25–29 June 2012 • On-campus Event
St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s summer workshops concluded with an extraordinary Master Class in church choral conducting and singing, taught by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Gorbik, one of the leading practitioners of sacred choral music in Russia today. During the last week in June, 43 participants, mostly from the United States, trained under the master musician, laboring long hours to become proficient in singing and conducting nearly 250 pages of music.
Their efforts—which might be described as including a mixture of blood, sweat, tears, and tremendous grace—were notable. By the end of the week, workshop participants composed a heavenly chorus; they presented a public recital in the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium (which brought listeners to tears) and sang the responses at the Vigil and Primatial Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul in the seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel. Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, who presided at the liturgy, thanked Mr. Gorbik at its conclusion for sharing his profound musical gifts with Western musicians, and the choir and student conductors for their hard labor that bore exquisite fruit. His Beatitude further invited Mr. Gorbik to continue to visit and teach in America, in order to “elevate” church singing and conducting in U.S. parishes.
Mr. Gorbik himself, at the end of the Master Class and recital, humbly stated, “The Holy Spirit was with us, the expertise that my students have demonstrated witness to the quality of my work here.” (Read a full and fascinating interview that St. Vladimir’s Seminary held with Mr. Gorbik, on Day 2 of the Master Class, including his ideas on creating "American sounding" music, here !)
Vladimir Gorbik (b. 1970) began his musical studies in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and continued them at the Moscow State Conservatory, completing a specialization in choral conducting in 1998 and in orchestral conducting in 2000. Since 1996 he has served as the choral director at the Moscow Representation Church (Metochion or Podvorye) of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery, and since 1998 has been Artistic Director and Conductor of the professional men’s chorus formed at the Metochion . With this choir he has made over a dozen outstanding recordings of both liturgical services and concert programs.
Mr. Gorbik’s recordings came to the attention of Dr. Vladimir Morosan, president and founder of Musica Russica , the largest publisher of Russian choral music outside of Russia. Noting their exceptional quality, Dr. Morosan sought a way to invite Mr. Gorbik to the United States, to give Americans the opportunity to study the technique, performance practice, and interpretation of Orthodox sacred music on a masterful level. Dr. Morosan, together with SVOTS faculty member, Dr. Nicholas Reeves, Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music, began to coordinate the Master Class, auditioning potential participants and interfacing constantly with Mr. Gorbik via Skype. As a result, a 5-day Master Class, consisting of choral conducting and singing sessions, was set for June 2012 on the seminary campus.
At the end of the choral and conducting workshops, Dr. Reeves reiterated the value of the Master Class, titled, “Interpreting Orthodox Sacred Music,” calling it “an opportunity for participants from the entire world to learn more thoroughly some of the different approaches to singing ecclesial music.”
“Throughout the course of the week,” he said, “many examples of Orthodox liturgical music employing a variety of textures were sung. Everything from monophonic chants to 8-part hymns could be heard during the services for Ss. Peter and Paul.” [Listen to some of the hymns sung by the Master Class: 1) Doxastichon  at “Lord, I Call” of Ss. Peter and Paul; Znamenny Chant, arr. by Vladimir Morosan (Monophonic), conducted by Benedict Sheehan; 2) 3rd Irmos,  Canon of Ss. Peter and Paul; Lesser Znamenny Chant, B. Ledkovsky, arr. D. Drillock (4-Part; Beginner Level), conducted by Vladimir Gorbik; 3) “Lord, Now Lettest Thou ;” Alexander Kastalsky, English setting by D. Drillock, H. Erickson, and A. Ruggieri (5-Part; Intermediate Level), conducted by Anne Schoepp; 4) “Eis Polla;”  Rev. G. Izvekov, (Trio with 8-part Chorus: Advanced Level), conducted by Dax Stokes.]
Dr. Morosan also reflected much upon the ambitious endeavor, saying, “I believe this Master Class was an unqualified success that exceeded all our best expectations. Although I was confident from my acquaintance with Vladimir Gorbik's CDs and later from my personal contact with him over Skype and email that he was genuinely the most gifted Orthodox church choir director in Russia right now and would be capable of offering incredibly valuable insights to anyone who came to hear him, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, it was not necessarily a given that, one: enough qualified people would turn out; and two: they would be receptive to what he had to offer.
“He was unknown, and the Seminary was taking a chance in inviting him,” he continued thoughtfully. “Missteps could have occurred at a number of different levels, and this could have significantly undermined the success of the undertaking. I tried to prepare Mr. Gorbik for that eventuality, and at every step along the way, his response was ‘Whatever God's will is, that is what will be’.”
Indeed, it seemed that by the end of the Master Class, “God’s will” had waived away a web of potential pitfalls and fears. Dr. Morosan enthusiastically enumerated how:
"By God's grace, the Metropolitan came, liked what he saw and heard, and validated it by his remarks and his personal interaction with Mr. Gorbik and the Master Class participants. He expressed the desire that Mr. Gorbik's visits would be repeated and frequent, in order to help raise the level of Orthodox musical culture in the Church in America.
"By God's grace, those in the seminary faculty and community who were there responded to the beauty and majesty of the services, as well as to the sensitivity and attention with which Mr. Gorbik approached the “local” liturgical practice and pacing of the chapel services.
"By God's grace, we had representation not only from SVOTS, but also from St. Tikhon's Seminary; New Skete and Calistoga (monastic communities); the OCA dioceses of the South, New York and New Jersey, Eastern and Western Pennsylvania, Canada, and the Midwest and West; the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; and the Antiochian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archdioceses. We even had Byzantine Catholics and non-Orthodox participants from choral circles from the U.S., and as far away as Japan.
"By God's grace, there was great rapport and positive interaction with all the conducting students who were chosen by audition. All of them, without exception, personally gained insights and exhibited growth as a result of their experience; they were also impressed and moved by the degree of preparation and personal attention with which the Master Class teacher approached them. Likewise, they were all struck by the incredible generosity of spirit with which Mr. Gorbik offered his “ongoing” involvement with them after the class. Basically, he offered both the conductors and the singers his continued feedback, something that is practically unheard of in secular Master Classes.
"By God's grace, the singers who had been selected by audition, all exhibited a willingness to "put out" extreme effort towards the goal of achieving the summit of musical and liturgical beauty in the services. Though challenged beyond what is common even in professional musical circles, they were all great sports about it, and humbly accepted the gentle but firm urging and prodding of the conductor, as well as pointed personal critique and feedback, which he himself offered in love and humility. The results, both in the recital and in the services, was evident for all to see and hear.
"By God's grace, we were blessed with the presence at the recital of Father Sergei Glagolev, our American "musical elder," who repeatedly expressed his amazement and gratitude at seeing an initial fulfillment of the high musical standards that he himself always espoused. In turn, the church musicians who came from Moscow were incredibly struck by and blessed by his radiant presence.
"In short, there were no apparent negatives in this event. Everyone I spoke with came away enlightened, edified, and inspired. Every purely musical and technical aspect was balanced in a most wonderful way by a spiritual dimension and perspective. Many participants spoke of this as a "mountaintop experience," a most significant event on the American Orthodox musical landscape—one that, they hoped, would be repeated again and again.
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary would like to thank the following donors to the Vladimir Gorbik Master Class,“Interpreting Orthodox Sacred Music”:
FOCA,  Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America ($1000)
Eastern American Diocese of ROCOR ($600)
Anonymous donor ($1000)