The sisters from St. Elisabeth’s Convent in Minsk, who come every year with a van full of icons and church supplies and craft objects, had their choir with them. Six men from different parishes who give concerts of church and folk music to raise money for the convent. They’d been invited to sing the Liturgy in our church. I had misgivings(*) at first, but the choir was splendid and it was clear that every man in it was in fact a church singer.
Time: didn’t keep track, but probably a little slower than usual
Congregation: about 80, many more (hyphenated-)Russians than usual because it had been announced that the Liturgy would be in Slavonic. According to my other half, and I think he was right, it was an opportunity for a lot of people to have a service just like at home.
Crew: Altar: Fr T and Fr W; 3 men and 1 boy as acolytes Choir: an accomplished tenor, a less experienced but extremely cute young tenor with an amazing voice, two normal decent baritones, a normal decent bass and a magnificent deep bass. Our own choir was standing on the other side with the book on a temporary lectern to sing the prokeimenon, Alleluia and other stuff around the readings in Dutch, and to come to the rescue if anything went really wrong, which only happened once.
Coordination: good on the whole, though the choir didn’t understand Dutch so the Dutch litanies were a bit shaky. This became better when Choirmistress started communicating the proper responses to the Minsk choir leader.
(*) My misgivings were basically of two kinds:
(1) that they’d be a concert choir rather than a liturgical choir. When I voiced that at choir practice, someone asked “is there a difference, then?” but three other people immediately replied “yes, a world of difference!” A concert choir might not listen to the priest, and probably wouldn’t be aware of what was happening. My mind was put at ease already when we put up the driver overnight (Brother Anton, a pleasant youngish man who has been a Christian for only three years but is learning very fast; we gave him our battered copy of Teach Yourself New Testament Greek because that’s the next thing he wants to learn) and he told us that all the singers actually sing in church choirs, though in different parishes. At the first notes in the Liturgy I thought “Oh! This is beautiful!” and it became clear that they really knew what they were doing. They had been warned not to sing too loudly because our little church won’t stand that, and they’d been at Vespers “to get a feel for the music in the parish” the previous evening– good thing I didn’t know it was for that and not just to be in church, because I was “the music in the parish” at the time. (Apropos of nothing: the znamenny Great Doxology is not only excellent to sing in unison, but also, perhaps even more, suited to only one voice.)
(2) that people in the parish would think this is the standard and our small, workmanlike, firmly Dutch-language choir is pitifully falling short. I don’t know yet if this is the case. We can always point out that we’re only one parish and that the men from Minsk happen to be the best singers selected from a number of parishes, trained to excellence, which we simply don’t have time and resources for. Also, Choirmistress intends to explain at the next parish meeting what the church choir is for, mostly that it’s craft rather than art. I hope that people realise that what the choir from Minsk did was a high standard of craft, rather than art, too.
There were three Protestant women I’d talked to on the phone (well, to two of them on separate occasions) who came to have some icons blessed, and I’m very much afraid that they, at least, now think that this is what Orthodox liturgy should sound like, rather than what it can sound like. I’ve urged them to come again to hear us sing in a language they can understand.
Prima was feasting her eyes and ears on the cute young tenor, and at the final blessing it became clear that he’d seen her too because he extricated himself from his group and got into line to venerate the cross right next to her. Neither of them dared speak to the other– Prima mostly because she thought he wouldn’t be able to understand her, and she was a bit vexed when she later heard (from my other half) that he spoke English quite well.
One choirmate, who never covers her head except when she’s in Russia, wore a scarf around her head and neck because we happened to be standing in the most drafty spot in the whole church. She got compliments from several Russian women, “how nice that you’re wearing a headscarf out of respect for the Russian visitors”. See, that’s why I waited for years until I dared wear a headscarf at all.