The Patriarch Tikhon Russian American Music Institute, or PaTRAM Institute, is dedicated to elevating the quality of Orthodox church singing throughout North America.
Based in California, the Institute does this through a variety of programs, including online training courses in conducting and singing, master classes, and a summer academy for conductors and singers. The Institute also has a performing choir and has begun to release recordings of significant Orthodox choral works.
The latest recording, Teach Me Thy Statues, features selections from the All Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy composed by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), a renowned Moscow choirmaster and composer of more than 500 choral works. Chesnokov’s All Night Vigil precedes the widely-known setting of the hymn by his contemporary Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Led by PaTRAM co-founder and conductor Vladimir Gorbik, more than forty American and Russian male singers from the combined PaTRAM Institute Choir, the Choir of the Moscow Representation of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, and the Hierarchal Men’s Choir of the Saratov Diocese in Russia perform on the recording.
The music was recorded at the Church of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian at the Saratov Orthodox Theological Seminary during July of 2016 and the recording released this past May.
Teach Me Thy Statues is a glorious and brilliant work that highlights Chesnokov’s compositional skill, the unique characteristics and beauty of Russian Orthodox choral singing, the male voice, a talented conductor and singers, and, above all else, liturgical prayer.
In addition, the recording includes excellent liner notes by conductor Gorbik, which serve as both a primer for those unfamiliar with this music and an insider’s view that will deepen the knowledge of the faithful and aficionados.
The recording, just over 67 minutes long, includes fifteen liturgical prayers from combined Vespers and Matins, which make up the All-Night Vigil, and from the Divine Liturgy. Monophonic, polyphonic, Greek, Kievan, and znamenny chants all are represented in these tracks.
With the opening notes of “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” Psalm 103 (Septuagint) set to music and prayed at Vespers, you ascend into the refuge of the Lord. “Blessed Is the Man,” which includes verses from Psalms 1, 2, and 3, is both beautiful and majestic, the solo sung by Mikhail Davydov exceptional and the singing of “alleluias” by the choir breathtaking.
“O Gladsome Light,” the oldest non-biblical Christian hymn (also known as Phos Hilaron) still prayed and “Lord, Now Lettest Thou,” verses from Luke 2, are both delicate and perfect in their simplicity. Gorbik notes that “Lord, Now Lettest Thou” is “a good illustration of Chesnokov’s compositional style, in that every voice in the choral texture is permeated by the melodic content of znamenny chant.”
“Praise the Name of the Lord,” which consists of verses from Psalm 135 and 136, has great depth. The “Great Doxology” is distinguished by the brilliant interplay of Vladimir Krasov’s solo and the voices of the choir.
Gorbik considers Chesnokov’s “The Great Doxology” “a true masterpiece of twentieth-century Russian sacred music.” Even if you know little or nothing about Russian sacred music, you will understand the truth of his assessment by listening just once to this hymn, which is performed here to perfection.
Gorbik states: “… in the course of the entire hymn, the soul of the worshipper experiences a vast range of emotions—from an acute awareness of one’s own sinfulness to gratitude to God and reverence before His majesty and love for mankind.”
From beginning to end, this is music that lifts you up into praise and takes you deep into prayer and contemplation. This is music that leads you into the presence of God and can help you grow in perfection.
St. Gregory Nyssa writes that the Christian’s life is a perpetual growth in the good in which he is “transformed from glory to glory.” Listen to Teach Me Thy Statues and you will experience this glory, growth, and transformation.
You also will come to know more fully why Christians East and West consider liturgical prayer, particularly the Divine Liturgy, as our highest form of prayer, and what has been lost in Christian worship as relativism has taken hold.
The tendency today is to think of participation in liturgical prayer as singing along with the choir. This is a recording that shows you why listening attentively and reverently also is a form of participation, and if you are blessed to experience a choir such as this one in liturgy clearly the better way to participate.
This also is a recording that demonstrates the distinct qualities of the male choir, which is both traditional and monastic. There is something special when men and women counterbalance one another in polyphonic singing in Eastern liturgical services, as there is with an all-female choir, but a male choir such as this one can take you to heights and depths that you might not otherwise experience.
With Teach Me Thy Statues, the PaTRAM Institute has remained true to its mission. It has produced an exceptional musical work, a prayerful and contemplative recording, and an outstanding educational experience for anyone with an interest in Russian Orthodox choral church music and singing and liturgical prayer at its best.