On Thursday evening, October 21, over 60 singers ‒ men, women, teens, and children; clergy, laity, and monastics ‒ gathered under the eaves of St. Tikhon Church in Blountville, TN for an English-language Liturgical Music Symposium held in cooperation with the Synodal School of Liturgical Music. Participants from ROCOR, the OCA, and the Antiochian Archdiocese attended from parishes as distant as Oregon and Maine.
Vespers was served, followed by a cookout on the parish grounds for all in attendance. Having been refreshed following their travels, a lengthy choral practice was conducted under the direction of Peter Fekula. During this practice, singers familiarized themselves with the services they would be singing on the days following. Tea was offered in the parish hall, where fellowship and interaction continued well into the night.
The following morning, a lenten breakfast was served in the parish hall. Once all had arrived and gotten something to eat, a moleben was served in the church, as well as a litia for the departed ROCOR hierarchs. The parish rector, Archpriest Matthew Williams, introduced the visiting instructors and lecturers, after which Laryssa Doohovskoy gave the keynote lecture ‒ "Embracing the Spirit of Professionalism in Church Choirs" ‒ and led a workshop on vocal technique.
In her lecture, Laryssa explained that, "The choir should heed the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (48:10), ‘Cursed is the man that doeth the work of the Lord carelessly.’ Our song, an offering to the Lord and a guide for the prayer of others in the Church, should be cultivated in the spirit of offering up as perfect an offering as we are able. Singers should be reliable, dedicated to improving their skills, willing to develop emotional intelligence, and eager to set, accept, and expect high standards."
During the workshop on vocal technique, participants received introductory instruction in the five pillars of vocal production: posture/alignment, breath, phonation, resonance, and articulation. Participants were guided through exercises to help them understand desired goals in each area. A workshop on choral conducting, led by Peter Fekula, in which he explored the responsibilities of an Orthodox choral director and gave advice on conducting and rehearsal technique and choral performance, concluded the morning sessions.
Following lunch, the symposium instructors led a workshop on reading in church. Topics included the consideration of context when reading (e.g., distinctions between reading from the Psalms versus a canon, small parish versus cathedral) and practical examples in intonation, diction, etc. A workshop on the liturgical services of the Church followed, led by Peter Fekula and Fr. Matthew. In opening the session, Fr. Matthew noted that, although he and Peter have been working on related projects for about three decades ‒ including collaborating on a book on the subject ‒ this was their first time jointly leading a liturgical workshop.
After a short break, the singers continued their choral practice in the church before dinner. The evening concluded with Ninth Hour, Vespers, and Matins for the feast of the Holy Apostle James son of Alphæus.
On Saturday morning, symposium participants and parishioners gathered in the church for the Hours and Divine Liturgy. Fr. Matthew celebrated Liturgy, co-served by Archpriest Mark Tyson (rector of St. Thomas the Apostle Mission in Tobaccoville, NC), Archpriest Alexander Logunov (rector of Reigning Mother of God Church in Charlotte, NC), Priest Elias Crowder (rector of St. Martin of Tours Mission in Montgomery, AL), Protodeacon Jeremiah Davis (cleric of Christ the Savior Church in Wayne, WV), and Deacon Joseph Sefchick (parish cleric). A large number of those in attendance communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
Both services were sung beautifully by a large choir of all of the participants, under Peter Fekula’s skillful direction. Their improvement from two nights prior was remarkable. Peter commented that one of the benefits of such conferences is the opportunity for singers from smaller parishes to sing in a large choir and explore music that reflects the richness of the Orthodox musical tradition and to bring that music back to their parishes. It should be noted that the level of musicianship among the participants was quite high, and the group managed to come together as an ensemble and learn some complex music very quickly.
Brunch was served in the parish hall, followed by another workshop with instruction in harmonization of Kievan chant, preparing (pointing) stichera for singing, and the role of canonarch. Irina du Quenoy gave the concluding lecture on the pitfalls of small and beginning choirs. A final Q&A session with the instructors led to lively discussion on a variety of topics. Having commended the instructors, participants, and parish volunteers for their love for and dedication to Christ’s Church, Fr. Matthew served a thanksgiving moleben.
Participants then enjoyed light refreshments in the parish hall and spent some time interacting with one another before departing for home. Several participants remained at the church for the evening and joined the parish choir to sing the resurrectional All-Night Vigil antiphonally.