Coming to Bethlehem: heavenly music – Allentown Morning Call
Many days, on my way to and from work, I listen to a recording called “Bless the Lord O My Soul,” a collection of Orthodox chants and hymns by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Choir.
I also listen to Gregorian chant, which, before “On Eagle’s Wings” became the sole liturgical song, was the music of the Catholic Mass. These days it is virtually unheard outside of churches where the old liturgy is celebrated.
This mix of musical treasures, Eastern and Western, gives me a warm ecumenical feeling. The Great Schism persists, but only outside of my car. Inside is a united Christendom, one that crushed the Kardashian heresy before it could take hold.
I mention this because the choir from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, in Wayne County, is coming to Bethlehem next week to present a program called “Psalms and Hymns” at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
I plan to go and I think you should, too, whether you are Orthodox or not. The nature of this music is such that you will remember that you aren’t just a thinking machine destined for oblivion, but a creature of body and soul with a great deal to look forward to.
In a sense, it’s more than music.
“The music of the Orthodox Church isn’t designed to provoke a specific emotion in the hearer,” said the Very Rev. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus. “It’s ascetical, meaning that it turns the hearer away from the sensuality of this world and toward heavenly reality.”
The emotions it evokes â and they are manifold and powerful â”are incidental,” Damick said. “Rather, the purpose is to elicit compunction, which is the desire to turn toward God and away from earthly desires. All that is why people often describe Orthodox music as mystical, timeless or otherworldly.”
Nonbelievers can enjoy the music, too, as an exquisite aesthetic experience. The harmony rejected by the world abides in seminaries and monasteries and convents.
“Whether you’re religious or not, I think you can appreciate the beauty,” said Benedict Sheehan, music director at St. Tikhon’s. “It’s many people striving to work as one and that’s intrinsically beautiful and a worthwhile endeavor.”
Sheehan â no relation, as far as we know â said his passion for music blossomed at 13 when his grandmother gave him a recording of Russian Orthodox chant.
“It was this fire that sort of started in me,” he said.
That fire was stoked by the Orthodox liturgy, which is largely sung.
“The choir isn’t necessarily singing the whole time but practically every word said out loud in the liturgy is sung in some way,” Sheehan said. “Even a simple intonation by the priest is sung rather than merely said. When you talk about serving the liturgy, you’re really talking about singing the liturgy.”
The concert selections, including some of Sheehan’s own compositions, will be in English, with explanations of their historical context and meaning.
Presented in the exquisite, icon-rich setting of St. Nicholas, I imagine the audience will reach the state Sheehan is aiming for â what composer Igor Stravinsky called “dynamic calm.”
“It’s a deeper state of awareness,” Sheehan said. “It’s what the holy fathers call watchfulness.”
The concert is 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1607 W. Union Blvd. Tickets, available at the door, are $10. Donations above that level will go toward tuition of the seminarians in the choir. More information is available by email at email@example.com
â¢A final update on Derek Szena, the DeSales University graduate from Lehighton who has muscular dystrophy and was trying to raise $15,225 to take a road trip to Disney World.
Thanks to the astonishing generosity of all you folks, he reached his goal Wednesday, with 48 days to go in his online campaign. He wanted me to pass along his gratitude to everyone who contributed to his trip, which will cost so much because he requires 24-hour care and has to bring three nurses along.
Derek will be blogging about his trip. We’ll post a link to the blog when it begins.