The founding purpose of PaTRAM is to proliferate the adoption of professionally and prayerfully executed Russian Orthodox Church music in North America in both the English and Slavonic languages; and to establish the process and infrastructure for Maestro Vladimir Gorbik and other Orthodox conductors to instruct and influence the dynamic beauty of Eastern Orthodox conducting and singing in America and Canada. Our intent is to dramatically improve the prayerful sound and quality of Orthodox music through a new breed of master conductors, more professional singers, and a significant increase in musical cooperation between members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and the Moscow Representation Church of the Holy Trinity–Saint Sergius Lavra.
A Tradition of Orthodox Church Singing
Orthodox Christian liturgical worship cannot take place without singing. In the Russian Church, a glorious tradition of church singing dates back at least a thousand years. Even in the smallest towns and villages of Russia the standard “staff” of a church included an ordained priest and a tonsured psalm chanter whose responsibility was to organize and lead the choir and teach the children.
Through the centuries, skilled interpreters, professionally trained musicians fulfilling a unique calling—Bortniansky, Arkhangelsky, Orlov, Danilin, Chesnokov—have led choirs that have united the hearts and spirits of generations of Orthodox worshipers in prayer. Even in the difficult circumstances of the emigration (diaspora), men such as Jaroff, Hilko, Afonsky, Ledkovsky, Evetz, and Konstantinov continued to labor in the vocation as professional choirmasters.
The Situation Today
As the faithful of many nations have honored Christ’s commandment to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all Nations,” the Orthodox Faith has spread throughout the North American continent. Today new mission parishes are being planted all over North America, gathering scattered descendants of immigrants and attracting numerous new converts. More than half a dozen seminaries train clergy. The number of monasteries has grown from just a handful a few decades ago to many dozens. Through the beauty of the Liturgy—liturgical prayer and singing—heard increasingly in an understandable language, people are discovering the fullness and depth of Orthodox worship in spirit and in truth.
Yet, sadly, the standard and execution of the singing have been steadily declining throughout North America and many of our churches have come to lack the critical element of beautiful and prayerful singing that helps draw people to the “right worship” (orthodoxia or pravoslavie) of the Holy Trinity. While there continue to be a small number of Orthodox parishes that have on their staff a trained and competent choir director, it is more often a challenge even to find a qualified leader of church singing. Thus, many parishioners today struggle through lackluster choral performances, often more mechanical than prayerful, rarely experiencing in their worship the full beauty of the Eastern Orthodox musical tradition.
The art of musically leading Orthodox worship in a competent, inspired way is complex and subtle, requiring talents and skills in a variety of musical styles, knowledge of liturgics and repertoire, music theory, choral conducting technique, as well as pedagogical and personal leadership skills. In a large parish with a full cycle of services, it is essentially a full-time job. And yet, there are few places in the world where a talented, dedicated Orthodox person can obtain the training necessary to fulfill these tasks on a professional level of excellence that is worthy of service in God’s Holy Temple.
Addressing the Void
Efforts to address the void—in the form of annual or periodic jurisdictional conferences to unite and instruct singers—have been noble and well meaning yet broadly ineffective in collectively influencing church singing. They have lacked consistent quality and reproducibility; they have been fragmented, underfunded, and understaffed. Thus they have not been able to address the deeper need for multi-tiered and ongoing programs. PaTRAM is intent upon changing this situation in a manner that does not displace the efforts of Orthodox jurisdictions to attract and assemble singers and conductors. Our mission will be to offer a deeper opportunity to professionalize North American choirs through programs that span multiple levels of accreditation, utilizing master classes and multi-media platforms including on-line training. PaTRAM will accomplish its mission through education and training offered by the foremost conductors and instructors in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Arguably the preeminent conductor of this generation, Vladimir Gorbik, choirmaster of the Moscow Representation Church of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra, will head the program. He is abundantly qualified to usher in the return of traditional and professional singing to North America. Maestro Gorbik’s leadership, along with that of known American Orthodox conductors and musicians such as Benedict Sheehan (co-founder of PaTRAM), Peter Fekula, Nicholas Reeves, Nicholas Kotar, Vladimir Morosan and many others, coupled with leadership from the Orthodox business, legal, and religious communities, including the chairman of PaTRAM’s Board of Directors and co-founder Alexis Lukianov, a prominent MedTech CEO and entrepreneur, ensures the successful execution of this important undertaking.
In order to grow the reputation and standing of Eastern Orthodox music and singing in North America, we must create a strong presence grounded in our heritage and our traditions. We must foster local talent as well as our youth.
The success of PaTRAM will depend on the input and collaboration of many talented individuals who share our perspective: that organized choirs in Orthodox worship should chant prayers through the most divinely inspired music that is pleasing to God and that the singing of music in Church should help both parishioners and clergy to elevate their prayer during services.
Through the intercessions of St Tikhon we pray that God bless PaTRAM and all those who join us. We welcome your participation!