4 February 2012 • On-campus Service
I beseech thee, O Virgin, do thou dispel far from me all of the distress of despair and turbulence in my soul;
for thou, O Bride of God, hast given birth to the Lord Christ,
Who is Prince of Peace, O thou only all-blameless one
—Small Canon to the Mother of God (Paraclesis to the Theotokos)
This past Saturday, our community marked two "firsts" in Three Hierarchs Chapel on our campus. One was the singing of a fresh musical composition, and the other was the premiere of a newly formed musical ensemble. The new composition was a musical setting in Znamenny chant of the "Small Canon to the Mother of God," also known as the Paraclesis to the Theotokos; and the new ensemble was "St. Vladimir's Seminary Chorale," a group that will be performing in the future in concert venues to benefit the seminary, including a concert of sacred music in New York City, slated for May 7th and titled "ORIENT." 
The new music for the Paraclesis was composed by Robert Sirico , who is the founder of the Orthodox Christian Music Project (OCMP), and a private student of our Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music at the seminary, Dr. Nicholas Reeves. 
The service was the culmination of a two-day Master Class on chamber group vocal technique, which was led by Matushka Robin Freeman, who holds a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to years of working with the choirs at St. Vladimir's Seminary, she has conducted church choirs, children's choirs, community choirs, university choirs, opera choruses, and chamber ensembles. Matushka Robin also holds a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance and has studied with singers Marietta Simpson, Gale Fuller, and Susan Brooks. The Master Class she taught for the Paraclesis emphasized the interpretation of Znamenny chant in a variety of choral textures.
Mr. Sirico, after the service, commented, "I had the privilege of being at the Master Class and choir rehearsal led by Matushka Robin Freeman on the previous night before the Paraclesis was offered. I was moved to my core by the amazing talent of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chorale. Heavenly beauty projected through their angelic voices, and I couldn't even imagine how beautiful the actual service would be the next day. When I heard the music in its proper liturgical context, I felt like the psalmist who said, ‘Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense’. What an extraordinary experience it was to hear my music, for which I labored nearly a full year to complete, offered in the full glory of the Paraclesis service! I left deeply edified, and I pray that others were similarly moved. This music is my gift of love to the Theotokos and to her Son’s holy Church.”
The Paraclesis service has a long historical precedent for being sung in times of pestilence. Its use today is still widespread in the Orthodox Christian Church, and it provides many with solace in times of need, through the intercessions of the Mother of God.
"One of the primary goals of this Master Class," noted Dr. Reeves, "was to encourage the use the Paraclesis on a regular basis in the parish or in the home, on behalf of those who are ill.
"Moreover," he continued, "the score of this particular arrangement is malleable, and thus allows for an ensemble of any size to sing the service properly and convincingly. Upon request, the music can be made available for liturgical use."