Of all the instruments God created – the human voice is the greatest of them all.
Video footage – Monastery Ravanica – Orthodox Church – The Ascension of Our Lord Church – May 2007. This is a wonderful, peaceful holy place, more than 6 centuries old.
Translation from the Greek to English
It is truly right to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.
Without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify thee.
Kyrie Eleison… Lord have mercy.
No other instrument offers such clarity, depth, and uncompromising authenticity as the human voice. It cannot hide behind anyone or anything, it stands as it is, with all of its beauty and imperfections, but when a multitude of voices come together, that which is never perfect alone, now can reach the heights of perfection in community – always in community. Melody, harmony, unity… beauty. The voice of the Church ceaselessly honors Him who formed and fashioned the vocal chords in every one of us, and we sing today with voices from the ages, we join in the ancient song of Church, in the continuity of praise, joining even the Cherubic and Seraphic songs of Paradise, yet all the while toiling here on earth. A miracle.
But now, as in all times, God especially blesses certain singers with an extraordinary blessing. Men and women who have the “gift of angels” and continue the tradition of sacred song and singing in the Church reminding and teaching new generations who may have forgotten, or never knew, the ways of the past. We have inherited over two millenia of sacred singing, and now in these days, there is a hunger and a longing again, amidst the shallowness of some contemporary music, for the richness and depth of this sacred tradition. The simplicity. The beauty. The richness and theological depth of music and vocal song that needs no accompaniment or electric amplification to make it sound “better”. Orthodoxy is blest with this rich tradition, and today, one of the greatest voices teaching the Tradition of sacred song to thousands of emerging generations, and to the secular venues of a post Christian Europe is Divna Ljubojevic.
Her desire is to preserve, and extend the tradition. This virtuous passion of hers, and others like her, (Cappella Romana, Boston Byzantine Choir) captures the desire for things that last beyond the fad of this year, or even last year. These are the reasons why there is such a surge in our time for music that transcends time, space and momentary fads: (i.e. cultural relevancy). It has been said that Divna has the “voice of an angel“, and yet she claims no such title for herself. She only knows that it was in an Orthodox monastery, singing with the Mothers and sisters, who taught her this angelic form of worship as a child – that she found her soul, and her calling.
Glory to God for the sacred song of the church. We pray that others in our time will discover what rightfully belongs to all of us, and yet so very few today even know exists. In our singing, and in our preservation of the ancient song handed down to us, may we in turn, pass this beauty to our children, and to their children – for I fear their world may be sorely in need of this beauty, truth and glory in a world that continues to journey down the road of division and devastation.
Here is wonderful interview with Divna:
What can urge young people to turn towards sacred singing?
Their spiritual state! It is always your spiritual state which determines everything. Within our being, it is the soul which searches, asks for something and finally makes the ultimate choice. In other words, we might speak of ‘a sense of belonging’. Concerning sacred singing, this decision can only be made at a time when the being is still receptive, innocent, unshaped, unsoiled. And it is when you keep such a disposition that you can go on singing this repertoire all your life long, till the end.
In your case, how did it occur?
Exactly as I’ve just told you. At the time when my soul was still searching for its identity, I went to the monastery of the Presentation, I heard Mother Agniya and the sisters; they sang divinely and – there it was, I was caught!
What is the link between melody, God’s share in art and your own talent?
Everything is intertwined. Melody can be the mediator between the human and the Divine, and even indeed the very link with the Divine. As for talent, what artist has time to think about his own talent before years and years of maturity? Talent is a glance God casts on the being, and as such a happy occasion for the one who is granted it as it enables him a relationship worthy of God.
How can you be dedicated to something so sublime and solemn at a time of chaos and speed?
Each time has its own chaos! The relationship between Chaos and Time can be compared with the one between an adolescent in puberty (man) and a Father (God). Today’s chaos is precisely this ‘immoderate speed’ which gets you nowhere, since it is apparent and doesn’t exist in time. It is akin to mass blindness, caused, I think, by this dust lifted by high-speed. And since this rush has to be justified, new values have been invented, just as you cut and put flowers in a vase, flowers without roots. All this is vain since, much before those false values, there has been God’s Truth on man. It is since then that the ‘branch’ on which man may be picked up has been growing. This is the reason why I find it so simple and natural to devote myself to this kind of music, which is sublime – since it comes from God- and solemn – since life is indeed a celebration.
What can you tell us about your experience as a choirmaster in Paris?
The beginning of my professional commitment in Paris is linked to the creation of the choir of the Serbian church Saint Sava, whose members at the time were exclusively Serbs. I worked with them for several weeks to form the choir who sings during liturgies. It was both a professional experience I’ve already had but also something new because those singers were born in France or else had lived there for so long that they had actually become French. I started working with foreigners in 1998. Since 2002, I’ve opened work-groups in Paris and London and another is to be opened in the Netherlands shortly.
How do these varied audiences react to your work, to what they hear?
They are the best evidence that sacred music and working on this music brings man upwards. This is what I experienced thanks to my work as a choirmaster as well as thanks to the concerts, in France, England and Germany. I think it will always be this way wherever I sing and work.
Except from the singing lessons themselves, is there a theological history about the metaphysical foundation of singing?
Since the beginning, singing is intricately linked to a ‘theological history’, thus it has indeed metaphysical foundations. Whatever form it takes, singing has existed since the time of the Apostles and represents the angelic songs addressed to God. Does a greater metaphysical and theological foundation exist? This can easily be felt through the text that carries the melody or that is carried by it.
What do you think of the current trends of ethnic or world music?
There is such a wide range of it that it gives you headache! We have entered a dangerous zone where one’s reason to sing is no longer education but personal glory and profit. Still, this music is very popular, which shows how depersonalisation has taken pride of place. Fortunately, fashions are always short-lived, and few and far between are those experiencing a long-lasting success.
Why do you insist on authenticity?
Well, you know, authenticity is a constant requirement which demands continuous improvement. Mixing ‘my sound’ with modern or electronic expressions is only acceptable within the boundaries of good taste.