The Children’s Singing Studio at Glasgow Russian School
When the Russian Orthodox parish opened in Glasgow in 2003, it turned out that only a few parishioners knew how to sing. That was how we got the idea of teaching the children to sing and singing along with them during services in the place reserved for the choir (that is, on the kliros). At some services the choir was made up almost exclusively of children of various ages who sang to the best of their ability. But children pick things up very quickly, and some of them are now grown-ups and can sing almost the whole Liturgy by themselves.
Singing for a Russian service is not a simple matter, as the choir sings entirely without instrumental accompaniment. Another difficulty is that Orthodox services are lengthy, and singing plays a very large part in them – singers get no chance of a break, or even to have a seat for a few moments. The adults of Russkaya Cappella experience all these problems too as they sing at services on the great feasts in various Orthodox churches in Britain. Connected with the Cappella is a small Children’s Singing Studio, created in January 2012 and centred on the children in the Russian Orthodox School. Some of its young members (of whom there are 13 at the moment) are among those who sing on the kliros in church.
Lessons at the Studio take place on Saturdays in the Glasgow Steiner School and last one hour. They combine learning how to sing, ear training and reading music as well as preparing for concerts. The main aim is to get the children used to the Russian singing tradition. That means folksongs, sacred music, music by Russian composers and children’s songs. We begin the training with the most ancient znamenny chant – a relative of Gregorian chant. Children pick it up very quickly – unlike adult singers, who find it difficult to get accustomed to the language of ancient monody. Church music is performed in Church-Slavonic, the sacred language of a number of Orthodox churches. Again, the language can be assimilated very well at an early age, and the children begin to appreciate how beautiful it is.
The rest of the repertoire is performed in Russian. By no means all the children are ethnic Russians or even Russian in culture (some of their surnames speak for themselves: Cruikshank, Harvey, McKenna, McVitie), but for many of them and their parents it is important for various reasons to maintain their link with Russian culture.
We think it very important to teach children to sing unaccompanied right from the start and to be able to hold their part in a complex choral score.
To that end the Children’s Group joins with the adults in Russkaya Cappella from time to time. The children either sing a self-sufficient melody in a complete composition (for instance, in Glinka’s The Nightingale), or else we make a special arrangement of a folksong in several parts, and both the adult and children’s choirs take part in it, sometimes in authentic treatments with movement and games. The children are thus involved straightaway in the whole wealth of choral singing; they enjoy taking part in concerts and at the same time acquire essential experience of performing.
Some listeners are astonished by what the children can do on a mere one hour a week. I think the explanation is that some of the children grew up singing in church, are learning to play various instruments, are strongly motivated and enjoy singing; by setting them complicated but manageable tasks we are constantly maintaining their interest and giving them encouragement.