The Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s Monastery Sings Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil

If you attended the Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil on May 26, you will find these words a poor substitute for your memories of the event. If you did not, let me try to describe for you what it was like.

 

Line waiting to enter St. Stephen Episcopal Pro-Cathedral

We sat in rows of wooden chairs under the steep arc of a mosaiced cathedral ceiling. The lights were on. We were all awake, and the cushions were not soft enough to induce drowsiness (as sometimes happens at an evening concert…). The stage, if you can call it that, was simply the stone steps built into the cathedral floor, leading up to the altar area. The choir wore black. There were no special effects.

The 25 musicians filed out from a door at the side, carrying their music and smiling at us. Their faces showed anticipation and focus. They were already poised, already concentrating on the first note. There were no instruments. There was nothing at all except the acoustic space, the choir, and a gifted conductor.

The music began.

Dn Nicholas Kotar and Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon's Monastery

It was immediately transcendent. One moment, I was sitting in a chair holding a program. The next moment, I was gone.

This music is like water. Deep, clear, abundant water that flows into every opening. You hear it inside yourself, in all the holy spaces you sense are present behind your ribs and between your ears. It was a kind of immersion that is difficult to find or describe here on this planet where gravity is a fact and we expect pressure, even strangulation, to result when we are filled so completely with something outside ourselves.

Benedict Sheehan conducting the Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon's Monastery

I am not a mathematician, so you will forgive me when I abandon numerical sense and say the sound was 100% natural, bodily even, and 100% ethereal, shockingly intense and utterly, weightlessly peaceful. The paradox draws the mind to Christ, a resurrection in which all creation is lifted up – our lungs, our ears, our vocal chords, the wet, sinuous workings of our physical instrument baptized and redeemed in the celestial grace of this prayer they are so beautifully created to offer up.

Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon's Monastery

The audience sat still. In the pauses between sections, no one spoke. We were totally absorbed. Time wandered away from us, and when the music ended, we rose as one body. It was the most spontaneous standing ovation I’ve seen in a long, long time.​

Standing ovation for Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon's Monastery

 

Melinda Johnson

About Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson is an Orthodox Christian, wife, mama, writer, and the author of Letters to Saint Lydia (AFP, 2010), The Other Side of the Bonfire (LSP, 2012), and is hard at work on another book project. Melinda has a Master’s in English Literature because she loved taking literature classes so much she couldn’t stop doing it. When she is not seeing “heaven in a wildflower,” Melinda enjoys writing for children, walking and talking, and knitting. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.

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