WILKES-BARRE — Sergey Tupitsyn managed to sound cheerful, enthusiastic and worried, all at the same time, as he thought about the many miles members of the Lyra Vocal Ensemble would have to travel — through New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and even Maine, before they reach Wilkes-Barre for a Sept. 25 concert.
“The storm is coming,” he said one evening last week, after a long day fighting a traffic jam in New York City. “Oh, well, thank God, we are not going to be down south like the Carolinas or Florida. The five of us will sing, if we are all safe and sound.”
The group’s health was understandably on Tupitsyn’s mind because the regular driver had been sick that day and he had to take the wheel.
“I am not bragging about,” he said, speaking in a musical Russian accent. “I do almost everything — manager, driver and I’m also a singer.”
The five touring ensemble singers, representatives of a larger chorus based in St. Petersburg, are scheduled to perform in concert 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Mary of the Assumption Byzantine Catholic Church on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Their music will be a mix of secular folk songs, melodies by classical composers and church hymns sung in the traditional Church Slavonic language.
”It is an old, old language, not used in real life today, except it is used in the church,” Tupitsyn said. “You could compare it to Latin.”
Modestly mentioning once more that he did not want to brag on his own or the group’s behalf, Tupitsyn said, “I share this idea: some pastors in the churches where we sang before have said we do more than all the politicians to bring the world together.”
The Rev. Michael Kerestes, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption, agrees with that sentiment and doesn’t hesitate to describe the group’s sound as “very beautiful, amazing and rich.”
“Everything is a Capella. That is the way the church services are sung in Orthodox and Byzantine churches,” the priest said. “Here we have the singing for singing’s sake. The reason we do not use organs or pianos or other accompaniments is that the tradition says all musical instruments are created by humans and therefore imperfect, but the human voice is created by God.
The concert will be preceded by another opportunity to sample international flavor.
“Father Michael,” as the parishioners call him, will lead a group of church volunteers in preparing a chicken paprikas dinner to be served from 4 to 6 p.m. in the church hall on the day of the concert.
“It was pretty much a standard food at home growing up,” said Kerestes, who grew up in Lansford, south of Hazleton. “It’s a very, very popular dish in Hungarian cuisine. Goulash would be considered the national dish and this would be considered the secondary national dish.”
The menu for the church dinner includes chicken seasoned with paprika and served over homemade noodles with sweet and sour green beans, cucumber salad and desserts. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children younger than 12. (Advance purchase required. Call 570-822-6028.)
If you stay for the concert, a free will offering is requested.
Besides offering a treat for the ears, church volunteer Kathy Hall, of Larksville, said, the concert also will be a chance to admire the church’s icons, which were painted by the church cantor, Ray Mastroberte.
And, of course, it will be a chance to meet some musical ambassadors of goodwill.
What do the members of the Lyra Vocal Ensemble want the people of the United States to know about the people of Russia?
“We are not ‘bad guys’,” Tupitsyn said, using the term hesitantly, as one tends to do with a foreign phrase.
Then, unabashedly, he added, “We love you.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT