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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A One Woman Non-Stop Hallelujah Chorus

As first soprano in the Moscow Oratorio, Cy Todd has the highest voice in the nearly 50-member, all-volunteer expatriate choir. And while the 4-year-old choir's big yearly event -- the performance of Handel's Messiah -- doesn't take place until December, Todd and her cohorts are already practicing.


The choir has gathered every Wednesday night since early September at the U.S. Embassy to flex their vocal chords. They have to be ready. Their winter performance has evolved into a tradition in the expatriate community.


According to Todd, an American, the Oratorio started when two British singers gathered a group who wanted to sing the Messiah at Christmas. Todd saw a notice in the Moscow Times and joined the original group four years ago.


"[The composition is] so traditionally Western it really helps you feel like you're experiencing Christmas here in December, and here you are in Moscow, so far from home," Todd, 39, said. "It's kind of a place of security because we're all English speakers and we can get together one day a week and feel, 'O.K., now I fit in.'"


Besides adding to the holiday spirit, the performance also raises money for local charities. Last year's performance drew 600 people and raised $5,000, according to Todd.


The Oratorio is still negotiating for a venue this year. Last spring, the group performed John Rutter's "Requiem" at St. Andrew's Church, but it has since been reclaimed by the congregation.


Proceeds from both the choir's spring and winter performances go to charities such as orphanages, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.


Most of Todd's time is committed to the New Life ministry, known elsewhere as Campus Crusade for Christ, for whom she works full-time as an administrative assistant.


But her spare time is spent singing. Todd also sings for the fledgling Russian choir, Anima. Though currently dormant, the choir is normally composed of about 40 singers and boasts a classical repertoire sung entirely a cappella.


"That's where my Russian language ability gets stretched," said Todd, "because I'm the only foreigner in the group."


Through her association with both choirs, Todd believes she has been able to maintain a peace of mind, or "connectedness", so difficult to attain for foreigners living in Moscow.


Her level of fluency in Russian has been stifled, though, because she has become enmeshed in an English-speaking work environment as well as at home, where she has had American roommates.


"In fact, I find that the more I'm around the [expatriate] community, the less I feel connected here," Todd said. "But through the people and the families here, I feel that connection."


Todd first set foot into the former Soviet Union on Sept. 19, 1991. She came as a Christian evangelical missionary. And she recalls the empty shelves, the long lines -- then, how the Soviet stereotypes dissipated as the lifestyle in Moscow flourished from 1993 to 1995.


But now, she says, conditions seem uncomfortably familiar.


"Somehow I feel some of those old [societal] habits coming back. It gets me wondering, 'Am I just seeing something that's really random, and not a trend, or could we be taking a step backward?'"


She is referring to the scores of old and young alike lining up outside their apartment complexes, containers in hand, for low-priced milk. She also alludes to the surly demeanor of shopkeepers who once owned kiosks -- and were, consequently, more friendly -- but who now work for low wages in the large stores by which they were overcome.


"I know things in the shops are so expensive now for your average Russian. People are always looking for ways to economize, so you see these long lines again," said Todd, whose own income is derived solely from financial sponsorship she culls on annual trips to the U.S.


Such reminders of the past distress Todd, because she said she has come to adore Moscow.


"On the days when it's cold and gray and raining and you're sloshing through the mud you say, 'Boy, why am I here?'


"Then the thought always comes to mind, 'No, it's too soon to leave,'" she said. "It's my Russian friendships that keep me here."