Orthodox Music Wins a Grammy!

Orthodox Music Wins a Grammy!

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A religious hymn is a great blessing for everyone. It constitutes praise to the Most High, honor for His holy people, worldwide harmony, an eloquent proof of the Church’s unity. It expresses the voice of the Church, its confession. It brings about a complete spiritual uplifting and absolute peace and joy in redeemed hearts, with the triumphal hymn and song of happiness. It drives away hardness of heart. It chases away disturbance. It dissolves and dissipates despondency… The voice sings the soul’s joy, while the spirit delves into the mysteries of the faith.
— St. Ambrose of Milan

The 2015 Grammy awards were held on Sunday, February 8. My Facebook newsfeed was suddenly filled with joy among members of the Orthodox music community, as a CD of Orthodox sacred music received the prestigious award in that ceremony. “Sacred Spirit of Russia,” a CD entirely made up of Russian Orthodox sacred music published by Musica Russica, selected and coached by Dr. Vladimir Morosan, won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance of 2014. The choral group Conspirare, directed by Craig Johnson, brought to life this music, some of which had lain silent for nearly 100 years.

Couple this historic achievement with other recent news – Cappella Romana’s CD “Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre” debuted right below Sacred Spirit at #8 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Charts!

These are two very different Orthodox traditions of hymnology, but what a witness to the world! Both are without instrumental accompaniment, providing a true testament to the pure beauty of the human voice. And how wonderful to finally begin to be a recognized part of the American classical music genre!

Why is this important to us? As a band geek growing up, I spent a LOT of my youth and young adult years in rehearsal and performance both on the marching field and on the concert stage. Though hymns from other Christian traditions found their way into the music I played, hearing Orthodox hymns in the music I played was not a commonplace event. Where did MY Christian tradition fit into the standard choral or instrumental repertoire? As a music major, the absence of Russian chant from the curriculum was as noticeable to me as the lack of even a mention of the role of the Orthodox Church in World History courses.

Despite the academic omission, those hymns were sitting right there in front of me. Instrumentalists have known the beauty of Russian music for years. Standard orchestral repertoire is full of Russian music that is woven through with strains of liturgical chant. In addition, the Drum and Bugle Corps show designers have incorporated pieces from Russian composers in their performances, notably “The Great Gate of Kiev” movement from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Orthodox hymns on the American music scene are not as rare as it may seem. The grand finale of the annual 4th of July celebration in our nation’s capital is the 1812 Overture, which culminates, complete with artillery accompaniment, with the Troparion of the Holy Cross:

O Lord, save Thy people,
and bless Thine inheritance!
Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries,
and by virtue of Thy cross,
preserve Thy habitation.

These are indeed seeds worth planting……sharing the treasures of our faith, especially the music that contributes to the essence of our worship. And someday, when they hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture,” they just might know that “Let God Arise! Let His enemies be scattered!” are the words that go along with those instrumental refrains.


Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+

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Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski

Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has Bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Music Education from Northeast Louisiana University. She studied at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and recently graduated from Fordham University with a M.A. in Religious Education, with an emphasis in Youth and Young Adult Ministry. She is married to Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski, who recently retired from serving as a Navy Chaplain. They are the proud parents of 5 children, who have explored the country during their military moves, living in California, Chicago, Washington DC, Alaska, and Rhode Island. Their last move to Southern California has lasted for 15 years!