The Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent has become an integral part of the Heart 2 Heart Festival programme. The charitable concerts of the Monastic Choir are well-known and loved in many countries across Europe. They evoke engagement even with those who are taking their first steps into the Church. We know first-hand that these events foster spiritual and moral edification and allow the audiences to learn more about the splendour of church chants, which are rooted deep in the ancient times. They create the atmosphere of a feast, filled with love, goodness, peace, and mutual understanding.
The sisters aren’t professional musicians. Each of them does other important tasks in the Convent, e.g., building a shelter for the homeless, organising missionary trips and exhibitions, recording audio and video discs, editing books, or making embroideries, aside from singing. However, we all are united by prayerful singing during the worship in the Convent, which is the primary focus of the Choir.
Nun Martha (Guskova) was the founder and the first precentor of the Choir. It was thanks to her effort and inquiry that simple obikhod chants gave way to ancient chants in the worship practice of St Elisabeth Convent. The sisters sing the entire annual worship cycle using the ancient chants. For instance, znamenny chant, and Valamo chant as its variant, is mainly used on weekdays. Byzantine and Greek chants are used on Sundays and feast days, along with Old Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Georgian chants.
Currently, the precentor of this choir is Nun Juliania (Denisova) who graduated from the School of Music Theory and Composition of Leningrad State Academy of Music and has been the author of over 150 church chants, harmonisations, and musical treatments. The Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent printed a collection of her sheet music titled Chants of Devotion. The Information Agency of the Belarusian Orthodox Church released a documentary about her titled The Precentor, and our own Studio in honour of St John the Warrior made a follow-up documentary The Nun, which tells about her spiritual journey to God. She was awarded St Cyril of Turov medal for her diligent work for the glory of the Holy Orthodox Church.
The first section of the concert usually contains a variety of chants, which the sisters sing in church during worship, mostly ancient Russian Orthodox chants, such as znamenny, Valamo, and Bulgarian chants, together with Macedonian and Byzantine chants. Sacred chants are a treasury of Russian worship singing — icons painted with voice. They were created in the course of many centuries by anonymous singers, so they can be rightfully called the national heritage. Some chants retain their original form during our performance, while other chants went through a later harmonisation or treatment that makes them more digestible for a today’s listener. The second section of the concert consists of spiritual songs, canticles, verses, and carols. The Orthodox people composed and sang these songs at various moments in their lives, both happy and sad ones. Their tender and heartwarming melodies and the love of God and his saints that they reflect make these spiritual songs particularly worthwhile.
We invite everyone to the concerts of the Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent. By coming to our concerts, you make a contribution to the social ministry of St Elisabeth Convent because all proceeds support the work of our sisters with the ill and the needy who stay in boarding homes, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, and shelters.