From February 8 to 10, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC, the OCA’s primatial cathedral, hosted a choir workshop with Benedict and Maria Sheehan. Benedict is Director of Music at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery, and Maria teaches Music Theory and Voice at St. Tikhon’s. The workshop was attended by members of the St. Nicholas Cathedral Choir as well as a number of guest singers and directors from the DC area.
The workshop began on Friday evening, February 8, with a lecture and discussion entitled “The Next Ten Years: The Work of Orthodox Musicians in America.” During the lecture the Sheehans emphasized the need for serious reinvestment in liturgical music over the next decade, or else, they warned, we risk losing much of the musical richness we take for granted in church today. They said much has already been lost, and they expressed the conviction that the next decade will prove pivotal in determining whether this damage is irreparable or not. They also emphasized the importance of cathedrals, especially ones as prominent as St. Nicholas, being willing to take up the mantle of musical leadership within the Church at large. “Liturgical music,” Benedict argued, “is one of the Church’s most powerful evangelical tools, provided the tradition is sufficiently valued and sustained. Investing time and resources in it will pay dividends.”
The workshop continued Saturday morning with an intensive session on vocal technique with Maria, an experienced singer and vocal music educator. During her methodical presentation, she helped participants realize that vocal technique is really a form of physical fitness that requires daily investment. “We have to forge deliberate technical paths to vocal fitness,” she said, “given our present age in which music tends to be consumed rather than made, and most people no longer sing every day.” Maria’s session was followed in the afternoon by repertoire rehearsal and ensemble building with Benedict. Maestro Sheehan also worked on conducting and rehearsal technique with the cathedral’s music director, pianist and conductor Serge Romanchak, and with assistant directors Elena Forrest, Kevin Fritts, Andrea Lutov, and Kirill Reimann.
On Sunday morning, Maria led a warm-up and vocal technique “refresher” class with workshop participants, and the assembled choir sang Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy was celebrated by the cathedral’s associate pastors, Archpriest George Kokhno and Archpriest Valery Shemchuk, along with Archpriest Dennis Bradley and Deacon Igor Panyutin. Fr. George thanked the Sheehans in his homily and expressed his hope that this was the first of many such workshops.
The weekend’s efforts concluded Sunday afternoon with a wrap-up question and answer period about what specifically the St. Nicholas Cathedral community can do to strengthen its music program going forward. Those assembled, along with Fr. George and Mr. Romanchak, expressed eagerness for the Sheehans to forge an ongoing relationship with St. Nicholas and to help them build up their choir.
The Sheehans’ next workshop will be held at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, from March 21 to 24. Their next parish workshop will be at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from April 5 to 7. They also gave a workshop in January at St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Louisville, Kentucky. More information on the Sheehans’ workshops may be found at https://www. benedictsheehanmusic.com/workshops.