Source: The National Herald
NEW YORK. The year 2010 marked the establishment of the men’s Byzantine choir of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which possesses an authentic ecclesiastical character and performs hymns solely in the Greek language. The choir was the initiative of Archbishop Demetrios. It is comprised of young Greek-Americans who possess a mastery of the Greek language and Byzantine music, being cantors at various communities of the Direct Archdiocesan District in New York. The choir is under the care and promotion of Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos.
In speaking with the National Herald, Archdeacon Panteleimon, who has been serving as Archdeacon to Archbishop Demetrios with exemplary faithfulness and dedication for fifteen years, and is himself both vocally gifted and well-versed in Byzantine music, said that “His Eminence, our own Archbishop, is the one who inspired and created the choir.” He underscored that “since we were noticing in our communities various cantors who had mastery of the music, and since I myself have a particular love and zeal for Byzantine music, the Archbishop said, ‘Why don’t we try to organize all these cantors and see what we can accomplish?’ And so I invited some young cantors whom I knew, students of Archon Mousikodidaskalos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Nicholas Steliaros, and these cantors became the nucleus.”
He added that “we have as our choir director Dr. Demetrios Kehagias, who is a native of Astoria, a pharmacist, having completed studies at the Conservatory of Athens earning the distinction of ‘Excellent’ (Arista), a multi-talented individual and chief cantor of Kimisis parish in Brooklyn, NY.”
The choir is comprised of thirty young people. Archdeacon Panteleimon is responsible for coordinating the choir’s appearances and events at places such as: Constantinople, in honor of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Carnegie Hall in NYC, the Archdiocesan Cathedral of Holy Trinity in Manhattan; and most recently on December 12 at the church of St. George in Hartford, Connecticut. They are now preparing for an event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which will be officially announced in the near future.
They meet weekly at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York for rehearsals.
According to Fr. Panteleimon, “The choir is comprised of only men because, as you know, Byzantine music is monophonic and it is difficult to have female voices participate.” He indicated that “an effort is underway to create a female Byzantine choir.”
Fr. Panteleimon has a deep appreciation for Byzantine music. He remarked, “I first heard Byzantine music from my father, who was a ‘practical’ cantor at St. George Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, being originally from Greece (specifically Ptolemaida). But I saw musical scores for the first time with Mr. Photios Ketsetzis during the three years I spent at Holy Cross Theological School, and from the time of my ordination in 2001 until 2013 I was the student of Archon Nicholas Steliaros. We went through all the major books and musical pieces of Byzantine music. He is a great person and teacher.” Fr. Panteleimon had initially studied biology and later studied Theology because, as he shared with us, “from a young age I always wanted to be a priest.”
He was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, but also told us, “I used to spend the summers with my grandmother and grandfather in Ptolemaida, and I have a first-cousin who is a priest who took me to Mount Athos and other religious sites throughout Greece.”
Fr. Panteleimon works as closely with Archbishop Demetrios as anyone has. When we asked him what kind of person the Archbishop is, he replied, “He is a man who teaches by his example. I have been by his side for fifteen years and I never once heard him raise his voice. He has never scolded me. I have never seen him lose his composure—not that he is indifferent, but that nothing disrupts his peace which is derived from his faith in God.”
When we asked him how the Greek-Americans react when they hear the choir chanting—and only in Greek—he said, “They tell us that it’s excellent; all the people are enthused by the power of the music.”
Alongside the choir is the Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music, which is housed at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Archdeacon Panteleimon told us, “the school was founded by Archbishop Demetrios and basically began in September of 2010. From there came the idea of having the choir. Thus, as the young people from the music school advance, they participate in the choir as well.” He also added, “We are at present offering lessons via Skype to five young people from different parts of the U.S., such as California, the Midwest, and Florida.”
Thirty students are currently studying at the school and pay a tuition of $500 per year. They are taught by Antonios Kehagias, Athanasios Minetos, and Fr. Panteleimon, who is also the school’s director. The lessons take place all day on Saturdays, and Kehagias also offers weekday lessons at the Cultural Center of Astoria.