The Rachmaninov Vigil in Context

The following is a program note for an upcoming concert I will be conducting with the Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, on May 27th at 7:30pm, in St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Tickets are available at here. I’d love to see you!   Writing in 1915 of Rachmaninov’s newly-composed All-Night Vigil, the preeminent church composer Alexander Kastalsky effused that “one should hear what has become of the simple straightforward melodies in the…

Building your Church Music System, Part 1: Core Singers

A lot of people who visit St. Tikhon’s Monastery nowadays remark on how beautiful the music is. I know this sounds self-congratulatory, but I don’t mean it be. The funny thing is that people tend to tell me this, as if I as the choir director were somehow singlehandedly responsible for the beauty of an entire cycle of services that involves a significant number of people knowing their job and executing it well,…

With One Mouth and One Heart

I want to say a few things that I think are basic truths about church music. However, be warned: as I recently heard someone say, “The truth is like poetry, and most people hate poetry.” In any discussion of church music, liturgy has to be the starting point. This is what makes a church a church—this is the one thing the Church can do that nobody else can. Liturgy doesn’t exist without…

A Reflection on Harmony

One of my students at St. Tikhon’s, Fr. John Kennerk, delivered a beautiful homily this past Sunday, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a feast that commemorates the triumphant restoration in 843 of the use of iconography, and by extension sacred art generally, in Christian worship. Fr. John drew some lovely connections between the spiritual life, iconography, and the work of making music in the Church. I thought I’d share a selection from his homily with you all: “The Christian…

Good Church Music Starts with Kids

In response to some important questions I’ve gotten about teaching kids to sing in church, I’ve asked my wife Maria Sheehan, a longtime music teacher, to write a guest post based on her experience. — Benedict *** I have been a vocal music educator in some capacity for the past 20 years. I’ve taught pre-schoolers and retirees and every age in between, folks with “no ear” and folks who have been making…