In addition to numerous well-attended services, priests and rich architecture, the Church of St. Basil the Wonderworker of Ostrog in New Belgrade is adorned with three choirs: a large church choir, youth and children. Although each exudes a special warmth and spirituality, for the past three years, the youth choir, which consists of elementary school students, high school students and freshmen have attracted the most attention. In addition to their concert performances, its members regularly sing at Holy Liturgies on Saturdays and participate in Sunday and Feast Liturgies when required. The choir was founded at the initiative of Jelena Timotijević, with the blessing and support of the church’s clergy, and in addition to performing skills, it is adorned with mutual love, warmth and unity, which young members selflessly exchange. In addition to numerous concerts, they also showed their skills at the “Music Edict” in Niš, where they attracted special attention, especially from world choirs, with their unusual repertoire.
Jelena Timotijević, choir conductor
We are located upstairs in the ceremonial library, in the small hall where we hold choir rehearsals. I lead the youth choir, the middle ensemble, and in addition for many years we have a large church choir that sings at liturgies, services, weddings, baptisms, everything that requires church singing, and we have the youngest choir, in which children sing. This middle setting, the youth choir I lead, was founded three years ago. We came up with the idea together with the clergy of this church, because a group of children who regularly come to the liturgy with their families found themselves in an interspace – they were not ready enough to join the great choir, but they could not be among the youngest. Thus, the idea came to create a choir that would gather these young people, primarily with the goal of learning liturgical singing, and in addition everything that can be learned over time for the needs of baptisms and weddings.
ESTABLISHMENT OF CHOIRS AND IMPRESSIONS OF MEMBERS
Naturally, everyone was a bit reserved at the beginning… You have to impress today’s youth with something in order for them to show interest. However, God really works miracles, sanctity is great and the prayer itself is more beautiful when it is sung to God with a song. Hence I think that it is really a wonderful example of something that pleases their soul, especially in this time, which is difficult for everyone, especially for the youth. This is nothing new, there are so many wonderful choirs, we are really small and maybe, let’s say, small and invisible, but what I can really be satisfied with is that they have found their place, their role and are fully aware of that.
Aleksandra Pešić – choir member: I am a relatively new member; this choir brings me great joy in terms of energy, experience, and socializing every Saturday and Sunday, they make me most happy; the mere fact that I will see the others for the weekend – it makes it easier for me to get out of bed.
Hristina Timotijević – choir member: I have been here since I was a child. We are here every Sunday, and before this youth choir I sang in the children’s choir. Over the years, we realized that we are no longer so little and that we can form a choir that could sound nice. I count down the days until Saturday all the time. We like rehearsals, to try new things, to perform, we have great ambitions for some further performances … We especially like when big holidays arrive and when we are always here, we enjoy it.
Ilija Timotijević – choir member: I have been a member since the founding of the choir. First there were three of us – Kristina, Smiljana and me and my mother, and since we already knew others from the church, everyone slowly joined the choir. Now we are here every Saturday and we have the opportunity to sing for weddings and baptisms … There is always a nice atmosphere in the choir, because we hang out, we all know each other for a long time and therefore we are more relaxed with each other.
Matija Gocev – choir member: I like to help priests and everyone … Vasa and I are the spiritual children of their father who is the elder of this temple. Thank you.
Smiljana Timotijević – choir member: I have been here since I was little. I love this choir very much, I am very glad to be in it and that it exists because I think that we have fitted in very well, united, and that we sound better and better. We all can’t wait for the weekend to come and get together, especially now during this great fast we like to be constantly in the church, to spend time together, help each other and sing. I hope it will last.
Vasilije Gocev – choir member: I have been in this choir from the beginning. I am glad that we have the honor to sing on Saturdays at the liturgy and, as they said, we are counting down the days until Saturday and Sunday, until our next gathering. There is a special atmosphere in this choir and among us, we found each other and we are similar to each other.
REPERTOIRE AND COMING TO THE LITURGY
I wanted to teach children the traditional Serbian Orthodox Chantfirst; it is very simple, logically completely easy to learn; who has a good ear and who is regular at the liturgy knows the order. That choir worship is in two voices, however, over time they have become more confident, and some of the boys have already finished mutating, so now they are singing that lower tone in three voices. The advantage of every church choir is that when they sing at the liturgy, they have a public performance, and at the same time they have to take care that it is “decent”. That is why I try to make what we practice and sing diverse, interesting, and current, to make the melody acceptable to them; I try to choose something that is not performed too often in order for them to have motivation to sing what has not been performed before. Through that spirit of the collective, they force themselves to be more zealous and I really have to praise them because they are young people, and they come to the liturgy on Saturdays and Sundays. They join the big choir with their families on Sundays, in addition, they go out in the evening, now they have gotten together nicely, so getting up early is really commendable.
REHEARSALS AND PERFORMANCES
We try not to burden them with it, but to make it something for them to do on the side, because if it becomes something that is a must, something that is difficult and demanding, it rejects children. There are not many of them, it is more of one chamber ensemble, ten, fifteen young people who are coming. We watch when someone is at school, so if most are free in the afternoon or evening, then we schedule rehearsals. If we have a performance related to, for example, the Christmas liturgy, like this year when we sang at midnight – then rehearsals will be more frequent, which they themselves insist on.
It often happens that even after the liturgy on Saturday, after a service, we sit down and practice. It is interesting that they started to socialize with each other outside the church, liturgy and performances. They go out in the evening for skating, bowling, to the cinema, and I am very glad about that. We had some shorter trips; I hope there will be more. We also plan to visit the shrines and sing a liturgy in e of our monasteries. Because what connects us are those hangouts, singing together and, of course, traveling, that children love very much, that way they can get even closer, so I hope that many of those friendships will last.
There were really nice, interesting and funny situations. What we all remember together as a beautiful period happened a few months ago, as part of the preparation of a big concert in our church. That concert brought us all together, and we had one really big bite – to prepare something that is harder; it was the work of Georgian Patriarch Ilia II Kyrie Eleison. All three ensembles took part in that concert – large, youth and children – and all of them were really up to the task, they had great motivation because the church was full. Last year, we sang at the “Music Edict” festival in Niš and performed the composition Trisveta by contemporary Russian composer Sitnikov. And then an interesting thing happened … When we were supposed to name the composer, I didn’t know because only Sitnikov was on the notes, I researched until I came across a man who is our contemporary, I learned that he works in Russia in a monastery. He was so delighted that he established contact via e-mail and thanked for the cooperation. After the performance, a choir from America asked us for that music record because they liked it very much, so that’s a nice memory for us and we are happy to perform that composition.
Hristina Timotijević: I am convinced that this will be one of the most beautiful periods of our lives. Because, one day we will be adults and we may not be as close as we are now and there are not many opportunities to experience something like this in youth. There are a lot of choirs, but the atmosphere and mutual love that we nurture here is irreplaceable and extraordinary.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GATHERING
In fact, the mission of the youth choir is to gather us at the church so that young people can grow into good people. I must say that they are already good people, they are really wonderful children and from wonderful families. However, when we talk about the importance of our gatherings, I notice that they now fully understand the liturgy and I hope that they will all carry this period when they started learning, with them… For example, there is a boy in our choir, who is now a young man and is so good at knowing the types and melodies that are sung for the holidays. He is a great help and support, he even knows how to sing all the changes that, say, children from the seminary perform in churches. It would not surprise me if he went to the Faculty of Theology tomorrow, because he was really born for something like that. Their gathering here is important because it will prepare them so that tomorrow, wherever they are, they can stand for the choir, sing the liturgy or join a larger choir that seeks more serious engagement. I hope we succeeded in that.