When My Girls Sing on Stage, There Is Nothing Better in the World

The Maidens’ Choir of our Convent is less than two years old but it is already hard to imagine any of the concerts that are held within the walls of St Elisabeth Convent without this collective. This choir has already performed at various venues around Minsk. This choir will open the Royal Voice International Church Music Festival this year. We asked Matushka Maria Bakhvalova, the precentor of this choir, to tell our readers how this choir came into being and what gets them going.

The Choir

“I regard this choir as a divine calling,” Matushka Maria says. “It is vital to do everything together in the choir. All participants of our choir must be aware of it because they do not simply sing; they put their hearts and souls into every word, every melody, and every chant. The singers must learn to hear one another not only during singing but also to feel responsibility towards the choir and to help it. It’s the same as in the church and in the family. One needs to be ready to sacrifice. It matters a lot!

I love my job and I’m proud of it. I do my best to follow the motto set by Father Andrew Lemeshonok, “Excel in what you’re doing, and don’t complain.”

A Precentor’s Troubles…

Sometimes, it seems to me that the job of a precentor is difficult but I always drive these thoughts away. My job includes interaction with people. People are different: they have their own problems and circumstances in life. Someone may be sick, someone may be absent, but we need each and every one in the choir! The most difficult part for me is organizing things: making calls, writing letters, and doing the planning.

… and Joys

The most enjoyable part of my job is rehearsals: the time when I work with music and the choir. The choir is my favorite activity. I have studied to be a precentor since I was 12, and I have been a choir director since I was in my second year at the Academy of Music. I am grateful to God for letting me do this job. This is why I feel I should disregard all difficulties and struggle with them. There are many more enjoyable moments during my work with the choir. When you realize it, all difficulties evaporate.

The Details

We crafted our own costumes not long ago. Surprisingly enough, there are five young designers in our Maidens’ Choir. Looks are important for a choir. A uniform unifies us and makes us look beautiful. Again, inventing a costume means doing something together, such as reaching a decision. I hope we will continue to have trustful relationships with the girls.

The Choir as a Family

Our choir is just two years old. We grow and develop together. We learn from each other. It is precious. I do my best to ensure that my young singers perceive the choir not only as a place where they sing but also as a place where they spend time together, with trips, concerts, and rehearsals. All these events promote unity and help to develop a social life in its own right. However, group development and growth are a formidable undertaking, which demands a lot of time and prayer.

The Beginning of the Road

There were just six people who showed up for our first rehearsal. It is hard to speak about the choir and the implementation of the precentor’s musical ideas with so few singers. We started by doing the simplest things. Of course, I wanted to achieve significant results immediately but at that moment I knew it wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, I was completely calm, as if the Lord was standing by my side and guiding my steps.
I was certain that everything was possible. I remember how I went to Father Andrew and complained that there were too few of us. Father asked me, “How many singers do you need?” “Thirty-five would suffice,” I replied. He assured me that we would get there eventually.

Several rehearsals later, there were more singers. We had twelve singers who sang at our first concert. Now there are twenty wonderful girls aged 14-20 in the choir. I believe in the power of Father Andrew’s prayer.

The Youngest Choir of St Elisabeth Convent

Aside from the Maidens’ Choir, I am in charge of the Children’s Choir, and this is yet another big part of my life. Dealing with children makes me happy, although it is the hardest of my obediences. I have to engage the attention of the little kids who just cannot sit still, and sometimes I have to come up with pretty unusual ways to do so. At the same time, I have to teach them to work in the choir and be serious about their obedience as singers. I would like them to fall in love with the choir and not to give up singing when they grow up! It appears to me that the choir can become their first step on the road to the spiritual life. Children do not only learn to perform music and understand it but also develop their minds and souls. It is not only children’s songs that we perform but also church chants, which is essential because we pray, rather than just sing, and we do it together.
Children tell me that they sometimes sing troparia before tests. I am very pleased to hear about that because it is a fruit of our labour.

I am amazed at how the two choirs – the Maidens’ Choir and the Children’s Choir – get along. The older girls help me with the little boys and girls from the Children’s Choir, especially during joint appearances. There are too many singers in both choirs, and it’s technically difficult for me to make two choirs ready for the concert at the same time. Again, we can get back to the question about difficulties. Sometimes I tell myself that the two choirs can’t sing together but how can I refuse to show both choirs during concerts and festivals?

The Choir’s Holy Patron

I came to the girls one day and told them that our choir needed a holy patron whom we would ask for a blessing and help, like we do in all other cases. We decided that Saint Sergius of Radonezh who is venerated as the patron and helper of students would be our patron saint, too.

Saint Sergius was the gatherer of the Russian lands. We as a choir hope that St Sergius will gather, unite, and multiply us. His icon, painted in the Icon Painting Studio of St Elisabeth Convent, accompanies us at our rehearsals.

Our choir will performPeresvet, a song written by Irina Boldysheva with lyrics by Archpriest Andrew Logvinov, during the Royal Voice Festival. This song is filled with the spirit of St Sergius of Radonezh and is one of our favorites.

The Beauty

When I see my girls singing on stage, it seems to me that there is nothing more beautiful than them in the entire world. I see so much light and beauty in their eyes! I would like the guests of the Royal Voice Festival to see these shining eyes, too. Every singer must share some of her skill with God and the audience.

Matushka Maria Bakhvalova was born in Minsk. She studied choir conducting in the National College of Arts n.a. Akhremchik, and then in the Belarusian State Academy of Music. She was the founder and the director of Elegy Chamber Choir. She lived in Canada from 2004 to 2015, where she founded and conducted Troitskye Solovushki (Trinity Nightingales) Children and Youth Choir at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, ON (ROCOR). She has been the precentor of the Children’s and the Maidens’ Choirs of the Sunday School of St Elisabeth Convent since 2015.

October 20, 2017
St. Elisabeth Convent