A Strong Voice

The church may be in its infancy, but its choirs are robust.

“This Russian choir first performed at our Living Nativity last year and just knocked everybody down, they were so good,” said Billie Arnold, pastor of Federal Way’s Church at Palisades.

“Very professional sound, classical high church, clean, powerful, moving. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Arnold is referring to a choir formed from the membership of the First Russian Baptist Church of Federal Way, a 3-year-old church that’s holding its services at the facilities of the Nine Lakes Baptist Church. Although the church is small, with about 120 members, it contains four separate choirs and an orchestra.

“Almost all the members of the church come from one city in Russia — Bryansk — south of Moscow, and most of us are related in one way or another as well,” said Oleg Lisitsyn, the choirs’ facilitator and primary English-speaking contact. “My immediate family was one of the first one here from Bryansk. I arrived when I was 10, and since I was learning English in school, I became the translator as the group continued to grow.”

The best-known choirs from the church are the adult men’s choir, which has 30 performers, and the youth choir, which has 25 performers. Both have started singing at various locations in the area.

The adults sing traditional Baptist hymns in Russian, and the youths alternate between Russian and English versions.

“I’ve attended two of the youth choir’s performances at the Dupont Community Presbyterian Church, and they were awe-inspiring performances,” local resident Kim Pyburn said. “They sound twice as big as they are; they have a way about them that makes you sit back and listen, and they’re a cute bunch of kids.”

There’s also a children’s choir that has 30 to 40 members and a full choir, composed of members from the men’s and youth choirs.

The church’s orchestra features nine pieces. Members play the domra and the balalayka, as well as a bass guitar, a piano and an accordion-like instrument.

The church also retains ties to its homeland.

Arnold has gone on several church missions into Russia in the past few years, and is helping to organize a growing church summer camp program in that country.

“There was a lot that was wrong with the Soviet system, but one thing they did right was to stress musical education. There’s a very strong musical tradition, and an enormous number of excellent musicians,” Arnold said.

Lisitsyn said there were special music schools in Russia, and anyone who wanted to attend them could. They were conducted after the regular school day, and students could attend for up to seven years.

“It was a pretty good education,” Lisitsyn said.

Here, the church members hope to use their music backgrounds to bring inspiration to the community.

“By our music,” Lisitsyn said, “we hope to inspire other people to use the talents that God has given all of us.”

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