On May 26, Benedict Sheehan’s setting of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom received its World Premiere Performance at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre. The composition is among the first of its kind; a complete musical setting of the text of the Liturgy in English. Mr. Sheehan is assistant professor and director of music at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
When composing the setting, Mr. Sheehan sought to bring together such varied influences as Byzantine Chant, Georgian Chant, Gregorian Chant, American Sacred Harp, and English Choral Music, while remaining grounded in the Russian Choral Tradition, in order to express the cultural diversity of Orthodoxy in America. All of these influences coalesced to form a coherent and beautiful whole that succeeded brilliantly in elevating the minds and hearts of all those present to the contemplation of the very Source of Beauty – God Himself.
Mr. Sheehan’s rendition of the Liturgy was performed by a 39-voice ensemble of the St. Tikhon Choir and members of the PaTRAM Institute Singers. Featured among the talented choral musicians were the well-known countertenor and conductor Timothy Parsons, bass-baritone singer and trumpet player Michael Hawes, and bass and professor of music Dr. Jason Thoms, along with current students and students’ wives from St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and recent graduates and graduates’ wives of the seminary.
The concert was preceded by a discussion led by Mr. Sheehan, Director of Music and STOTS Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music, and Dr. Peter Jermihov, Artistic Director of the PaTRAM Institute Singers. The performance was dedicated to the memory of Benedict’s father, the late Donald Sheehan, Ph.D., university professor and author. Excerpts from his soon-to-be-released The Shield of Psalmic Prayer were read within the setting of the Liturgy.
At the end of the performance and following an encore, the filled-to-capacity cathedral audience rose to their feet twice with several minutes-long standing ovations. A formal reception in the cathedral auditorium followed the concert.
The performance was made possible by the generous support of the Carmel Cultural Endowment for the Arts.