The choir of Holy Trinity adorns the services of the Cathedral with prayerful voices and is led by our choir director, Matushka Sophia Sokolov. We meet downstairs before the Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning at 8:45 to rehearse. Longer rehearsal sessions are scheduled throughout the year. If you are interested in this deeply meaningful ministry of sacred song, please speak with Matushka.
The Choir Directors of Holy Trinity Cathedral
Orthodox Liturgy is sight and sound. The iconography, clerical vestments and liturgical movement comprise the visual element; the choir — the audible element. Together they ideally form a harmony of sight and sound that edifies and inspires those in attendance to prayer.
Holy Trinity Cathedral has seen many choir directors in the last 150 years beginning with the Reader Vasily Shishkin, who arrived in March of 1868 along with Father Nicholas Kovrigin and assisted him at Paschal services at the home of one Mr. Sekulovich on Mission Street. Documentation of parish history in the 19th century is rather sketchy, but it may be assumed that readers or even deacons served at times as cantors or choir directors. Some information may be gleaned from local newspapers, which in that quieter time often reported events which would be considered of minor interest today. In December of 1870 Bishop Ioann and Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky arrived in San Francisco with a “full choir” according to the San Francisco Bulletin. In 1879 a note from Archpriest Vladimir Vechtomov to “the gentlemen singers” encouraged rehearsal for the arrival of Bishop Nestor. In 1881, when the parish finally moved to the Powell Street location, Ivan Randle (“a Czech”) held the position of choir director and trained 8 boys to join several older gentlemen in a choir consisting of 1st and 2nd altos and a “light” baritone at Saturday Vigil and Sunday Liturgy. In 1888 the newly arrived Bishop Vladimir introduced the use of English at services and appointed the Hierodeacon Nicholas to execute the duties of choir director and voice instructor “with zeal and willing obedience.” In 1896 the San Francisco Call, describing the Orthodox celebration of Christmas at Holy Trinity Cathedral in great detail, noted that the choir was directed by Pyotr Ignatievich Popov and included the names of the individual choristers.
A list of Cathedral Choir Directors appears in the 75th Anniversary commemorative booklet, unfortunately without dates: V.F. Grivsky, P.P. Zaichenko, Mr. Kapustin, F.V. Kostin, V.V. Ryabkov, K.G. Zobnin, A.A. Vdovin, A.M. Pyankov, K.R. Kotovsky, K.M. Ivanov, S.M. Noskov, E.N. Novak.
From that same booklet, we learn that it was F.V. Kostin who was enlisted by Archpriest Vladimir Sakovich in the 1920s to help with keeping the Cathedral from being repossessed. Mr. Kostin gathered a choir and arranged benefit concerts in churches and auditoriums “everywhere.”
By far, the most renowned choir director of Holy Trinity Cathedral was Ivan Andreyevich Kolchin (1893-1967), who directed the Cathedral Choir from 1940 to 1962. At the same time he founded a Russian male chorus, giving concerts throughout California. Mr. Kolchin was trained in Russia and highly regarded as an excellent musician whose choir was capable of “leading one into the world of the spirit and revealing the beauty of the heavenly church,” also according to the above-mentioned booklet.
Mr. Kolchin’s successor, Pyotr Filippovich Raspopoff (1906-1991), who had recently emigrated from Harbin, China, and whose entire life had been devoted to the Church became Holy Trinity’s choir director in 1962 and served until he retired in 1989. Mr. Raspopoff’s father, the Rev. Philip Raspopoff was murdered by Bolshevik partisans and is now numbered among the new-martyrs of Russia.
With the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the subsequent arrival of many Russian émigrés in San Francisco, Holy Trinity Cathedral became a Russian Parish, but in the 1950s and 60s there arose a need to serve Americans in the local language. In 1955 the Russo-American Orthodox Messenger reported that for the first time on February 22 Divine Liturgy was celebrated entirely in English with a choir directed by Mr. Nicholas Mikhailov. From this modest beginning, Saint Innocent’s church was established in the ground floor of the Cathedral with Mr. Mikhailov becoming its first choir director. Subsequent directors of the “English Choir” included Rose Yevich, (now Archpriest) John Erickson, and Thomas Drain. St. Innocent’s was relatively short-lived, and eventually, the American congregation joined the Russian congregation in the upper church. Services were in both Slavonic and English and celebrated on both the old and new calendars. Robert (Reader Stephen) Parent (b. 1943), began conducting the “English Choir” in 1977. With Mr. Raspopoff’s retirement in 1989, Slavonic and the old calendar were eventually abandoned, and services began to be conducted entirely in English.
During their Spring Session in 2020, the Holy Synod of Bishops awarded the Order of Saint Romanos to Reader Stephen. Established by the Holy Synod of Bishops at its Spring 2014 session, the Order is awarded to influential arrangers, composers, teachers, and conductors in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to the field of liturgical music in the Orthodox Church in America. The bishops only award one or two of these a year. After 47 years of distinguished service, Reader Stephen (or “Bob” as he is affectionately known) was honored by the Archbishop, clergy, and Cathedral Community on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2023, as he concluded his ministry as Choir Director. He will continue to serve as Church Reader in the Cathedral Parish he loves.
In June 2023, His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin appointed Matushka Sophia as Choir Director of Holy Trinity Cathedral. She is the first woman to lead the Cathedral choir.
Today the choir at Holy Trinity Cathedral is a group of singers, well versed in the requirements of Orthodox liturgy and keenly devoted to serving the Church by providing a spiritually uplifting auditory experience.