In early February 2019, Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC hosted a choir workshop with Benedict Sheehan, Director of Music and Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, and his wife Maria, who teaches Music Theory and Voice at the seminary. The workshop was attended by members of the cathedral choir and a number of guest singers and directors from the DC area.
The workshop began on Friday evening, February 8, with a lecture and discussion, titled “The Next Ten Years: The Work of Orthodox Musicians in America,” during which the Sheehans emphasized the need for serious reinvestment in liturgical music over the next decade, lest we risk losing much of the musical richness we take for granted in the Church today. They also emphasized the importance of cathedrals, especially ones as prominent as Saint Nicholas, being willing to take up the mantle of musical leadership within the Church at large. “Liturgical music,” Benedict argued, “is one of the Church’s most powerful evangelical tools, provided the tradition is sufficiently valued and sustained. Investing time and resources in it will pay dividends.”
The workshop continued on Saturday morning with an intensive session on vocal technique, during which Maria helped participants realize that vocal technique is really a form of physical fitness that requires daily investment. “We have to forge deliberate technical paths to vocal fitness,” she said, “given our present age, in which music tends to be consumed rather than made, and most people no longer sing every day.” In the afternoon, Benedict facilitated a repertoire rehearsal and session on ensemble building. He also worked on conducting and rehearsal technique with the cathedral’s music director, pianist and conductor Serge Romanchak, and with assistant directors Elena Forrest, Kevin Fritts, Andrea Lutov, and Kirill Reimann.
On Sunday morning, February 10, Maria led a warm-up and vocal technique “refresher” class with workshop participants, after which the assembled choir sang the responses to the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by the cathedral’s associate pastors, Archpriests George Kokhno and Valery Shemchuk, along with Archpriest Dennis Bradley and Deacon Igor Panyutin. In his homily, Father George thanked the Sheehans and expressed his hope that the workshop would be the first of many similar gatherings.
The workshop drew to a close on Sunday afternoon with a question-and-answer period about what specifically the cathedral community can do to strengthen its music program. Participants expressed their eagerness to have the Sheehans forge an ongoing relationship with the cathedral in helping them to build up their choir.
In related news, the Sheehans will conduct a similar workshop at William Jewell College, Liberty, MO March 21 to 24. Their next parish workshop will be at Christ the Savior Church, Harrisburg, PA April 5 to 7.
Additional information related to scheduling similar workshops is available online.