Lyrica Sacra: a renaissance in Anabaptist musical life

By on April 4, 2018

 

The musical traditions of the conservative Anabaptist Christian churches are focused on four-part, acappella singing. Children are taught hymns early and master four-part harmony in their teens.

For this community, musical instruments might be played in the home, if at all. New Holland’s Yuriy Kravets, an immigrant from the Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, is working to incorporate the use of instruments in ways similar to other Christian worship — something new for Conservative Anabaptists.

“More assimilated Anabaptists, some Mennonites and Brethren, have used music instruments in Sunday worship for some time,” says Steven Nolt of Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies,

Kravets, a conservative Christian, with old friends and new friends from local churches, has brought together a chorus with string, woodwind, and brass orchestra instruments. The group is called Lyrica Sacra.

Lyrica Sacra’s most recent concerts in 2017 performances drew more than 2,000 spectators. This year, Lyrica Sacra’s free concert will be April 14 and 15 at 7 p.m at the Lancaster Mennonite School, 2176 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster. Admission is free.

Dawn Nolt, (no relation to Steven Nolt) who recently moved to Denver from Ephrata, and sings in the chorus, joined because she loves music and “was moved to tears attending a Lyrica concert, at the awesomeness of God and the power of worship.”

It prompted her to join the group.

Dawn Nolt (center) at Lyrica Sacra’s March choir practice. (Photos by Art Petrosemolo)

Nolt had sung with different small groups and choruses for 20 years, including the Mennonite Heritage Chorale, but Lyrica Sacra provided her first experience singing with an orchestra.

“Lyrica Sacra is opening the door for Anabaptist musician,s giving them an outlet to use their talent in a God-honoring way,” she said.

Retired Ephrata music teacher Galen Reed works closely with Lyrica’s founder. The pair met in 2013 at the Ephrata Christian Fellowship. When Kravets became aware of Reed’s musical background, he asked him to plays string instruments in the orchestra, handle part of the conducting, and to help select the sacred music and hymns that were appropriate to conservative Christian churches.

In August 2014, some 20 Lyrica Sacra singers and 12 musicians, all recruited by Kravets, performed for the first time after less than a half-dozen rehearsals. The program, with a short sermonette, debuted in the old Moyer building in Ephrata. Not knowing how many people to expect, Kravets and Reed prepared just small, printed programs with hymn titles. They hoped a few dozen friends and church members would attend.

To their surprise, the concert attracted an audience far beyond their imagination — around 600 people.

“We were overwhelmed,” Kravets says. “We didn’t even plan for ushers to help seat the audience, as we never thought we would need them.”

Retired Ephrata High School music teacher Galen Reed (left) and Lyrica Sacra founder Yuriy Kravets.

The group learned quickly that their music in praise of God had touched music lovers of all Christian denominations.

“Musical instruments were part of Old Testament scripture with the first reference when David organized an orchestra (1 Chronicles 15:16) to ‘raise sounds of joy’ when the Levites brought the Arc to Jerusalem,” says Reed.

He went on to explain that there is no reference to musical instruments in the New Testament and members of conservative Anabaptist churches did not include instrument accompaniment to hymns in services.

For Lyrica Sacra’s upcoming April event, the repertoire will include well known hymns and music from classical composers like Handel and Brahms, including the hymns “Majesty and Glory,” “Deep River,” “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place,” “Before The Throne of God Above,” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” as well as selections from Handel’s Messiah. The concerts remain open to the public without an admission charge, although donations are accepted.

Although Kravets would like to expand Lyrica Sacra’s outreach, the logistics make it difficult. The group now includes 110 members, with 80 in the chorus and 30 musicians, and there are few stages in Lancaster County that can accommodate the full group. Also, some members live two hours or more away from rehearsals and concerts, and others come from out of state. If Lyrica performs at retirement communities or other venues, they do so with a smaller group.

Laura Conley of Mount Joy joined Lyrica a year ago. She loves to sing and had friends who were in the chorus.

Laura Conley (center) of Mount Joy listens intently to the director at a recent practice.

“I get a thrill singing the music’s worthy words with a large group of great singers and sharing it with an appreciative audience,” she says.

Conley, like her colleagues, sees a higher purpose in the group’s music.

“It testifies to God’s love, power and mercy in creating and sustaining our world,” she added. “Lyrica is a place where the like-minded musical lovers can share their talents in creating beautiful music that reflects and honors God.”

Yuriy Kravets conducts the orchestra at Lyrica Sacra’s March rehearsal.

 

The Kravets brothers began their musical instrument journey in 1998 when they learned to play recorders — small, woodwind instruments with a whistle mouthpiece and finger holes. Encouraged by their father, who Yuriy calls a visionary, and the fact that musical instruments were a strong part of their Slavic tradition, the brothers have gone on to become proficient with multiple instruments. Kravets plays the trumpet in the Lyrica orchestra when not conducting.

Music had always been important to the Kravets family, but as a hobby.“It may have been a hobby, but an important one, and a focus of our dad who made sure his active and boisterous boys, were practicing and not playing Little League baseball,” says Lyrica’s founder.

There are six Kravets boys, five of whom are the backbone of Lyrica Sacra’s string and brass sections. The sixth brother helps in production and is their videographer. The brothers also play together in a brass quintet and a string quartet, both of which are standard combinations.

Lyrica Sacra’s music has been described by some as a renaissance in bringing the use of musical instruments to worship in sacred concerts in Lancaster County. Kravets believes it wasn’t an accident that he met Reed and other musically-inclined members of the conservative Anabaptist community.

“I am happy we are able to honor God with our music,” he says, “and yes, I believe, with his help, the musical ministry will expand in the years ahead.”

To learn more about Lyrica Sacra and watch videos of previous concerts, visit lyricasacra.com.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

 

 


 

The Kravets brothers are (left to right) David, Segey, Yuriy, Mike, and Vlad.

Getting to Lancaster County

The Kravets family’s immigration to the United States and ultimately Lancaster County is a story in itself. Native Ukrainians, the Kravets, were active in an unregistered Baptist Church, and father, Yuriy Sr., spent almost three years in a Soviet prison for his Christian involvement just before the fall of the Soviet state in 1989.

The family immigrated to the United States in 1995, where Kravets’ dad had a brother in the Philadelphia area. They first spent 12 years in the U.S. living in Delaware County, and in time started regularly visiting conservative Anabaptist churches in Lancaster County.

They returned to the Ukraine in the first years of the new century to minister in their home country. They returned to the United States for good in 2006, and found their way to Lancaster County, living in New Holland, and worshipping in conservative Anabaptist churches.

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