result in a truly fantastic event.

With a willingness to ask for assistance and a communal desire for success, the quickly assembled committee, championed by Andrei and supported by several knowledgeable lecturers, a wonderful sisterhood and a fantastic venue (Intercession of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church, Cabramatta); a memorable event was assured.  There was a wide range of lectures to satisfy all including Russian Sacred Music History, conducting basics, Znamenny Chant in English and Russian, vocal technique, square notation and ustav/order of service.

I had the honour of being asked to provide the vocal technique classes, discussing how to look after and maintain your voice, vocal technique and breathing method, determining you voice and range, blending and harmony and other points relevant to successful singing in a choral environment.  I hope those who attended my classes benefited in some way.

Certainly Andrei had worked tirelessly, for we were presented upon arrival with a ‘showbag’ full of all sorts of relevant goodies for the Syezd, including most importantly a carefully prepared full-score of the challenging musical program for the Saturday evening Vigil and Sunday Divine Liturgy in Cabramatta Church.  There was a great deal of note learning or ‘note-crunching’ to be achieved as the group was separated into two choirs, one English, and the other Russian.

The plan hatched by Andrei was to place a choir on each side of the Church and prepare antiphonal music for both services, with several different conductors getting a go in the captain’s seat.  Ultimately, the execution was excellent, as the two choirs, with two languages, and changing conductors, all combined seamlessly, showing just how beautiful Russian Orthodox Music can be when done well.  The singing was of an extremely high standard, with a personal highlight for me being the Kedrov – Otche Nash in English (notated and converted by Andrei).  I could barely contain myself whilst singing Our Father in that glorious Church with it’s amazing acoustics.  The marvelous antiphonal exchange of overlapping Russian and English for the antiphons on the Sunday morning Liturgy was also something I will remember for a long time.

The program was a true oral feast for those present, as Andrei had carefully selected and arranged music across a very wide range of styles for the services.  Along with the popular polyphonic Orthodox melodies, we also sang Znameny and unison monastic melodies, amongst others.  This event certainly revealed to all present that there is much more to Orthodox music than the limited SATB material we repeat on a weekly basis.  I return to Brisbane keen to try new things with our choir, and I am sure that the other conductors and singers will return to their Parishes charged with this energy also.

Sadly it seems only a few made it from Brisbane for the event; myself (representing the Annunciation Parish), Lyova Ianovitsky and Natasha Zarva (singers from St Nicholas Cathedral).  There are many singers and conductors in Brisbane who could have benefited greatly from this experience, so I hope that Brisbane does get another chance to host this event in the near future.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Andrei for his stellar effort in making such an exciting, fulfilling and successful event, with very little notice.  It was a truly professional and effective Syezd, and the consensus is that it was beneficial to all.  There is no profit in this labour other than the glorification of God through us returning as better singers and conductors to our respective Churches with more fire in our hearts.  This goal was most definitely achieved.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone in Sydney and Cabramatta for their wonderful hospitality.  We were chauffeured, fed and toured like dignitaries.  We were made to feel very welcome and we didn’t want to leave !

In Christ,

Gregory Scanlan,
Conductor, Holy Annunciation Orthodox Parish,
ROCOR English Parish, Woolloongabba, Queensland.