From June 21 to 24, the PaTRAM Institute held its first Summer Academy for Conductors and Singers on the beautiful campus of the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.
The event consolidated PaTRAM Institute’s summer programs over the past four years under a single, multi-faceted program and succeeded in bringing together
a multitude of church musicians from various backgrounds all under the guidance of an outstanding international faculty.
The attendees and faculty members arrived in the afternoon of June 20th. That evening, Archpriest David Straut, Pastor of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Church in Rocky Hill, NJ, served a Moleben Before the Start of a Good Endeavor at which the participants sang the responses.
Prior to the Service, Artistic Director of the Academy–Dr. Peter Jermihov, auditioned all the Academy Choir Members to determine how they would best fit into the program he designed for the Academy.
The Academy was structured around three curriculum tracks: for Advanced Conductors, for Beginner & Intermediate Conductors, and for Singers. Each track was taught by two faculty members specializing in that particular area of instruction.
The entire program was integrated with instruction in Musicianship and Score Analysis, taught by Dr. Nicholas Reeves, composer and theorist, longtime faculty member of the PaTRAM Institute, and university professor at Adelphi University. The Academy is built around the concept of making studies in Musicianship the foundation of any performance application.
Each stream had its own breakout sessions. The Advanced Conductors were taught by Dr. Jermihov and Dr. Tamara Petijevic, a master conductor and teacher from Serbia, and were given up to three hours of individual podium time.
Generous podium time, intensive feedback from the master-teachers, and the opportunity to experience cause-and-effect relationships between hand movement and singers’ response is what serious conductors desire most and this is exactly what the Academy was able to offer. In addition to this unique feature, The Academy Choir–a chamber choir consisting of professional singers and qualified vocalists from the list of Academy participants–served as the conductors’ “practice instrument,” thus giving the student conductors not only a choir to work with but an ensemble of competent singers who were able to accurately respond to every gesture and nuance. This was a productive and joyful journey that allowed the Advanced Conductors, in the context of a supportive community, to experience tremendous growth and expansion of self-awareness.
The Beginner and Intermediate Conductors were taught by Dr. Irina Riazanova and Benedict Sheehan. This track focused on basic conducting technique and the development of a conducting apparatus–proper posture, hand and arm position, and focused movement–to facilitate all the various types of articulations from espressivo legato to marcato.
This intensive training, both in group and one-on-one sessions, allowed the students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses and then focus on the development of desired skills throughout the year; in a sense, the process was at once diagnostic and prescriptive. Participants of this track were also given the opportunity to sit in the singers’ sessions, thus expanding their knowledge of solid vocal technique, and in the Advanced Conductor sessions, thus witnessing the full application of conducting technique precepts. Some student conductors were given podium time with the Academy Choir and the privilege of directing hymns in the Divine Services at the end of the Academy.
The Singers’ track was led by Laryssa Doohovskoy and Talia-Maria Sheehan–both outstanding and highly experienced vocalists and teachers. The sessions for this track included lectures on vocal anatomy–vital information on the physiology of the human voice that is often neglected in vocal pedagogy contexts–and extensive vocal training in group and individual lessons.
The sheer length of Orthodox Divine Services places inordinate demands on the human voice, and it was the objective of the Academy to help students establish proper vocal habits, in some cases correct bad habits, and, most importantly, provide a model by which singers can function throughout the year; this objective in all of its facets was admirably accomplished. Some of the students were given the opportunity to sing in the Academy Choir and apply their newly-acquired skills and awareness in a competent choir and to respond with sensitivity and appropriate technique to the gestures and requests of the conductors.
In addition to the practical, skill acquisition-based instruction, Academy participants heard dynamic lecture presentations by Father Sergius Bowyer, Abbot of St. Tikhon Monastery in Pennsylvania, and Father Alexander Webster, Ph.D., Dean and Professor of Moral Theology at Holy Trinity Seminary in New York.
These presentations opened our eyes to the possibilities church musicians have in leading and inspiring worshippers to comprehend the salvific content of Orthodox hymnography. Dr. Petijevic delivered a lecture on liturgical traditions Kosovo, Serbia, as well as her activities with her liturgical choirs. On Friday, at the end of the second day of the Academy, all the participants and instructors sat in the round and shared their trials and tribulations; this sharing allowed everyone to acknowledge mutual challenges and ways to overcome them.
The Academy culminated in the celebration of two Divine Services at the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, New Jersey–the All-Night Vigil on Saturday evening and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, presided.
The right kleros was led by esteemed conductor–Maestro Vladimir Gorbik from Moscow, Russia; this was a special treat for all present as we heard the resident St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Male Choir sing the responses with beauty and impeccable delivery of the words.
The left kleros was led by the Advanced Conductors of the Academy, who had the chance to apply all that they learned in an actual worship experience, while the Academy Choir sung the responses. It was a glorious celebration, indeed, as we witnessed Orthodox worship and hymnography in their full splendor. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Hilarion addressed the faithful from the ambo and emphasized the importance of beautiful liturgical singing in worship and, to that end, the tireless and outstanding work performed by the PaTRAM Institute.
The Academy ended with a festive banquet in the Church Hall with all the clergy and the faithful; Metropolitan Hilarion and the full faculty headed by Dr. Jermihov and Katya Lukianov–Executive Director of the Academy–presented the participants with certificates of completion of the Academy and heartfelt congratulations.
As described earlier, many objectives were realized with respect to process and product. Feedback from the students, faculty members, and clergy continues to pour in. Extraordinary praise and enthusiasm center around the outstanding level of instruction, detailed attention on skill acquisition, and the resulting personal growth and inspiration. Many have expressed the desire to repeat enrollment in the Academy next year and offered the suggestion to expand the Academy to a full week-long learning experience.
From all personnel, facets, and perspectives, the Academy was, indeed, a resounding success. Praise be to God for all good things and may everyone continue to sing to the Glory of God and to serve the Church with diligent preparation and humility!