I first got wind that a choir would be part of the delegation to Moscow for the reunification around New Year's 2006-07. Boy, did I want to be a part this! I could not take it for granted that I would be, though. I knew the group would have to be limited in size, and I knew that it was not going to be the "Synodal Cathedral Choir," but a chorus that was more broadly representative of the Church Abroad. I knew that it would be selective, and that I wasn't doing the selecting! For two months, I wondered, I worried, I hoped and I speculated. I got up the nerve to have a conversation with the choir director ("the young and talented Peter Fekula") about it in mid-February. Yes, I should plan to be travelling for a week in May, he told me, although I didn't get my official invitation until March 9th.
It was a bit of a weird time; a number of choir directors and singers I know began contacting me and my musician friends, asking if we knew anything about the Moscow-bound choir, and if we could put in a good word for them. People wanted to be invited, of course, but there was a limit as to how many could be accomodated.There would be mandatory rehearsals in New York, and each voice part had to be balanced, blended. Peter had no easy task in putting together a choir that would represent ROCOR well.
It's fair to say that everyone who was invited felt a great sense of honor and duty; many in my circle were slightly nervous as well, understanding the gravity of our responsibility. A typical March conversation amongst ROCOR church musicians went something like this:
(singer 1): Oh, thank GOD, oh, how exciting... I was afraid to ask in case you weren't... oh, coooool!
In April, my work to prepare began in earnest, as Peter asked me to typeset a number of pieces that we would be singing. This is something I do on a regular basis for the Synod Cathedral Choir and for the website I inherited from my father (www.rocm.org). But this project was special, and I was glad to be able to contribute in this way. I spent many a late night (and one all-nighter!) to put together these scores, and most of it has been posted on the site. It was thrilling, really, to share my opinion as to what should be sung (a number of us had expressed the idea that we should bring the work of emigre composers, like my grandfather Boris Ledkovsky and Mikhail Konstantinov and Johann Gardner, back to Russia). I'm especially pleased that Peter took my suggestion to add the beautiful Cherubic Hymn by Kalinnikov to our repertoire. We sang that, and beautifully, at the liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. I also appreciated a friend's suggestion that I set the Ascension Troparion to my grandfather's harmonization for large choir. I did so, and just passed it along to Peter without his expecting it. We ended up singing that everywhere!
The seemingly tireless Matushka Irene Gan managed most, if not all, of the administrative tasks, from collecting passports and getting everyone the proper visa (no small feat, you'll realize, if you've ever dealt with Russian immigration bureaucrats!), to preparing the music binders we would use in Russia. She organized everything (and would continue to oversee and troubleshoot for the duration of the trip, most effectively).
Finally, we began to rehearse. Our very first session was on Wednesday, April 18th, at Synod. Vladimir Krassovsky, the eminent iconographer and choirmaster at the San Francisco Cathedral "Joy of All Who Sorrow," flew in from California. The choir director from Montreal, Nicholas Androsoff, was there, as well as a contingent from Washington D.C., and singers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and all around the NYC metro area. Several singers from Chicago, including Protopriest Andre Papkov, also travelled to New York, but their flight was so badly delayed that they arrived 90 minutes into the two-hour rehearsal (we extended it a half hour)! Flight delays and cancellations was a problem that would continue to plague the Chicago contingent, underscoring the challenge of organizing a choir of singers based in disparate locales.
Our second rehearsal, on April 26, was filmed by a Russian TV news crew, and is featured in this documentary on NTV (in Russian; slow to load, but worth the wait!). There were, in all, four weeknight rehearsals in April and May, and then mandatory rehearsals the weekend immediately prior to the trip. These would be the first rehearsals at which all members of the group would be in attendance.
We sang Divine Liturgy together at the Synodal Cathedral on Sunday, May 13. It was a beautiful service, and we sang quite well. Aftewards, we enjoyed the Synodal Sisterhood's tasty meal and then rehearsed until we scattered to make our final preparations for the journey or, in some cases, celebrate the start of a journey that was sure to be memorable.
On Monday, May 14, we gathered at Synod to sing (and pray) at a Moleben with the rest of the delegation and many pilgrims. Then we broke bread together, and Metropolitan Laurus addressed us, advising that the trip would be something of a media circus. He asked us to be careful and proper in our behaviour, and thanked us for our efforts and our prayers.
At this time, we received the news that Father Roman Lukianov -- Father Andre Papkov's father-in-law and the longtime rector of the Epiphany Church in Boston -- had just passed away. Father Roman had been ill for quite some time but, as a longtime proponent of reunification, it seemed to some of us that he would live to "see the day." He did not; but perhaps reposing in the Lord gave him a better vantage point than he would have had from his deathbed.
While some clergy and singers went to pray a pannykhida for Father Roman, the rest of the choir rehearsed a little, in the cathedral, and then gathered on the steps of the courtyard for a photograph (shown above).
Soon enough, it was time to board the busses and head to JFK...!