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Archpriest Sergei Glagolev

Father Sergei Glagolev was born August 13, 1927, in Gary, Indiana, into a family that counted twenty generations of Russian Orthodox priests, going back to the 15th century. His paternal grandfather, Peter Glagolev, who hailed from Kostroma, near Moscow, married the Princess Vera Telepneva, and broke with family tradition in that he was never ordained to the priesthood. He did, however, serve as a church musician in Kamensk, near Rostov-on-the-Don. Peter and Vera’s son Andrew, Father Sergei’s father, initially went to military school and fought on the German front during World War I. When the front collapsed and the Bolsheviks seized power, he joined the Cossacks in the south of Russia and fought with General Vrangel’s army, and was eventually evacuated to Constantinople. After making his way to Paris, Andrew Glagolev completed music courses at the Sorbonne, amidst the difficult circumstances of the Russian emigration. While in Paris, he and his Cossack friends, who were excellent horsemen, were recruited by Tom Mix's Circus to play the "Indians" in mock battles with the "cowboys." The circus turned out to be Andrew Glagolev's ticket to America, which at that time was hesitant to accept Russian emigres for fear of Communist infiltration of the labor movement. Because he knew how to play a variety of instruments, he secured a position in the circus band and came to the United States in 1925, settling in the Chicago area. In nearby Gary, Indiana, Fr. Benjamin Kedrovsky, who ministered to a large community of Galician emigres, was in need of someone who had a knowledge of church music, so he turned to Andrew Glagolev, recruiting him to be the church choir director as well as the teacher of choral singing, Russian language and catechism in the parochial school. It was here that Andrew married his wife, Magdalena Wachnowsky, and it was here that their son Sergei was born.

Fr. Sergei's first musical memories are of Gary, Indiana. The parish had a very rich musical life: the choir not only sang in church, but also in concert competitions; there was also a band and a theater group. From Gary, the Glagolev family moved to Cleveland, which is where the young Sergei had his first choral experience at the age of seven or eight, singing in a church choir that included men, women, and boys. Here, at St. Theodosius Cathedral, he participated not only in the full choir, which sang all Sunday Divine Liturgies and Vigils on the eves of major feasts, but also in the small group that sang Vigils on Saturday evenings, improvising harmony from the square-note chant books.

In 1941 Andrew Glagolev was ordained to the priesthood and was sent to St. Michael's Cathedral in Pittsburgh, where his brother-in-law, Ivan Wachnowsky, served as choir director. But due to a disagreement between the new priest and the choir director, the latter stepped down, and so it fell to the thirteen-year-old Seriozha Glagolev to direct the choir. Fr. Andrew would come to the choir rehearsals and sternly observe while the young man went through his paces, working with the choir. Earlier, at the age of seven or eight, young Sergei had begun taking piano lessons and, following in his father’s footsteps, learned to play trombone, trumpet, and French horn. From Pittsburgh, Fr. Andrew moved to Lorain, Ohio, where Sergei played in the high school band and sang in the high school choir. In high school, the choir was fond of singing works by Gretchaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Chesnokov and other Russian Orthodox composers that had been arranged as "choral anthems"; many of the same pieces were sung in church as well. By the time he reached high school, Sergei‘s musical knowledge already exceeded what was being taught in high school music theory courses, so he went on to take private lessons. Upon graduating in 1946 he went on to Oberlin College, using the opportunity to participate in the Navy’s V-12 officer training program, but also taking advantage of the excellent music program. At Oberlin, he was exposed to a great variety of choral music, including the works of Bach and other masterworks. After two years at Oberlin, motivated largely by his interest in church music and at the encouragement of his father, he enrolled in St. Vladimir's Seminary.

In 1948 St. Vladimir's Seminary was located in Manhattan, and Sergei Glagolev was able simultaneously to attend NYU to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education. Working with church choirs provided a rich opportunity to practice the teaching methods studied in the classroom. The choir director at St. Vladimir's Seminary at that time was Sergei Troitsky, who was also the choirmaster at Holy Protection Cathedral on 2nd Street. The cathedral choir rehearsed twice a week and the singers were paid, thus enabling students like Sergei to make money while they completed their studies. But on other occasions, he would also go uptown to the church on 125th Street, because this was the church attended by the famous composer Alexander Gretchaninoff. Already aged 85, the venerable composer would sit in a chair and listen to the choir rehearsals; in those days, Sergei had frequent contact with Gretchaninoff, whom he admired and whose friendship he valued greatly. During this time he also had the experience of singing under the direction of Robert Shaw.

In 1949, Sergei Glagolev completed his studies at NYU and St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Considered yet too young to be ordained to the priesthood, he was sent to Detroit to be the choirmaster; this was a typical pattern for Seminary graduates at the time. SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Detroit, where he had been recruited by Fr. Vladimir Kiriukovich, had an excellent choir and a long tradition of professional choir directors; the choir rehearsed twice a week and filled its ranks from students at the parish Russian School. The parochial school met daily for an hour-and-a-half, and included studies in Russian, Orthodox catechism, and church singing. It was here that Sergei Glagolev met and married his future matushka, Gerry. In 1952, he was ordained a deacon, serving for only a few weeks in that rank, and was then ordained to the holy priesthood, as associate pastor for the parish, while continuing to serve as choir director at the major services and a teacher at the school.

Fr. Sergei recalls that during his student days at Oberlin College he first developed what he called his “love affair” with words and music—the "incredible marriage" of language and music found in the works of Bach, for example. This became an ongoing theme throughout his subsequent teaching of liturgical music and its interpretation: the syntax of the text must not deny what the musical phrase is trying to say; on the other hand, the music must not conflict with the syntax and rhythm of the language. This was also reinforced by the experience of observing his father, who spent many hours teaching his choir members the meaning of Church Slavonic texts that they otherwise did not understand.

During World War II, some of the early experimentation had occurred with the use of English in Orthodox services. While attending chaplains’ services in the military, young men discovered that there were other Orthodox besides those of their particular ethnic group. In the Russian Metropolia, efforts to incorporate some English into the services had begun under Metropolitan Theophilus and later continued under Metropolitan Leonty. Similar efforts were underway in the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese and the Albanian Archdiocese. In 1948, the F.R.O.C. had funded the publication of an English Divine Liturgy music book, which had been compiled by Fr. Andrew Glagolev on the basis of Isabel Hapgood's Service Book. While still in Lorain, Father Sergei recalls being asked by his father to prepare the choir to sing an entire Divine Liturgy in English, a "first" that initially caused a good deal of resistance.

In 1953, Fr. Andrew Glagolev suddenly passed away, and so Fr. Sergei was transferred to Lorain, Ohio, to comfort and take care of his mother. That same year, Fr. Sergei wrote an article for the F.R.O.C. Journal in which he made note of his father's vision concerning the future use of English and how it correlated with the evangelistic mission of the Orthodox Church in the American land. Two years later, in part as a result of this article, he received a call from the Church hierarchy to go to the newly growing Southern California suburbs, there to start a new Orthodox mission exclusively using the English language for worship. Here was an opportunity to begin anew with young Orthodox families, transplanted from the ethnic communities of their parents, who otherwise would likely attend services only a few times a year in a more traditional parish using a language they did not understand.

Contact in his seminary days with Fr. Alexander Schmemann and the latter’s explorations in the area of liturgical theology played an important formative role in Fr. Sergei's future ministry in the California suburbs. For example, it was here that the long-established Russian practice of celebrating Pre-Sanctified Liturgy in the morning was first reconsidered and returned back to the evenings. Once the change was made to English, things began to happen liturgically. To use Fr. Sergei’s words, “When we come into God’s presence (in the Entrance), He reveals Himself by the living Word, Jesus Christ, who comes to speak to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wow! All of a sudden, a different understanding of the Divine Liturgy, that this isn’t some kind of ‘proscenium event,’ where we all sit or stand and watch something that's happening, but that we are all involved in the living Christ, all leading to the Eucharist, which fulfills our life with the knowledge of Truth in this world and life everlasting in the world to come, by God’s grace. A different vision, which happened in the 1950s, and I thank God that He allowed me to be part of it."

St. Innocent's Mission, which began with 17 parishioners meeting for services at a funeral parlor in Encino, California, and then built a church in Tarzana, California, would be the focus of Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s pastoral and musical activity for the next twenty years. Upon establishing the mission, the first thing Fr. Sergei organized was the choir ("even before a parish council"), which he taught and rehearsed, while the actual services were directed by an assistant. Throughout these years, Fr. Sergei's musical activities took on a supremely practical dimension: when something needed to be sung in English, he either composed or arranged or adapted it. "It was easier to sit down and write something than to go look for it somewhere. And at that time what was available in English was very limited." This pattern would continue: most of Fr. Sergei's works were written in response to specific needs or for specific occasions—church music workshops, liturgical institutes, or special services, such as the Memorial Day pilgrimages at St. Tikhon’s Monastery.

Fr. Sergei spent 20 years at St. Innocent's in Encino-Tarzana, then three years at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. The stress of his responsibilities as Chancellor and Dean in the Diocese of the West contributed to a heart attack, and led to his being transferred to the East Coast, where he was assigned to Holy Trinity parish in East Meadow, New York, and began teaching liturgical music at St. Vladimir's Seminary. He regarded the opportunity to teach as “a great blessing, which allows one to learn and grow, being forced to think things through, presenting ideas and then learn from the feedback when students respond.” He taught two days a week, covering such subjects as "Interpretation of Liturgical Music," "History of Liturgical Music" and composition. In 1981, Metropolitan Theodosius appointed Fr. Sergei as the first Director of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards, a move that relieved him of the daily responsibilities in a parish and allowed him to focus even more on his teaching. He continued to teach at St. Vladimir's Seminary and also at St. Tikhon's Seminary up to 1990, when he had to undergo by-pass surgery; after that, his regular teaching activities had to be curtailed. While he was Director of F.O.S., Fr. Sergei was able to travel and present liturgical music workshops all over the country; all in all, he estimates he participated in 40 or 50 such workshops. For a number of years he also directed the pick-up choir on Memorial Day at St. Tikhon's for which many special settings were written.

Anyone who ever attended one of Fr. Sergei's liturgical music workshops will recall the excitement and vibrancy with which he spoke about Orthodox liturgy, worship, and liturgical singing. The repeated themes of these workshops, which he revisited time and again—liturgical movement, sacred song, the power of the sung word—made the hearers understand that there is no more exalted activity human beings can engage in than to stand in the presence of the Living God and to lift up their voices to Him in prayerful, musically elevated utterance. Yet the Orthodox expression of this utterance is unique. Other faiths have “religious music,” but the Orthodox have “sacred singing,” he would say. What is the difference? It becomes apparent when we realize that in Orthodox worship we don't pray unless we sing and we don't sing unless that song is prayer. The Prayer Book of the Church is basically a song book; and the sung Psalms are a prayer book.

This understanding of the intimate link between text and music has informed Fr. Sergei's work as a composer of liturgical music. Among his favorite composers are those whose work bore an intimate connection with worship: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi—another priest who was a composer, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the great choral master of the Renaissance. Among Russian composers his favorites include Pavel Chesnokov, Victor Kalinnikov, Alexander Kastalsky (“a phenomenal influence, whose importance has yet to be appreciated”), and, of course, Gretchaninoff—“my old friend," who questioned the need to impose the German-style figured bass on Orthodox liturgical music. Rather, he favored a return to the principle of the ison, from where our liturgical polyphony began and which is reflected in some of his Liturgy settings.

In Fr. Sergei's view, congregational singing is a good thing, but it should not entirely supplant the choral tradition of the Church. Traditionally, there has always been a richness, a variety of performing forces: the choir, the people, the clergy, cantors, trios of soloists, etc. From what he gleaned from the works of such scholars as Egon Wellesz and Oliver Strunk, this is what liturgical singing was like in the Great Church—Hagia Sophia— and this is what Fr. Sergei attempted to demonstrate in his setting of the Introductory Psalm at Vespers. Ultimately, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann points out, the texts of the liturgy hold a key to who should sing what: for example, the structure of the text indicates what is a refrain.

Looking back on Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s remarkable life’s journey, which began in the Church Slavonic milieu of traditional emigre parishes, and witnessed the change to English amidst missions established in America's ever-shifting demographic landscape, one sees an ongoing and crucial link between his activities as a pastor and as a liturgical musician. In his very own experience he embodied the Church's ancient tradition of clergy coming up through the lesser clerical ranks of liturgical singers, psalomshchiki, and choir directors. As a musically experienced priest, equally at home on the kliros or choir loft and in the altar, his celebration of the Liturgy takes on a particularly lofty and elevated character of verbal utterance.

An astute student of music, liturgy, and culture, Fr. Sergei believes that the Church needs to transform the culture around it or risk being either absorbed or marginalized by it. Ultimately, he sees great promise in the fact that the great Russian Orthodox sacred choral tradition, in which he grew up, is now coming back. Now it is the non-Orthodox concert choirs and audiences that are rediscovering the Russian choral tradition; eventually, he sees this great sacred music as a cultural activity in which Orthodox people can participate, for the spiritual benefit of those who sing and of those who come to listen. Just as the Church once used to be the place where people went to be absorbed in Orthodox culture, from Fr. Sergei Glagolev's unique perspective as a pastor and musician, this can and will happen once again. — Vladimir Morosan
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Works recorded by Archangel Voices: