Home Church & Religion Newly Installed Choir Federation President Tsourakis Shares Challenges and Vision

Newly Installed Choir Federation President Tsourakis Shares Challenges and Vision

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – By Sophia A. Niarchos

                Photos: GANP/Dimitrios Panagos

Over the last two years, the pandemic has had quite an impact on church choirs in the Direct Archdiocesan District (DAD) due to strict distancing and masking requirements called for in the unique setting of choral singing that many choirs were unable to fulfill. So after the DAD Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians (DAD-FGOCM) gathered on January 22, its newly installed president Costas Tsourakis spoke with GreekNewsUSA about his plans to reinvigorate choral participation throughout the area.

“The pandemic has put a damper on choirs’ participation for two years”, explained Tsourakis, who is also the Director of Music at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, “and it will be a struggle to get people singing together again due to fear of the virus and their having fallen out of practice”.

To overcome the challenges caused by COVID-19 and guidelines established nationwide by a variety of music associations during the thick of the pandemic as well as dramatically increase the number of Federation senior choirs, which is now at about 15 and has the potential to increase to 60, he intends to hold monthly symposia to get choir members together more often “to sing the music of archdiocesan composers”,  especially now that six-foot distancing is no longer required.  He firmly believes this will “enhance the liturgy and create fellowship”. There is, he said, a need for “more collaboration among choirs and among choirs and chanters”.

One of his top priorities is advocating for and instituting youth choirs where they do not exist.

As members of youth choirs, Tsourakis noted, “Our children are not only able to participate in singing the liturgy, but they also learn the faith by learning the hymns of the church”. He applauded his predecessor Anna Dounelis, Federation president for more than a decade, for establishing the first youth choir liaison position on the Board.

Tsourakis was heartened by Archbishop Elpidophoros’ comments at the January 22 meeting, which indicate His Eminence’s appreciation of the Federation’s ministry; and he also recalled the positive impact on choirs of Archbishop Iakovos, who was  “a catalyst to get a grant from the Onassis Foundation for a Rodgers organ, [as] he saw the value of enhancing the choral tradition”, which has existed in Orthodox parishes in the U.S. for 100 years.

“There is definitely a future for four-part choirs with an organ”, he adds, “and four-part harmonies can be beautiful when they are done right”.

Tsourakis also addressed another aspect of musical expression during divine services; namely, that of creating an atmosphere that encourages congregational singing. The National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians had issued a statement validating the importance of this in 1985 and reviewed it in 2015, providing guidelines and offering resources for its effective implementation. Asked whether it is possible for choirs and congregations to learn all eight modes of Byzantine music, Tsourakis asserted, “This is more achievable in the choral tradition than in chant, and we want to get the people in the congregation excited to participate. I believe the choir should lead and the congregation can join us”.

Established in 1983, the DAD-FGOCM has encouraged the development of music to enhance the worship experience in the archdiocese through its professional lectures, workshops, and an annual conference, which culminates in choir members throughout the district joining together to lead worship at the conference’s Sunday Divine Liturgy in November. In 2014, the Federation established the Demetrios Pappas Educational Scholarship for the study of music in the name of the New York City area musician, composer, and conductor.