Columbia University Concert Features St. Vladimir's Chorale

A joint concert titled "Heaven and Earth: Sacred Music from the Byzantine Greek and Slavic Eastern Orthodox Christian Traditions," was offered by the St. Vladimir's Seminary Chorale, under the direction of SVOTS Lecturer in Choral Conducting Robin Freeman, and by chanters under the direction of Eleftherios Eleftheriadis of the Axion Estin Foundation. The highly regarded Protopsaltis of St. Nicholas Shrine Church in Flushing, NY, Eleftherios has taught two public continuing education courses in Byzantine Music at St. Vladimir's, while conductor and soloist Robin Freeman has been involved with SVOTS music since 2006. 

Sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University and co-sponsored by the Glicker-Milstein Theatre, the event was part of Columbia's "Spirit and Sound" series and was hosted and curated by Lisa Radakovich Holsberg from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University.

Dr. Peter Bouteneff, associate professor of Systematic Theology, served as a panelist in a discussion which followed the musical portion of the event, which was sold out for weeks prior to the concert. "This evening revealed something miraculous," noted Dr. Bouteneff. "The church-musical traditions of the Greek and the Slavic worlds, though vastly different in how they actually sound, bring you to the exact same place. When the music of either tradition is sung beautifully and reverently, with attention to the text—as it was this evening—our spirit is brought directly to the praise and thanksgiving to God, in his Son and Spirit."

The panel discussion following the concert focused on the spiritual, devotional, and musical dimensions of Orthodox Christian liturgical music, and how it serves as a vehicle for formation and praxis. Noted Director Robin Freeman, "In an insightful comment, Orthodox priest and panelist Fr. John McGuckin said his reaction on hearing the music was primarily 'liturgical'. Although we were performing in a concert setting, Fr. John could not help but anticipate the priest's prayers and liturgical actions while he listened to the music. This highlights the critical link between Orthodox music and liturgy—you can't separate Orthodox music from the prayers and actions of the Liturgy itself."

She continued, "St. Simeon's Prayer, for example, may evoke many things for the Orthodox worshipper: the Vespers service in which it is sung, the Trisagion Prayers that come next, or perhaps simply the end of the day and the darkening of the sky. For us, these songs are not just music, they are part of the rhythms of our daily prayers and spiritual lives."

Concert-goers who were unable to obtain tickets for the event were invited to a free "dress rehearsal performance" on Tuesday, April 29, hosted by St. Vladimir's neighbor, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle. Holy Trinity and it's rector, The Very Rev. Nicholas Anctil, enjoy a close relationship with St. Vladimir's; the Axion Estin Foundation, which exists to increase the knowledge and use of quality Byzantine Music in the United States, is headquartered at Holy Trinity.