Publisher: St Tikhon's Monastery Press
Russian Orthodox Christianity was born more than a thousand years ago in the waters of the Dnieper River when Kievan Rus’ received the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was baptized in 988 AD. Since that time the Russian land has been watered with the sweat of faithful bishops, clergy, monastics, and laypeople, both high and low; with the tears of hermits, wanderers, and holy fools; and with the blood of martyrs and confessors for the faith, especially during the horrors of Soviet oppression in the 20th century. Eight centuries after the Baptism of Rus’, beginning with the first Orthodox mission to the New World undertaken by monks of Valaam Monastery in 1794—among them St. Herman of Alaska—and continued by many holy men and women from that time onward, the North American land has begun to receive this same Gospel, this same Baptism, this same sanctifying watering.
Today, the process of sanctifying the land and her people continues, both in the Old World and the New. While every devout Orthodox Christian plays an integral part in this process, a crucial and irreplaceable role is played by the theological seminaries who work to form and train teachers, models, and guides of the Faith. In 2013, three esteemed theological seminaries in America— each of them in their turn an offspring of Russian Orthodoxy—celebrated major anniversaries: St. Tikhon’s Seminary and St. Vladimir’s Seminary together marked 75 years, and Holy Trinity Seminary its 65th. As a way of commemorating these joint anniversaries, the select student choirs of the three institutions came together to form a single ensemble for the first time in their respective histories. Gathering at St. Tikhon’s Seminary a few days prior to the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the 25 young men who were invited to participate in the event rigorously prepared to sing Vigil and Divine Liturgy with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon at St. Tikhon’s Monastery (America’s oldest Monastery, founded in 1905), and afterwards to perform a public concert. The present CD is a live recording of this concert, which took place on March 3, 2013, in the Episcopal Pro-Cathedral of St. Stephen, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania.
Guiding the proceedings was the world-renowned Russian conductor Vladimir Gorbik, who was invited to prepare the choir for this historic event. The choral sound that Maestro Gorbik elicited from these singers will be, we believe, a new experience for American audiences. Perhaps it is because Maestro Gorbik, himself a living heir to the rich tradition of Russian liturgical singing, imparted to the singers his own deep sense of reverence and holy fear in approaching the sacred task of liturgical singing. Certainly, his teaching, example, and refined technical skill as a conductor inspired the choir to perform far above what they believed possible of themselves.
The program recorded here is meant to reveal, through music, something of the mysterious infusion of Russian Orthodox Christianity into the life of America that has been quietly happening since the end of the 18th century and which continues to this day. Like Orthodoxy in America, much of the music here is not very old, dating mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries; but, also like Orthodoxy in America, the new is imbued with the life of the old, just as the branches of a tree drink the same sap as the roots. It is a healthy sign of Orthodoxy’s deepening connection with America that English is gradually becoming the normal liturgical language for many of the continent’s Orthodox, and the present program reflects that reality. Even so, a number of the pieces in the program are being performed in English for the first time. There is a vast wealth of Russian music, especially of pieces composed during the Soviet era, that have yet to make an impact on American Orthodox singing, and thus, one of the aims of this program is to give American audiences a fresh glimpse of the living reality of the Russian musical tradition. Last, but not least, this program also showcases a new composition and two new arrangements by American composers. Defining what American music is, let alone what American Orthodox music is, is a very difficult task. However, the music recorded here—and not only the new compositions and arrangements, but even the unattributed transcriptions of Slavonic pieces into English (a subtle and under-appreciated art) —presents the work of American composers and arrangers as something natural, as an organic development of the living Russian Orthodox tradition into a living American Orthodox tradition. This is necessarily a gradual process, like the growth of a tree; and also like a tree, the new cannot break itself off from the old without forfeiting its own life. However, growth is necessary for life, and it is another encouraging sign for the growth of the Orthodox faith in America that new compositions of liturgical music have begun to appear, especially ones that are organically linked with the past. The words of the great Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, are worth bearing in mind: “Tradition is entirely different from habit, even from an excellent habit, since habit is by definition an unconscious acquisition and tends to become mechanical, whereas tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance. A real tradition is not the relic of a past that is irretrievably gone; it is a living force that animates and informs the present […] Far from implying the repetition of what has been, tradition presupposes the reality of what endures. It appears as an heirloom, a heritage that one receives on condition of making it bear fruit before passing it on to one’s descendants” (The Poetics of Music). ~Benedict Sheehan
1. The Opening Psalm - Sarov Hermitage Chant
2. Blessed is the Man - Pochaev Lavra Chant
3. O Gladsome Light - Valaam Chant
4. Prokimenon, The Lord is King - Solovetsky Monastery Chant
5. Vouchsafe, O Lord - Optina Hermitage Chant
6. St. Symeon's Prayer - A. Kastalsky
7. The Great Doxology - A. Tretyakov
8. To Thee, Our Champion Leader - S. Trubachev
9. Eis Polla Eti Despota - S. Trubachev
10. Trisagion - B. Sheehan
11. Prokimenon, O Lord, Save Thy People - Znamenny Chant
12. Cherubic Hymn - V. Kalinnikov
13. It is Truly Meet - Hieromonk Nafaniel
14. The Lord's Prayer - N. Rimsky-Korsakov
15. One is Holy - Kievan Chant
16. The Father's Embrace - Tone One, "Thy Tomb, O Savior"
17. Many Years - St. Sophia Cathedral Melody