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Choir Workshop Hits All The Right Chords

Three organizations banded together to produce a wonderful Choir Workshop hitting all the right notes

Minneapolis, MN - On Friday, February 23 at 6pm an event of epic proportions began. A battle of soups: Potato vs Tomato! Attended by a diverse demographic of ten Orthodox parishes from as far away as New York, the soup-off commenced and, as follows the natural progression of such things, someone soon stood up to say something. Fr. Gregory Ealy of Dayton, OH faced the crowd assembled, and spoke words. Words of communion. Words of Koinonika. Words that tied the audience to the edges of their seats in rapt attention, empty soup bowls forgotten. For an hour they listened; their minds enlightened, their thoughts inspired. “I never knew those things about the Koinoki… Kanini… You know what I mean,” one was heard to say afterwards. “That was a really interesting talk, I didn’t realize there was so much to learn about such a seemingly small part of the Liturgy,” said another. “We got to sing!” said a third. And he was right! After speaking, Fr. Gregory lead everyone in arrangements of ‘O Taste and See’ with their matching troparia, ‘I will bless the Lord…’ ‘Taste the heavenly bread…’ and, ‘Let our mouths be filled…’

So it was, with stomachs and minds filled appropriately, a happy now-the-wiser group left the parish center of St. Mary’s OCA Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN. The Choral Workshop run by POCM (Pan-Orthodox Choir Ministry), sponsored by the St. Andrew of Crete Music Ministry of the Diocese of the Midwest, and hosted by St. Mary’s OCA Cathedral, was off to a great start.
            The morning of Saturday, February 24, dawned bright and warm; warm, that is, by Minnesota standards. And soon coatless people began to show up to the parish center gymnasium, excited, expectant, and looking for coffee. For, in addition to coffee, they had been promised vocal technique instruction from voice teacher of over 30 years Tom Speckhard, and some mediocre choir directing from some guy off the street. At 9AM the doors opened and over fifty coatless men and women checked-in, picked up their music packets, and filled up their coffee cups. After some time to chat and reminisce on the night before, the guy from off the street, Mark Wesche, called for attention. He appeared to be rather confused as he began asking questions, “What is a church musician? Are you a church musician? What does that mean?” After a moment, it was realized that he was serious and a wonderful discussion followed. Turned out, despite singing in the church all 37 years of his life, the poor guy didn’t consider himself to be a church musician until very recently. Once he did, he found that, while it came with the responsibility to rehearse and prepare, it was also extremely enabling. As a Church Musician, it’s okay to take voice lessons, it’s okay to go to choir rehearsal, it’s okay to prioritize looking over music that your choir director sends you, it’s okay to take responsibility for your part, to prepare and put in the work for the Glory of God. Things that are so obviously okay, were no longer held back by his subconscious and it felt liberating.
Finally, he sat down and the time everyone was waiting for came as Tom Speckhard lead the Church Musicians in four one-hour sessions of vocal technique. He presented a unique understanding of how the voice works, providing examples and exercises. The participants courageously threw themselves into giving it a try and were richly rewarded. For, it did not take long before many experienced just how addicting singing can be, and the improvement of the vocal quality began. After the first two sessions, they broke for a wonderfully arranged lunchbox style lunch, perfect for singing; not too heavy and full of nutrition. The next two sessions took place in the Cathedral choir loft where the natural, warm acoustics of the building rewarded the Church Musicians for all their hard work in the gymnasium. The nuts and bolts of the vocal technique learned, they allowed the confused fellow from before to lead them through some more music while Tom showed them how, and where to apply the new techniques.
The workshop ended with a wonderful active-metaphor for the workshop itself. In the last session the musicians sight-read, learned, and sang with exquisite beauty Sheremetev’s, ‘Now the Powers.’ The final chord was a pianissimo unlike any before. It was a pianissimo filled with all the power, all the energy, all the freedom, and all the potential of the biggest fortissimo. The kind of pianissimo that makes a listener sit up on their seat and hang on until the final reverberation has long gone. And, just like that pianissimo, the workshop, with a small representation of Church Musicians from around the country, was filled with energy, excitement, and the potential to grow beyond what and where it was; to lift the soul and spirit to God.
“The workshop was the best I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to many. It was educational, magical, and pure joy.” ~Michael H.
“It was absolutely the most beneficial and enjoyable vocal workshop I have attended. It was rewarding to hear the difference the exercises made in our sound. Tom was not only wonderful at conveying and illustrating technique, [but] fun too.” ~Andrea T.
“[A parishioner] came to Liturgy this morning and commented on the improved sound, independent of my telling about the workshop.” ~Anon.
Glory to God for all things!!
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