Trinity Seminary Choir Sings in a Sacred Concert
of Multiple Choirs in Philadelphia
On Sunday, February 19, the Holy Trinity Seminary Choir joined with the Eastern American Diocese Youth Choir and the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Mission Choir for “Two Paths Diverged at the Wood, A Story of Spiritual Struggle, In Eastern Orthodox Chant” a thematic concert which used readings and hymns to depict the story of the Good Thief. Since the events of his life prior to his crucifixion next to our Lord Jesus Christ are unknown, a hypothetical yet realistic life was invented to show how he might have been faced with similar sorrows and choices as we have, how he might have erred as we do, and finally, how he came to the cross, and was finally redeemed. Third-year student Nicholas Kotar directed the singers for a full house at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Philadelphia. Among the audience members were Archimandrite Luke, the rector and acting dean of Holy Trinity Seminary, Hieromonk Alexander of Holy Cross Monastery (West Virginia) as an official representative of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of New York, and local clergy.
The singers met as part of the regular Youth Choir Weekends sponsored by the Eastern American Diocese Youth Choir, but this time the representation was more diverse. There were groups from HTS, Holy Ressurrection Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Boston, and St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. There were also several Byzantine chanters from Princeton, New Jersey, led by Nicholas Marinides. There were over forty singers in all.
Nicholas Kotar worked with members of the Youth Choir in developing the concert. Unlike typical concerts of sacred music, the pieces used in “Two Paths” were carefully selected and paired with readings from Scripture, liturgical texts and literature in order to evoke a theme: the growth, fall and redemption of the Good Thief. “We have the specific aim of showing to whomever comes to the concert something beautiful, something Other, something that they haven’t experienced before,” said Kotar to the singers at the beginning of the first rehearsal, “…which means that these next four hours are going to be excruciating.”
The singers rehearsed for hours on both Saturday and Sunday. They not only worked on getting their notes right, but also had to work out movements in the concert and other fine tuning. Three choristers doubled as readers in the concert, portraying the Good Thief’s development. In addition to all this practice, the choir also sang the vigil and liturgy at the ROCOR parish of Our Lady, the Joy of All Who Sorrow in Philadelphia.
The singers did more than just work; they enjoyed their time together.љ On Sunday, many singers took a break to walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The musical pieces and readings capture moments from the hypothetical life of the Good Thief. “Blessed is the Man,” arranged by Trubachev, depicts his birth, and also the two paths laid out for him, good and bad. A reading from Doctor Zhivago depicts the loss of a loved one in his life. Another reading from the Idiot depicts his slow march to his execution. And the intense 15th Antiphon from Holy and Great Friday Matins presents the bitter irony of the Crucifixion of the Just One at the hands of sinful men, and yet the victory over death obtained by it, opening the way to paradise for the Good Thief and all righteous men.
Finally, a reading from the paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom depicts the redemption of the Good Thief: “O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.”
At the close of the concert, Hieromonk Alexander (Frizzell) of Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, West Virginia spoke on behalf of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of ROCOR. Fr. Alexander expressed the Metropolitan’s words of congratulation and regret at not being able to attend the concert. The choir members then processed downstairs to the parish hall, where they celebrated the end of a successful concert.
Pictures and Photos: John Martin, Nikolai Kasarda