Written by Alex Milas
Yes, indeed. Seventeen singers, all seeking to improve their liturgical choral skills, gathered together for a 3-1/2 day Master Class for Singers at the St. Matrona Cathedral in Dania Beach, FL. Under the guidance of Master Conductor Vladimir Gorbik, the students progressed from a random collective to an organized and synchronized group of vocalists in just a couple of days.
As with all PaTRAM Master Classes, the event began with a molebin in the Cathedral, served by Archimandrite Alexander Belya.
After traveling from Russia to teach this class, Maestro Gorbik had no idea what to expect. With the exception of the Lukianov family, he did not know any of the singers. He did not know their capacity nor their musical knowledge base.
He knew only that he had a group of singers, some from St. Matrona’s choir and some from other choirs.
This was a daunting task, even for a seasoned, experienced and knowledgeable professional, such as Maestro Gorbik. Still, Maestro Gorbik accepted the challenge and set about finding a way to take this collective of vocalists and shape them into a choir and impart on them his decades of expertise.
Due to the absence of the local Choirmaster there were some differences between how the local participants were used to singing and how Maestro Gorbik did it in Moscow. Typically, it would have been the norm for the visiting conductor to sing set pieces and the local Choirmaster to do the rest but, due to the absence, Maestro Gorbik was forced to do both full services.
With each difference there was reconciliation. With every cloudy direction the group found clarity. Together they grew. Together they connected. Together they became a single sound, rich and melodic. Sound in technicality. Beautiful in harmony. Prayerful in feeling.
Somehow one would never see that in the rehearsal hall/trapeznaya of the St. Matrona Cathedral where, as previously mentioned, things seemed disparate even though everyone knew what they were trying to achieve. It just didn’t seem to be totally what Maestro Gorbik wanted.
But the time finally came to sing in Church. Saturday, All-Night Vigil was the first assignment. The singers gathered in the Choir loft that evening. The singers seemed restless and Maestro Gorbik introspective. He impressed on his singers to do their best, heed his direction and, with God’s grace, all will be well.
A common misconception is that the All-Night Vigil is somehow easier to sing than the Divine Liturgy, the next morning’s assignment. “Not true”, said the Maestro. He went on to explain to the students why that is and that this would be their toughest challenge. Once completed, they’ll find the Divine Liturgy to be much less complicated.
Finally, the service began. His Grace, Bishop Theodosy of Seattle, was the Hierarch officiating the evening’s All-Night Vigil. Concelebrating with His Grace were Archimandrite Alexander Belya, the church’s abbot, and Father Sergius of Moldavia, deacons and altar boys. The Cathedral was somewhat sparcely populated at the start but eventually was well-attended by the local faithful.
When the time came, the choir began to sing the first notes of the service. Nice. Tentative, but nice. As the service continued, though, the choir grew stronger. Their voices more engaged. The sound began to echo through the church and a choir emerged that was nothing like what was heard in the rehearsal hall next door. It was beautiful.
After the Vigil, the choir seemed as much relieved as they were excited to have gotten through the service.
Still, Maestro Gorbik congratulated everyone and reminded them that there was still tomorrow’s Divine Liturgy, easier, but still a challenge. He also reminded everyone of the early choir call, prior to the Liturgy, where everyone needed to loosen up their voices and be ready for the Liturgy.
The next morning, again, a different choir came. Things seemed a bit scattered. The vocals didn’t seem to come together like the evening before. One could feel there was a feeling of trepidation among the singers. Maestro Gorbik did his best to calm things down and give the singers some focus and calm. No turning back now.
Back to the choir loft….the Bishop’s greeting began the service and again the choir began singing their first notes. Again, some tentativeness but quickly the sound began to form. More and more, as the service progressed, the singers felt more comfortable and the sound became stronger and more moving. And by the time the service ended, again, a choir totally different from that which populated the rehearsal hall earlier that morning, had arrived.
Bishop Theodosy made a point to say, in his sermon, that this class had brought the best of what they had to the celebration and deserved to be commended.
His Grace pointed out the importance of the work PaTRAM was doing and commended, by name, its founders (Alexei and Katherine Lukianov). Bishop Theodosy congratulated Maestro Gorbik for his efforts in shaping the choir and producing the wonderful sounds he heard during the past two services.
The remainder of the Choir joined Maestro Gorbik and the Lukianovs to sing the joyous hymn of “Many Years” (Mnogoye Leto) as the congregation joined with them and Bishop Theodosy gave his blessings.
The Master Class then posed, together with the clergy for a group photo.
All the faithful were invited to the trapeznaya, afterwards, where the Sisterhood of the St. Matrona Cathedral served up outstanding cuisine and toasts were the rule of the day. However, one stood out from the others, “a toast to Ivan Belya!” Reader Ivan, St. Matrona’s council’s business manager, was instrumental in helping arrange this class, engaged the Sisterhood’s help with meals and oversaw the cooperation of the Church with PaTRAM’s management. A well-deserved, thanks.
The day ended with goodbyes, thank yous, hugs and blessings but what will never end is the knowledge this group received from Maestro Gorbik and the satisfaction of what they’ve achieved. Thank God, it all worked out and the Master Class was a success.