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Cigar Incensed Night to Support Byzantine Choir
People, from the depths of antiquity to the depthlessness of today’s stale ceremonialism, have used incense to honor the Divine. Those of us who still smoke cigars – despite the onslaught of terrorism regarding the consequences to our health (then how come most doctors that I know smoke?), the Fascist-like prohibitions (not even in public parks for which we pay taxes we aren’t allowed to smoke), and the “socialist” kind of taxation that has again made the product for the rich and infamous only – those of us who still smoke cigars are the true believers and we can claim direct connection to the most ancient of traditions– since smoking is our way to offer incense and please the gods!
As if making the point, some good people held a Cigar Smoke Fundraiser not too long ago at Trattoria 35 in Bayside, New York, to support the upcoming trip to Constantinople of the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir. The group traveled there for the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle, founder of the Church of Constantinople. The presentation of Sacred Byzantine Music took place at the Church of Haghia Irini, the only one never to have been converted to a mosque, and the site of the 2nd Ecumenical Council where the Creed was decided on. Over 400 people attended the historic concert, among them Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Demetrios of America, and numerous leaders from the City of Constantinople.
At the Cigar Smoke Fundraiser a different kind of mystagogy took place, with the ceremonial lighting of cigars, after they were sampled for smoothness and were carefully cut, the admiration of the ones that were to be auctioned, the open-hearted laughs and jokes that only among cigar friends one can find, and the sense of …sacrifice (!) as most of the smoking had to be done on the open roof top, during one of the first freezing nights of this season. But the cause was great, the cigars, allow me to say, even greater, and the sense of camaraderie well rooted, so with the help of hearty food and mellifluous liquor we managed to overcome and help the Choir come up with the trip’s expenses.
Shortly after the formation of the Archdiocesan School of Music in October 2010, Archbishop Demetrios of America expressed a desire for the formation of a choir to promote the rich Byzantine musical heritage of the Orthodox Church. The Archbishop’s vision became a reality with the help of Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos who observed the musical talent of chanters in the Direct Archdiocesan District and established the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir in December 2010 as a ministry of the Archdiocese.
The talented members of the choir consist of Greek American clergy and young men whose ages range from 16 to 40. The majority of the choir members are established head-chanters (protopsaltes). All members of the choir have had formal training in Byzantine Music, while some have even received advanced degrees in Byzantine Music from conservatories in Athens and Thessaloniki.
Since 2010, the choir has grown significantly in reputation, becoming a premier Byzantine Music entity in the New York Metropolitan area as well as among Greek American communities. The choir’s goals are to provide a positive social setting based on the Orthodox Faith, to help the members of the choir achieve excellence in musical performance, and to provide them with the rewards of participation in the choral arts.
Since its inception, the choir has been directed by Demetrios Kehagias. Born in Queens NY, Mr. Kehagias began studying Byzantine Music at the age of 14 under the tutelage of Archon Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Mr. Nikolaos Steliaros. Among his top students in musical theory and application, Mr. Kehagias advanced swiftly and at age 20 obtained the Certificate of Chant with highest distinction from the National Conservatory of Athens.
For more info on choir you can go, as I did, to http://www.asbm.goarch.org/choir/