Sunday, September 14, 2003

Holy Cross Day (Gregorian calendar)
Кресту твоему покланяемся, Владыко, и святое воскресение твое славим.

St Simeon Stylites (ascetic who lived on a pillar - Julian-calendar feast day)
Терпения столп был еси, ревновавый праотцем, преподобне, Иову во страстех, Иосифу во искушениих, и безплотных жительству, сый в телеси, Симеоне отче наш, моли Христа Бога спастися душам нашим.

A musical afternoon
Eastern Christendom meets Western - not that unusual really
This afternoon I had the chance to see - and take part in - a couple of strands of my orthodox, conservative religious 'special interest' (and my more casual one in music) coming together in a way that was unusual yet seemed perfectly natural. It was also my first-ever recording gig but I don't think I'll be hearing from David Geffen's A&R men any time soon.

An acquaintance who paints icons wants to make a video showing nothing but them, accompanied by choral music from the Orthodox services to go with each figure or feast day. This is where I and some other acquaintances come in for the musical part.

Spent some time in a building known to musicologists as acoustically perfect - Leopold Stokowski once recorded in it! A plain rectangular room architecturally, though largish, it has a high ceiling and an echo like an English cathedral. Interesting coincidence that, for the Orthodox liturgical music we sang, using variants of the Russian tones, we did in English and slowly, with pauses in the verses - just like the Roman Rite or the Book of Common Prayer (like cathedral evensong). To me it was like being in heaven (or a Tallis Scholars album). I did my best chorister impersonation and seemed to pull it off. (Singing tenor and managing not to sound like a choirboy whose voice has started to break... most of the time anyway.) I can barely read music - the notes can help but mostly I'm doing it by ear.

Oh, and to make the effect complete, the building happens to be an Orthodox church, dark inside but beautifully appointed, complete with very Italianate wall-like iconostasis with lifelike icons, like in 19th-century Russia. Basically an Eastern European version of everything I believe in.

The convert purists and maybe some Old Believers would fume, but there was no actual mixing and matching of rites and Russia has been borrowing things from Western Christendom since the 1600s, although on its own terms, remaining Eastern in identity - same basics as the Church Fathers and with that mystical kick all its own.

(Though interestingly, just about every image in my living-room icon corner would make the most persnickety russophile Orthodox happy. The latest addition: a card of a dark 16th-century Ukrainian icon with several figures in three rows: Our Lady, looking like the Kazan icon; Christ at the Resurrection and St Nicholas, then three Church Fathers and the shadowy martyrs SS. Florus and Laurus, and finally St George and the dragon, St Eudoxia and someone else whose name is hard to read.)

One of our group today, one of the sopranos, is a professional opera singer who converted to Russian Orthodoxy a couple of years ago to thank God for getting her singing voice back after a freak accident coughing - she credits the intercession of St John Maximovich.

As much as I enjoy singing in Slavonic, putting on my best Russian accent to do so, to me it sounded like church should sound - and in my own language!

An ideal Divine Liturgy to me would be in a church of that kind with that kind of music, in that style, in English - but only about an hour long. (And starting on time.) Well, I can dream, can't I?

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