I’ve read some thoughts these days about singing during and after the pandemic and would like to quote an American doctor, who is cautiously optimistic: “We have performed and thrived amid terrible infectious diseases before…The same science telling us it’s dangerous to sing together now is also what can help us find a way through this dark time. I don’t know the exact form this will take, but I know it’s a puzzle with defined pieces and therefore has a solution or many solutions....”
It is a challenge for me to enlighten these dark times with all of you and to share my (European) music experience and knowledge about singing and conducting at church services, and about all that is needed for good conducting. Until we may gather our choirs again, let’s learn and practice!
I’d like to share with you this fresco from the 14th c. painted in the central church at the Serbian Orthodox monastery - Patriarchate of Pec (Kosovo), the place that my choir visits at least once a year.
The fresco depicts the funeral of St. Joanikije, the first Serbian patriarch and is painted on the wall above his relics. The choir - the chanters seem very important in this 14th century fresco, they are not presented like congregation, but separately, at a prominent place.
The chanters have special head-covers and their conductor-protopsalt makes certain gestures, so we may learn how conducting and choral leadership looked like in Orthodox church in the middle ages.
The leadership in conducting requires self-confidence which is difficult to achieve and impossible to fake. But, flexibility is also needed. Sometimes even great conductors are shy persons, but in other aspects of life. In conducting, that shyness helps them open to musicians in front of them, so that the musicians may, in return, open and express themselves, their inner world.
If a conductor is too dominant, too self-confident in all situations it might close the interaction with the ensemble. The leadership in conducting should be based on broad knowledge, musical, social and psychological skills.
A conductor has to come prepared to each choral session, but the specifics of Orthodox church service is that it is almost never the same, you may not prepare well enough for each one of them. Eg. there could be guest-priests or deacons who serve and whose intonation quality or voice range you don’t know…and everything is a cappella, so you must adapt without preparation.
Leading a choir is not about demanding the singers to copy or imitate our ideas; it’s a mutual creative process of interpreting text and music; creating at a given moment of life, with people present and under certain circumstances.
Tamara Petijevic teaches at the Music Conservatory in Novi Sad, Serbia and very often does conductors’ seminars and masterclasses in Serbia and abroad. In June 2020, she will be leading the Choral Leadership Masterclass and the Spiritual Dimension of the Church Musician workshop during the 2020 Pan-Orthodox Music Symposium.