5 paradoxes of a society in transition
When it comes to Orthodoxy, many people see it as the symbol of unity and order. Yet, when we connect Orthodoxy, education and music with the transitional society together, we end up with paradoxical situations. Here’s a selection of five contemporary Serbian paradoxes regarding relations between music, education and religion.
1. Who introduces, abolishes or regulates religious education in Serbia? These days there is much discussion on religious education in Serbia. A few months ago, when the current minister of education announced his proposal to reduce religious education in schools, representatives of the religious communities reacted strongly, assessing his view as anachronistic and undemocratic. 15 years ago the subject of religious education was introduced by the, more aetheistically oriented, Prime Minister. Yet, today, the Serbian president is building (and financing) an Orthodox Church on his own property in Bajčetina, amidst considerable talk of the abolishment of the religious education.
2. Is music part of cultural memory? When introducing Religious Education to the school curriculum, the Ministry of Education stressed the importance of religious and cultural identity in relation to the relevance of the subject. Many parents expected that the subject might broaden children’s’ understanding of cultural values. And music is a part of culture, isn't it? Still, there is no mention of music in the official curricula for Orthodox Catechism in the primary school prescribed by the Serbian Ministry of Education. Along these lines, it seems odd that music is absent from the curricula, whereas iconography, architecture, literature and epic poetry are very much present.
3. In 1999, the famous children’s choir, Kolibri (Hummingbird), working under the National Broadcasting Company, introduced sacred music in its' repertoire. The place of religious repertoire as part of childrens' church choirs and music publications resulted in heated debates. These included strong expressions of disapproval regarding the possible religious indoctrination of “innocent children”. This stands in contrast with the sales of Kolibri's CD. The CD features the Divine Liturgy composed by one of the most important Serbian composers, Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac, and arranged by Vojislav Ilić, and was the best-selling CD of “art music” of PGP-RTS, the most important music production house at the time.
The children’s choir Kolibri, during the recording of The Divine Liturgy by Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac in the Vavedenje monastery
Children’s choir Kolibri, Svjati Bože (Holy God), movement from the The Divine Liturgy by Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac
4. Should we compete? We are witnessing the emerging popularity of children's church choirs in Serbia during the last decade. As just one example, more than 70% of Orthodox churches in Belgrade have children's choirs at the moment. Their activities are very diverse, and it is not possible to make generalizations about them. Some choirs sing only as part of religious services, while others are organizing their own concerts, participating in competitions and gaining prizes.
Children’s choir “Vavedenje Presvete Bogorodice” (Presentation of the Holy Theotokos) from Obrenovac, singing at the Festival “Choirs among Frescoes”
Children’s choir Rastko, the rehearsal, St Sava Church in Belgrade
5. “Believing and belonging”. While the trend of “believing without belonging” is rising in many European countries, Serbian sociologists of religion characterize contemporary society in Serbia as “belonging without believing”. But, when it comes to children’s’ church choirs, it’s all about “believing and belonging”. The question is: how is it possible that a society of “belongers and non-believers” nourishes “believers and belongers”? Is this phenomenon inherent to the Eastern Orthodox Christianity that emphasizes openness to the other, in a manner different that is different to Western Christianity?
Associate Professor Dr. Ivana Perković, Faculty of Music, University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia
Associate Professor Dr. Biljana Mandić, Faculty of Philology and Arts, University of Kragujevac, Serbia