Women in the Byzantine music – Exclusive interview with presbytera Paula Cautis, conductor of Filomelos choir

For almost 13 years, Filomelos Byzantine Women’s choir from Borzeşti has occupied a special place in the hearts of Byzantine music lovers.

Presbytera Paula Cautiş, the conductor of the Byzantine choir, told the story of the Filomelos Choir in an interview with Basilica.ro. How it all started? How they overcame obstacles? But also, what are their plans for the future? These are only some of the questions that the presbytera accepted to answer in this exclusive interview.

The Filomelos Choir is coordinated, together with presbytera Paula, by her husband, Father Petrică Cautiș.

Basilica.ro: First, tell us how the story of Filomelos began. Why was this name chosen?

Paula Cautiş: Filomelos is a great gift from God, and its story began unexpectedly. In 2006-2007, my husband, Father Petrică, a professor at the “Dimitrie Cantemir” National College in Onești, organized a small choir, where by chance there were more girls than boys. At one point he called me to help him rehearse for Christmas carols, where I noticed that young people catch on to me much faster and since then I have remained a conductor and a special relationship quickly developed.

In the summer of that year, we organized a trip together in Maramures and the next day after we returned we woke up with a group of some girls at the door asking us to teach them the Divine Liturgy and so began the rehearsals at home, in the dining room.

The Mother of God is our patron Saint and the true conductor and manager of the Filomelos choir.

– Paula Cautiş

We started to work so that we could sing in the most distant churches, where only the priest arrives, in the most neglected parishes and isolated localities. On August 15, 2007, we chanted the first Divine Liturgy with Filomelos, so we believe that the Mother of God is our Patron Saint and the true conductor and manager of the choir.

Launch of first Filomelos CD. Photo: Filomelos

About the name, there is a more exciting thing. Seeing that everything became much more serious, we went to the Diocese of Roman and Bacău and His Eminence Ioachim,  who was an assistant bishop at that time, asked us to write the name of the choir we want to set up.

I stayed with the Father under the bell tower of the Roman Diocese ( now an Archdiocese), and this name simply came to mind: Filo – melos (lovers of music).

Basilica.ro: In what fields do the members of the Byzantine choir work? We know that young women come from secular backgrounds.

Paula Cautiş: At the moment, many of the choir members are pupils and students. But we also have older members who work in various fields: pharmacy, public administration, education.

I think that at the moment most of the girls are at the Faculty of Medicine, then the Faculty of Letters, the Academy of Economic Studies.

Basilica.ro: Please tell us a moment with an emotional impact in which the Filomelos Choir was involved.

Paula Cautiş: We participated in many charitable actions and concerts. We chanted in nursing homes, in hospitals. Every moment is full of it spiritual load, but the one that stuck in my mind was from the winter of 2018 when we chanted in Bacău at a Divine Liturgy and in the evening we had a concert also in Bacău, but at a different church.

In the meantime, we went to the Bacău Penitentiary to sing carols to the inmates there. The prison’s chaplain had interceded for the female inmates to come to the chapel to listen to our Christmas carols. When we arrived, the chapel was full, and they received us with great joy, listening to us with seriousness. Still, at one point, we realized that they were all crying, with emotion, with joy, and we hardly succeeded to end the performance with an indescribable feeling.

The climax of the moment was at last when we sang with them, through tears, “Oh, what wonderful news.” All those women had relived the atmosphere at home for a few moments around the Feast of the Nativity, no matter what they had ever done.

Basilica.ro: Who supported and encouraged you in the activity carried out so far. Who were the “guardian angels”, so to speak?

Paula Cautiş: The first man to whom we are deeply grateful for the support given is His Eminence Archbishop Ioachim. He supported us and continues to support us, both materially and by promoting our activity.

A friend of Filomelos is the Byzantion Academic Choir, and Professor Adrian Sârbu, the conductor of this choir, is our mentor and teacher. Father Alexandru Grigoraș is the one to whom the recording of the three Filomelos CDs is due.

Filomelos at Transilvania Byzantine Music Festival – Braşov. Photo: Filomelos

Others support us materially and morally, either among our parishioners or among those who come to Borzești, being parishioners “by adoption” as we like to say.

Basilica.ro: What do you think are the ingredients that led you to success. The Filomelos Choir gained a reputation.

Paula Cautiş: We don’t know exactly what fame Filomelos gained, we don’t have a lot of feedback, but I think the main ingredient is the work doubled by conscientiousness. We strive to make things as good as possible, and this involves many sacrifices. God helped us, and we moved on, even when things seemed impossible.

It takes a lot of effort, but it also needs availability from the one who wants to learn. It takes patience on the part of one who wants to teach another, temptations are many, but they must be overcome.

I think that I somehow glimpse a defining aspect of our activity, the burning desire not to make artistic compromises, not to abdicate from specific values, to remain devoted to an artistic creed.

Basilica.ro: Did you have moments when you were in the situation of giving up coordinating this choir? How did you overcome them?

Paula Cautiş: There have been many challenging moments in the history of this group, and like anything beautiful and pleasing to God, it is not free from temptations. We hardly support the departure of any member, because we are attached to each of them even if we are aware that they have their future, they have their way.

Over time, Filomelos was comprised of 70 members who worked in the choir, and we always had to start over with people who knew nothing about what we were doing, who needed help in understanding the divine services and the artistic requirements.

Basilica.ro: In what competitions did you participate?

Paula Cautiş: Filomelos has a history of local and county festivals, but we have dedicated ourselves especially to missionary service in the parishes.

In 2014 we participated in the metropolitan stage of the National Contest “Praise the Lord”, in July 2017 at the National Contest “Gavriil Musicescu” in Iasi, in September 2019 we participated in the International Festival “Transylvania Byzantine Music Festival” in Brasov.

Basilica.ro: What are the plans for the future?

Paula Cautiş: As future projects, we want to increase the cultivation and understanding of this music by as broad an audience as possible. We want to grow in the prayer chanted at the chant stand, during the divine services.

We want new members who love prayer and want to learn this music that requires quite a lot of effort since it is a type of very refined music with some elements of finesse that are discovered in many years of study.

Young members of Filomelos Byzantine Choir singing Christmas carols to His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel in December 2019. Photo: Lumina Newspaper / Mihnea Păduraru

Basilica.ro: Where can Byzantine music lovers listen to you?

Paula Cautiş: The Filomelos Byzantine choir has posted hymns on its Youtube channel, although there are few, and there are still the hymns on our three CDs. In 2017 we recorded the first CD with “The Supplicatory Canon of Ruler Prince Saint Stephen the Great.” Also in the same year, we released our carols album.

In 2018, we developed the project “Byzantine music from the Small to the Great Union” in which we recorded a CD with Byzantine hymns composed during the two Unions, a CD that we distributed for free in 2,000 copies.

Concert honouring Romania’s Great Union. Photo: Filomelos

All three CDs were artistically coordinated by Father Alexandru Grigoraș, a member of the “Byzantion” Academic Choir. Since 2013 we offer the liturgical answers at the chant stand of the Princely Church from Borzești.

Basilica.ro: What is your favourite hymn?

Paula Cautiş: It is difficult for me to answer this question; many pieces have stuck to my soul. I think most of all, I like those dedicated to the Mother of God: megalynaria and Theotokia.

We recently uploaded the Glory to the Supplicatory Canon of the Theotokos on Youtube. Another hymn that can be found on the same online platform is the Theotokion in eight tones for the Dormition of the Theotokos by Peter the Lampadarios.

Basilica.ro: How do the members of the group relate to you, their coordinators? Do you involve them in other activities?

Paula Cautiş: Filomelos wants to be a kind of a second family. Filomelos is more than it seems because a particular way of life is reached. Young people are indirectly asked to have a very disciplined life because they cannot handle so many requirements, homework, meditations, rehearsals, trips, concerts.

Filomelos members visiting the home of Cautiş spouses. Photo: Filomelos

We often organize meals together; we cook, we play different games and talk. We want to organize more trips and hikes, and we all find time for that too. We have hosted charity concerts over time, but also numerous trips. We consider those in the choir as our children, and we want to show them that adolescence can be an incredible period of life if you have the right entourage.

Basilica.ro: If you turned back almost 13 years ago, what would you change?

Paula Cautiş: With God’s help, on August 15, 2020, we will celebrate our 13th anniversary. If I think of it, maybe I wish I had learned more, had more patience.

Maybe I had more hope in God’s care, and perhaps I would have been more detached in the face of shortcomings, nonsense, disorders, etc. We look to the future with the hope of using time as efficiently as possible.

Basilica.ro: And now, some more personal questions. How was your passion for music born?

Paula Cautiş: As a child, I went to church with my father and sang. However, the passion developed during the five years spent at the Theological Seminary at the Agapia Monastery, where I discovered the Byzantine music. That’s where the desire to have my own choir was born.

Basilica.ro: You are a wife, mother, presbytera and coordinator of the Filomelos Byzantine Choir. How do you manage all these “professions”?

Paula Cautiş: Oh, that’s a hard question. It’s not easy at all. I’m just trying to reconcile them all as best I can, without neglecting any of the missions and not believing that I can do them all as well. In the end, they all converge toward the same goal: we try to do everything for the glory of God.

At the parish, I am with the Father (husband), at school I talk to the children about God, at the choir we learn hymns from the divine services. As a mother, I try to educate my children as best I can. I believe that here lies the blessing of my life, to work in the “field” of the Church. But I’m not alone in the whole mission, that’s the most important thing.

Filomelos at the church of Borzeşti. Photo: Filomelos

Basilica.ro: How do you see your role as a presbytera?

Paula Cautiş: As someone told me, “the priest’s house has glass walls”. Everyone relates somehow to the way of being of the priest and his family. Some just want to criticize; others want to learn something.

The role of the presbytera is to be with her husband and to help him fulfil his purpose on this earth: to lead souls to Christ.

Basilica.ro: How does your husband support you? How do you distribute your responsibilities?

Paula Cautiş: I was never the only one in the family to join Filomelos. We all are in. I’ve been working on the artistic side, and I’ve been driving for a few years. My husband takes care of the management part, the distribution of children on cars, the spiritual support of young people. At many rehearsals, we talk to them and get advice.

The older child is an isokratis, and the younger ones grow up at the chant stand. Father Petrică is very passionate about Byzantine music, and Filomelos is our gift. Without my husband, I couldn’t do anything on my own.

I think it is lovely to associate the father-servant at the altar – the presbytera at the chant stand. We are privileged to have a choir that offers the answers at the chant stand and sings Byzantine music. In the period of isolation, we realized how much we missed the services through their beauty but also the spirit of singing together.

Basilica.ro: Which do you consider an essential thing for harmony in the family?

Paula Cautiş: I believe that any family must be based on sincere and unconditional love. If it is missing, harmony cannot exist. This is where peace comes from because love is born of understanding, and one can easily overcome any obstacle, difference of opinion, defect of the other.

I think that another defining aspect is self-sacrifice, to put yourself aside and take care of others. We also need a lot of prayer from our spouses for each other, because life puts us in such unique situations that we can’t find the solution too quickly and then we cry out to God as long as we can.

Photography courtesy of Lumina Newspaper / Mihnea Păduraru

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