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Russians Still Love Traditional Church Music

Classical Music is Holding its Own

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Moscow’s “Logos” institute and choir are proof

 

Report

 

M o s c o w -- In Russian Baptist circles, worship teams and Christian pop have not yet dispatched mixed choirs and string quartets into oblivion. Evgeny Semyonovich Goncharenko, the 59-year-old Director and founder of the “Logos” music ministry assures: “I think Russia will be taking a different route. We have another church culture and the influence of the Orthodox is great. We will be fighting for the preservation of our hymns, choirs and orchestras.” Charismatics (not Pentecostals) are known, even in Russia, for their nearly total rejection of traditional church music. Yet Goncharenko enjoys reporting on a 1.000-member Charismatic congregation in Yaroslavl which delegated one of its most gifted students to study at Logos. “She was then our very best student, and now they have a choir!”

 

On 21 November, Logos and its “Institute for Sacred Music” held a working conference at their home base in Moscow’s “Second Baptist Church” celebrating the 30th anniversary of their founding. Former students and lecturers arrived from throughout the one-time Soviet Union to reminisce and report on the latest musical developments. The 23rd graduating class was handed its diplomas. Logos conferences were also held during 2009 in Samara, Nizhny Novgorod and St. Petersburg.

 

In addition to its studies programme, Logos also has two choirs, one of which is a youth choir. On 28 November (Mothers’ Day), one of the choirs held a festive concert for 350 listeners in Kubinka west of Moscow. The event was sponsored by the city government and many army officers attended. The conditions and results were par-for-the-course for present-day Russia. The Director reports: “The city fathers begged us not to utter the word ‘Baptist’, so we performed in the name of a Christian cultural centre called ‘Logos’. All were delighted by the concert.” Afterward, the city hosts apologised for their timidity: “And to imagine that we had been frightened!”

 

The Logos choir has also sung frequently beyond the borders of Russia. They performed at the Baptist “Amsterdam 400” festivities this past August and have visited Holland, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Finland and Estonia multiple times. Three trips were made to Great Britain. But the most memorable event was a euphoric, whirlwind tour through the U.S. in 1990 involving 43 appearances in 28 days.

 

But that fun is paired with hard work. Logos’ educational programme consists of study-by-extension coupled with three two-week study sessions per year. The programme lasts for four years and usually ends with a Baccalaureate degree. A full palate of theoretical disciplines is offered along with composition, choir and orchestra directing, solo performance, piano improvisation and church drama. Classical guitar was added recently and violin courses are to appear when the next session begins in March.

 

Seven or eight core, part-time professors and lecturers are presently involved, some of whom are long-term, professional instructors at state-run institutions. In view of the modest honoraries, their service for Logos can only be described as a labour of love above-and-beyond the call of duty. Its institute has strong contact with state-run conservatories and finds itself presently in the midst of the marathon process of obtaining state accreditation. Many graduates work as professional teachers in secular schools – Russian Baptists are still without any full-time ministers of music. A degree from Logos is usually regarded as “icing on the cake” in addition to other, nationally-recognised music degrees.

 

Students from throughout Russia and the Central Asian republics attend the Moscow courses, but Logos supports branches of its institute in Prokhladny (Northern Caucasus), Krasnodar, Novosibirsk and Almaty (Kazakhstan). Goncharenko’s son Timofey heads the branch in Omsk. Small music schools opened by ethnic-German, Mennonite immigrants from Russia in the region of Bielefeld in Western Germany could be regarded as inofficial branches. Much initial work was done among Mennonites and Pentecostals. Evgeny Goncharenko, the son of a preacher, grew up in Frunze (now Bishkek/Kyrgystan) and studied in Almaty, locations at which thousands of Mennonites had then resided.

 

In Moscow alone, roughly 400 students have graduated from the Logos Institute. Including its Russian branches, that number increases to 500. Yet Logos cares about more than just music. Courses on the Bible and on music-related issues of theology are required of all students. Though professors such as Mikhail Ivanov of the Baptist “Moscow Theological Seminary” have taught at Logos, no official relationship exists with any seminary. The Baptist Boris Berezhnoi (Moscow) taught for Logos during the 1980s until creating his own music group, the folk ensemble “Blagovestie” (Proclamation), in 1990. (See our release #51 from 28.11.2007.)

 

Logos is also a publishing house and besides publishing its magazine, sheet music and literature on musical topics, it also produces books on general church issues. It has held a conference on Ivan Prokhanov (1869-1935) and recently published books on him and other founders of the Russian Baptist movement. One strong supporter of Logos’ publishing work was the Mennonite Clyde Weaver from Pennsylvania/USA, who died in 1995. Today, the historian Vladimir Popov is particularly active in Logos’ theological ministry. The “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) itself runs no publishing house.

 

Logos’ musical interests have resulted in strong ties to members of the Russian intelligentsia. A Wednesday evening Bible class has offered them an opportunity to become acquainted with Baptists. One long-time Logos music instructor is an Orthodox believer, another is a Roman Catholic.

 

The Beginnings

The musical work of Evgeny Goncharenko initially needed to be clandestine. Secret training sessions were held in places such as Odessa, Kiev and Tashkent. But Union support for his efforts increased and, after an appeal to the Soviet Council for Religious Affairs, permission was granted to become an official entity for musical training in 1979 and the first official workshop was held. Logos began with courses by extension, just as the Union’s theological training had begun 12 years previously. But government resistance continued. The Director describes their argument as: "We have public schools. Go there and study.” Yet confessing Christians were rarely accepted.

 

Goncharenko moved to Moscow in the late 70s. Logos’ first Western contact of significant was made in 1985 with Ron and Patricia Owens, musical missionaries then serving with the Southern Baptist “Foreign Mission Board”. Owens, who are now retired and living in Arkansas, taught at Logos. Some of their songs and drama have been translated, are utilised by Logos and appear on the CDs produced by its choirs.

 

The Logos Director describes the interchange with students and fellow instructors as the most enjoyable aspect of his work. He states: “The days fly by when we gather for sessions of instruction.” Logos is very much the life-long project of Evgeny and his wife Ludmilla. They cannot imagine their lives without this ministry.

 

Logos’ greatest problem involves the never-ending search for funding. Goncharenko reports that only 40% of the funds needed for the teaching programme are gathered through study fees; the RUECB itself does not supply funding. Western sources have been a vital aid in the past. Yet Logos is not involved in church planting, which is priority number one for most Western missions. “Our next teaching session begins in March,” the Director reports with a smile, “but I do not yet know where the money will be coming from.”

 

Despite the dearth in students from outside Russia proper caused by the disappearance of the Soviet Union, no shortage of interested students is apparent. “We already have 15 applications for March, and we have not even sent out invitations to the congregations,” Goncharenko reports. The maximum number possible is around 40. A certain percentage does drop out in time, he admits, for the Institute does not intend to lower its high standards of instruction. Both of the couple’s adult sons, Timofey and Kirill, are heavily involved in the musical work of Logos. The worship group phenomena may pose a certain threat, but the ministry of Logos appears far from over.

 

Logos has a Russian-language webpage: “www.center-logos.ru”. Caution: YouTube features both this choir as well as an Orthodox one by the same name.

 

William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Moscow, 07 December 2009

 

A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #09-38, 1.320 words, 8.489 keystrokes and spaces.