Art and Faith

Saturday, 5 January 2008

A Christmas Stocking of Goodies… From Me to You…

vasili-nesterenko-drinking-tea-1997.jpg

Drinking Tea

Vasili Nesterenko

1997

______________________________

Shall you step into my parlour? Do take your shoes off, sil vous plait, for that is our Russian custom. That’s it; the slippers are by the door. Christmas is a time for happiness, gaiety, and joie de vivre. Leontyne Price is singing Ave Maria on the stereo, and I’m going to offer you a glass of Russian Coffee. No! It has NO coffee in it! Let’s see, ½ ounce vodka, 1½ ounce coffee liqueur, and 1 ounce heavy cream, spin it with crushed ice in the liquidiser, and pour it into small brandy glasses. It’s VERY good for what ails you. Repeat after me, Oh… those… RUSSIANS!

******

Leontyne Price singing Ave Maria

******

Roberto Alagna singing Minuit, Chrétiens

******

Luciano Pavarotti singing Adeste Fideles in a 1978 concert from Montréal QC CANADA

______________________________

Come, come to table, and enjoy. Of course, I’m going to pile your plate too high, and Nicky shall see to it that your glass isn’t empty. We’re going to sit too closely together, and our elbows may indeed bump. Who bloody cares? This isn’t a day for long faces. Oh… yes, that’s Luciano Pavarotti singing Adeste Fideles. Here, have some more varenniki, they’re very good with sour cream, you know. If you hear some sleigh-bells, well, if you’re good, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka shall come in their troika and leave you something. No… no! I’m NOT joking. You don’t know what a troika is? Well, it’s like this…

******

The Russian Troika

A depiction of a troika from a Palekh enamel

______________________________

Riding the traditional Russian carriage drawn by a team of three horses abreast is a favourite pastime at New Year’s time. However, many years ago, only the postal service used a three-horse team or troika. The Russian troika appeared in the eighteenth century with the development of a proper mail service. It quickly became popular because of its high speed, endurance over long distances, good cargo capacity, and good manoeuvrability. Three-horse teams transported couriers, mail, and passengers; and the horses were harnessed to sleighs, wagons, and carts, but never to coaches. Foreigners who rode in a troika all said the experience was unforgettable because of the breath-taking speed of such a dashing ride. The Russian troika, incarnating the generous Russian soul and nature, turned into a symbol of Russia.

******

Lyudmila Zykina singing a song about a troika

******

The Red Army Chorus singing a troika song

______________________________

At first, the postal troika tooted a horn to signal its arrival. However, this European practise soon went out of use, for the coachmen preferred to send out a deafening whistle as they approached the station to signal that they needed a fresh troika of trotters urgently. A shaft-bow bell replaced this kind of warning, which was a stimulus to the bell-casting industry. Russian bells enjoyed widespread popularity to such an extent that some European countries attempted to get at the secret by making copies. That did not help, though. The Valdai bells were particularly nice, for they “sang” in a clear voice. Without exaggeration, some compared the Russian troika to a musical instrument. A traditional three-horse team boasted more than 100 bells, on the bridle, on the saddle, and inside the many harness brushes. Each bell sounded different thanks to the skilful masters, who made the ringing tones both minor and major. The Russian troika was beautiful with richly decorated harness and a bow adorned with painting and fretwork. The three horses were all of a selected breed, with the shaft-horse trotting, and the trace horses galloping, which made the sight of it so fascinating. The arrival of railways in the middle of the nineteenth century and their subsequent development, pushed the postal and passenger troika out of the city and into the countryside, where it maintained its popularity as a wedding and holiday-outing vehicle for years. The era of the Russian troika ended in the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, it lives on as a festive vehicle at exhibitions and fairs, and we use it at sports events and shows.

29 December 2006

Lyubov Tsarevskaya

Voice of Russia World Service

www.ruvr.ru

******

That’s the way of it… Yes, that’s Rakhmaninov playing Chopin. Let me tell you…

******

Russian Composers and Christmas

Sergei Rakhmaninov (1870-1943) at the piano

______________________________

Professional music in Russia has existed as long as Christianity in our country. This means that for a thousand years Russians have celebrated Christmas. What kind of music did Russian composers of various times write for this feast? What did they sing in the churches? What sort of music did they dance to and generally enjoy? Music of the very first centuries of Christianity in Russia… Just as the church services of that time, and the outward appearance of the churches themselves, it is very ascetic in colours, suggesting that man should cast his glance deep within himself. It is music that leaves one alone with God…

Christmas music in Orthodox churches of the eighteenth century is as though it’s from a different world, a baroque feast, and a colourful and festive luxuriance of harmonies… The twentieth century… Russian church music summons memories of the distant past, it clarifies the lines, directing towards the original, primordial simplicity… What can we say of Christmas fun and merriment? Just as anywhere else, it means masked balls, parties, much noise and bustle, laughter, and that particular and very special Christmas radiance and joy that illuminates all from within… Incidentally, this second and very important part of the Christmas festivities simply did not exist in Russia before the eighteenth century! Christmas passed on a solemn note, with great reserve. Was it because Russians did not know how to have fun? No! It was simply that a significant stimulus for Christmas fun, the advent of the New Year, was marked here in… September!

******

A traditional Little Russian kolyadka, Bog Predvichny (The Pre-Eternal God) sung by St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral Choir of Mayfield PA USA

******

Another traditional Little Russian kolyadka, Nebo i Zemlya (Heaven and Earth), as sung by St Nicholas Cathedral Children’s Choir in Mozhaisk (Moscow Oblast. Central Federal District) RF

******

18th century Russian Orthodox choral music by Dmitri Bortiansky

______________________________

However, the all-powerful ruler Tsar Pyotr Veliki changed everything. In 1699, the tsar issued a decree. To mark the advent of a new century, it now became customary on 1 January for everyone to congratulate one another on the New Year. Along the main roads, at gates, and at house entrances people placed special decorations from fir, pine, and juniper branches; salvos were fired from small guns and rifles, flares were lit, and there were fireworks… Concerning fireworks and other such illuminations, Tsaritsa Yekaterina Veliki wasn’t to be outdone. In her time, all of Europe adored fireworks. However, the tsaritsa sought to impress everyone. According to witnesses and contemporaries, she made Russian fireworks famous the world over because they were so beautiful. Add to this, processions of thousands with torches and carnivals featuring a gigantic number of dancers and musicians… so, you can imagine what Christmas festivities were like in Russia of the end of the eighteenth century.

******

A Mazurka by Mikhail Glinka

******

Italian Polka by Sergei Rakhmaninov

******

A polka by Aleksandr Borodin

______________________________

The nineteenth century celebrated Christmas in no less a colourful manner. There were all sorts of noisy fun. The sole difference was that there was a greater accent on get-togethers with family and friends. This naturally infused Christmas with musical colour. There was a great variety of miniatures, so simple that almost anyone could master them, so many Russians were able to dabble in music. All those endless polkas, waltzes, mazurkas by Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, and Borodin came from those jolly get-togethers… This tradition of artless “family music” survived into the twentieth century, too. Here, we’ll recall just one example, “family music” by Sergei Rakhmaninov! Imagine, the great musical lyricist, whose music mirrors both the joyous song and the tormented wail of the soul, could be very different in daily life. He knew how to enjoy himself, and could infuse others with his excellent humour, too. Once Rakhmaninov made an appearance at some household, one could be sure of laughter and scores of anecdotes… Of course, wherever Rakhmaninov went, there was always music appropriate to the occasion. Rakhmaninov particularly enjoyed playing piano four hands with his wife, who was an excellent pianist. Just like Rakhmaninov, she graduated from Moscow Conservatoire. They played various things, but something they never omitted was the Italian Polka. People universally loved it!

Christmas… There’s no other holiday like it, with its special cordial warmth and radiance… A holiday we anticipate every year with unfading enthusiasm… May it be the most joyous for all of you! We certainly wish you that! The entire team of the series Russia: 1000 Years of Music wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2006

Olga Shapovalova

Russia: 1000 Years of Music

Voice of Russia World Service

www.ruvr.ru

******

Nativity isn’t just gifts, it isn’t just good friends and family, it’s much more. It goes something like this…

******

The Nativity of God

moscow-christmas-4-2006.jpg

Christmas time in the Moscow Kremlin

______________________________

Crowds of Santa Clauses in the streets of American, European, and Australian cities remind us, better than any calendar can, of the approaching feast that has long become a calling card of the Western world. It’s taken root even in the Islamic East. Christ’s coming to a world that is increasingly turning away from Him. According to polls conducted by leading foreign media in the out-going year, only 59 percent of the English are going to celebrate Christmas as a religious feast-day, that is, as the birthday of Jesus Christ, while for 40 percent of the British public view it as a secular holiday. Shy, as if afraid of “defiling” the fir-tree with the name of God, Americans rename the Christmas tree “the holiday tree”, and instead of wishing one another “Merry Christmas”, they now send “Season’s Greetings”. The United States, which once spent so much ideological fire-power to break down the theomachist power of the Soviets, has now apparently taken a Bolshevik path themselves, but they do so through the agency of the court system, thus, getting rid of God in a “civilised” way. In one such “good riddance” case, the judges ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments from a court building in Kentucky. It seems to an outside observer that those who are increasingly the architects of a new political culture in the Western world are members of religious organisations, or even pseudo-religious cults, alien to the Christianity that formed Europe and America. Like an elderly mother in a family who receives ironic smiles from her ungrateful children, the Christian Church speaks in a failing voice in many countries today and tries to remind the world of itself.

******

Classic Christmas fun from Oz sung by Rolf Harris

******

Christmas music from Mexico

______________________________

A poll conducted by the Associated Press has shown that 75 percent of the people in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, and Mexico disapprove of religious leaders attempting to influence public policy. In Italy and South Korea, this figure is a little lower, two-thirds. Over half of the Spanish say religion isn’t very important in their lives. We find the greatest proportion of people who wish the Church not to intervene in state affairs in Germany and France, where their number amounts to 85 percent of the population. To bear public witness to Christ in America or Western Europe today isn’t yet a heroic feat, but it’s already an exceptional deed. The foreign media repeatedly issue reports, strange by today’s Russian standards, that say a teacher was brought to court for reading the Bible in class, a dancing-master was sacked for using Christian music, whilst in France, which once was called the “favourite daughter of the Catholic Church”, people are prohibited from wearing large crosses at work.

******

Opa! Christmas in Greece

******

Sounds of Christmas from France

******

Russian Orthodox Alaska natives with New Year celebrations… this is why they aren’t the same as the rest of us in the lower 48

______________________________

We’ll again celebrate Christmas in the world in a few days against this background. As ever, the Son of God will be born regardless of political fashion, because whatever name the American courts may give to the fir-tree, whatever greetings we may print on postcards, however hard may be the attempts to rub out the bas-relief commandments, the mystery of the Nativity occurs. It isn’t in the full view of everyone, but it happens in the human heart. It’ll happen quietly and modestly, just as it did 2005 years ago. No doubt, there’ll be a great number of such hearts. This is because there are statistics showing that, for instance, people in the United States are one of the most religious nations in the West, with 80 percent of those polled saying they believe in God, while 90 percent affirm that religion’s an important part of their life. The level of religiosity in Orthodox Greece is 86 percent, it’s almost the same in Romania and Poland (85 percent), and it’s a little lower in Latin America (82 percent). We could continue the list. However, the most eloquent evidence to the fact that Christianity has struck much deeper roots in the Western world than some politicians would like it was the failure of the referendums on the European Constitution that didn’t refer to the special role played by religion in the history of the continent. Without a spiritual foundation, the common European house shall turn into a soulless hostel in which alienated strangers live close to one another… Politicians have said almost nothing about it, but many religious leaders have spoken on it. They remind us all over again of the innermost meaning of the upcoming holiday, that it’s one of the most important events in human history. Again, they’ll remind us of the event that has transformed the world, and has lifted up mankind to a height unattainable by any achievement of liberal humanist society {when Russians say “liberal”, they mean something analogous to US “conservatism“… fancy that: editor}.

22 December 2005

Yekaterina Yevseyeva

Interfax-Religion

www.interfax.ru

******

Yes, that’s some of our Orthodox music for the Nativity. Let me tell you a true story…

******

A Teacher of the Divine

Anna Zyryanova (1980- )

______________________________

Christmas is a time for merry songs, sparkling trees, twinkling lights, hearty wishes, and carollers walking from house to house. However, for Anna Zyryanova the list would be incomplete without a good Christmas prayer to the divine sound of a choir. For Anna, music and the church are one undivided and integrated whole, and are unthinkable one without the other. It so happened in Anna’s life that she went to church to listen to music, and years later, went to study music to sing in church. Moreover, Christmas carries a special meaning for Anna as it’s the time when she was born anew fourteen years ago. She said, “My church life began right after I signed up for classes in Sunday School at the age of nine”, Anna said. “I come from a family of Old Believers, so by tradition, we never went to church, and prayed at home. When I was nine years old, my mom took me to a church service. It was Christmas Eve, and as I heard the singing of the church chorus from the choir loft, I knew I had to be there too one day, because I loved this music and enjoyed every bit of it. The church chants and the whole atmosphere there captured my heart and found a ready response in my soul”.

******

******

******

______________________________

Anna said, “I think it was through the prayers of my grandma, who was dead by then, that my mom and I found ourselves in church on Christmas Eve. The souls of our deceased relatives live by us, and continue to pray for us. That’s why the atmosphere of the church had such a welcoming effect on me, and I quickly grasped the meaning of church chants and rituals. Classes at Sunday school soon became part of my life, and singing church music was my dream. Moreover, this feeling of involvement should be familiar to many people. When a genuine work of art confronts you, be it a painting, a piece of poetry or music, you immediately feel an urge to try your hand at art yourself too. In church, every service is a breathtakingly glorious ceremony divided into rituals conducted to the sound of beautiful chants sung by a choir. Right from my very first days in church, my kid’s soul longed to be part of the beauty that surrounded me and to be a part of the force that created it. The church led me into the world of the divine, into the world of music. Nevertheless, at that time I knew I could not join the choir. All I could do was to endlessly feel envious, and at times even annoyed, why, I kept asking myself, should they be up there and me down here? This old dream has come true by now, I not only sing at church services, but also recently received the honour of directing a four-voice section of the choir of the St Tikhon Orthodox Institute of Theology, where I am studying to become a missionary. However, singing in church is not an end in itself. Church music is not just a particular genre. In the first place, it is a communication with the Creator, a prayer. Church music helps me in everyday life too”.

Divine services constitute an important part of Anna’s life. No matter where she finds herself at a given moment, be it her native Kaliningrad, or somewhere very far from home, be it her local church or an entirely new one, the divine service makes her feel at home. For many Orthodox believers, this is the most natural experience. Anna says that in prayer we come into communion with Our Lord, who is the Giver of life and life’s graces, and in church, we talk to Him, Our Heavenly Father. To a soul seeking consolation from the Creator, the church grants solace and a restful diversion from worldly bustle. Most of all, Anna enjoys the festive services. “The ones I love most are Christmas, Easter, and the Protection of the Mother of God”, Anna said. “On such occasions, I feel the presence of the Almighty particularly strongly. God is Love, so you feel boundless love for all people, and you become part of this love. At such moments, you forgive your enemies, both from the past and the future, and you are ready to share your loving heart with everybody around you or far from you. This feeling of communion with the Divine Love is the best feeling of all, especially now, when there is so much violence around us and love is fast seeping away…”

******

******

The Magnificat sung in Church Slavonic by the Sretensky Monastery Choir of Moscow

******

Bless the Lord, O My Soul, sung by the Optina Pustyn Monastery Choir

______________________________

Anna said her choice of a future profession was the will of God. Even though she longed so much to sing in a church choir, she never dared to think of it as a possibility. She thought that she’d go to medical college, and be a nurse or a doctor. However, she failed to pass the first year, and when her girlfriends invited her to join them in evening music classes, she knew that God had heard her prayers. At the evening school, Anna was lucky to study under a skilful music professor, who inspired her with enough confidence to apply to a musical college a year after. Moreover, she was right to follow this lead, because she passed easily enough, and a month later, was teaching Holy Scripture and church chants to kids in a Sunday School. “I was so inexperienced, just a beginner, a first-year student, but my tutor strongly advised me to teach Sunday School, and learn all about the art of teaching in the process”, Anna recalled. “In the four years that I taught Sunday School, I came to believe that I ought to be able to provide an appropriate answer to each of my pupils’ questions. A timely answer to a question a teenager finds important is crucial. You can’t just push kids aside telling them something as banal as, ‘You’ll know when you get older’. This is especially true in church, where kids often come before their parents. A child’s soul is by far closer to the Creator because sin hasn’t blinded it yet. That’s why you have to look after these fledgling souls, otherwise you might lose them”.

It’s for the sake of her little pupils that Anna decided to continue her education at St Tikhon Orthodox Humanitarian University in Moscow. She learned to provide good answers to the many “whys” from her little ones, and did so in an agreeable form too. Moreover, of course, like the innate teacher that she is, Anna wants to expand her own knowledge of the Holy Scripture. “For these teachings are timeless, and the whole world rests on them”, she said. In addition, as a teacher of life, Anna strives to get across to the world at least a tiny portion of this life-saving knowledge, saying, “I don’t mind if I run into hostility or misunderstanding, or if people sneer at me. Christ is my guide in my self-sacrificial service to all people. For we’re Christians, and as Christians, we must follow in Christ’s footsteps to the Resurrection, but it always comes through Calvary”. A Teacher of the Divine, Anna’s ready to carry the word of God to people day and night. When she talks of the divine in us, her eyes light up with sparkling enthusiasm, so captivating that even the militantly non-devout chime in. Now, as Christmas draws nearer, Anna gets more and more excited in anticipation of the holiday that’s so important for her.

2003

Tamara Murzina

Ladies of Character

Voice of Russia World Service

www.ruvr.ru

******

Let me help you with your coat. Did you remember to take your gifts? No… forget it; God is good. We have enough, slava Bogu. Here… yes, we DO kiss; it’s our custom. No, no… we never shake hands over the threshold… bad luck, you know. Da svidaniya, which means, “Yes, we’ll meet again”. Don’t be a stranger.

May God bless. Bog blagoslovit!

******

ivan-kulikov-a-happy-festival-1911.jpg

A Happy Festival

Ivan Kulikov

1911

_____________________________

s Prazdnikom! To the Feast!

Vara Drezhlo

Albany NY

Nativity season, 2007

******

Nicky and I wish you the happiest Nativity season possible. Thank you for coming, you are always welcome in this house. s Bogom! Go with God!

Advertisements

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: