Fr. Seraphim Dedes - Compositional Quality?

#1
Hello, I'm a new member here, but I've lurked for a while. I am from the United States and I primarily chant in English & Greek. My desire is to seek out an opinion from fellow chanters on this website about the compositions of Father Seraphim Dedes, whose work is primarily featured on his own website AGESInitiatives.com.

It seems that he primarily composes his music using the western four bar staff method, rather than using Psaltic neumes. Only after he finishes his compositions, are they transcribed into the neumes. Listening to a recent interview with him, it seems he doesn't always use the patterns found in chant books, nor uses original compositions from Greek to inspire his own compositions, instead composing by what sounds best to him.

As I chant his music each week, sometimes I think it sounds nice, and other times I think it sounds odd, broken and inconsistent. My skill level, however, is amateur at best. So I wanted to register on this site and seek out opinions of fellow chanters here. What are your honest opinions of most of Fr. Seraphim Dedes' compositional work?

Examples:

Εὐφραίνου Αἴγυπτος, Ἦχος πλ. δʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/me/m01/d19/ve/b/sticglory.pdf

Τὸ Αʹ Ἑωθινόν. Ἦχος Α'
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/eo/e01/b/eodoxasticon.pdf

Τὸ Ζʹ Ἑωθινόν. Ἦχος βαρύς:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/eo/e07/b/eodoxasticon.pdf

Τὸ Ιʹ Ἑωθινόν. Ἦχος πλ. βʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/eo/e10/b/eodoxasticon.pdf

Παντοκράτορ Κύριε, Ἦχος πλ. δʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/tr/d001/ve/b/sticglory.pdf

Ταῖς ἐξ ἔργων καυχήσεσι, Φαρισαῖον, Ἦχος πλ. δʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/tr/d001/ma/b/laudsglory.pdf

Ἀπεστάλη ἐξ οὐρανοῦ Γαβριὴλ, Ἦχος πλ. βʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/me/m03/d25/ve/b/sticglory.pdf

Σήμερον χαρᾶς Εὐαγγέλια Ἦχος δʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/me/m03/d25/ve/b/aposglory.pdf

Κύριε, ἡ ἐν πολλαῖς. Ἦχος πλ. δʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/barrett/en/tr/d067/ma/b/aposglory.pdf

Ἀναστάσεως ἡμέρα. Ἦχος πλ. αʹ:
http://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/m/dedes/en/pe/d00p/b/sticglory.pdf
 

mmamais

Μαμάης Μιχάλης
#2
Considering Τὸ Αʹ Ἑωθινόν. Ἦχος Α', in my opinion the music itself is very traditional. On the other hand, he seems to use the music formulas of the greek version and put the english words right on to it. To put it in another way, put a greek chanter listen to this melody (only) and he will immediately recognise it.
In this way he preserves the music (as i pointed out) but when the music combines with the english language, the result may be a bit awkward.

I don't know if this approach can be considered "right" or "wrong". In order to make it clorer to english, i believe one has to change drastically, if not the music formulaes themselves, at least the order they are used.
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#3
The team around Fr. Serapheim is very cognizant of much of the minutiae of Byzantine Music. The translations, metering, and application of the syllables of those translations are done in a manner that tries to be respectful to the traditional music (Petros, Ioannes, Stephanos). I have followed Fr. Serapheim's trajectory since the very beginning of his foray, and in some instances participated in the musical process. I consider it a perpetual work in progress that gets better in an iterative manner. Those of us in the USA who have been trained personally by renowned protopsaltae of Greece and Constantinople try and assist him and his team whenever we see metering and adaptation that can become closer to a "natural" feeling.

In the end, a complete replacement of the grace of the Greek on the music (after all the music originally followed the compositional process by the hymnographers) will present varying degrees of "awkward", but given the realities of an Orthodox population that is more and more anglophone, this is a reality.
 
#4
The team around Fr. Serapheim is very cognizant of much of the minutiae of Byzantine Music. The translations, metering, and application of the syllables of those translations are done in a manner that tries to be respectful to the traditional music (Petros, Ioannes, Stephanos). I have followed Fr. Serapheim's trajectory since the very beginning of his foray, and in some instances participated in the musical process. I consider it a perpetual work in progress that gets better in an iterative manner. Those of us in the USA who have been trained personally by renowned protopsaltae of Greece and Constantinople try and assist him and his team whenever we see metering and adaptation that can become closer to a "natural" feeling.

In the end, a complete replacement of the grace of the Greek on the music (after all the music originally followed the compositional process by the hymnographers) will present varying degrees of "awkward", but given the realities of an Orthodox population that is more and more anglophone, this is a reality.
I appreciate your information. Maybe it would assist to put my words into a boxing analogy (is that too outdated now?).

With some compositions, it looks like Father Seraphim appears to be trying to fight above his weight class. A welterweight trying to box like a heavyweight. A champion of a regional boxing club trying to fight like a member of the WBA. Something that can only be achieved with proper training, sparring, fitness and practice.

I’ve never heard that he ever recieved proper training under composers, he’s mostly self-taught. Some of his work tries to express creativity and flamboyance which becomes awkward and clumsy. A shortfall that I think would be resolved with proper training, since most composers with training don’t appear to exhibit the same traits in their music.

This is my inquiry about compositional quality, I desire to see opinions about it, if I am wrong let me hear. Thank you.
 

mmamais

Μαμάης Μιχάλης
#5
I have little experience in his work. I can point out however that through this project, anyone can make decent compositions that sound traditional. It is the "training ground" (since you made the comparison to boxing)

I do not know if fr. Seraphim is aware of this project.
 
#6
Dear StephanosAnd-

Since you bring up the boxing analogy, one always has the option of not entering the boxing ring, and instead, stick with chanting the hymns in the language they were originally written in. If you feel that this or someone else's translations, adaptations, or innovations, do not satisfy you or your congregation, you do not have to use them. Stick with the Greek.

I am not quite sure what you mean when you portray the knowledge of Fr. Serapheim or his team as "welterweight". I can only inform you that he has a number of solid "heavyweights" to seek advice from should he ever need it.

Let me ask you this: What alternatives are you aware of that, in compositional/adaptational style, meet your standards of "heavyweight"?

NG


I appreciate your information. Maybe it would assist to put my words into a boxing analogy (is that too outdated now?).

With some compositions, it looks like Father Seraphim appears to be trying to fight above his weight class. A welterweight trying to box like a heavyweight. A champion of a regional boxing club trying to fight like a member of the WBA. Something that can only be achieved with proper training, sparring, fitness and practice.

I’ve never heard that he ever recieved proper training under composers, he’s mostly self-taught. Some of his work tries to express creativity and flamboyance which becomes awkward and clumsy. A shortfall that I think would be resolved with proper training, since most composers with training don’t appear to exhibit the same traits in their music.

This is my inquiry about compositional quality, I desire to see opinions about it, if I am wrong let me hear. Thank you.
 
#8
The history of English composition in America is quite short, as chanting in any language other than Greek in many Greek Archdiocese parishes was unthinkable until relatively recently (I'm not talking about SATB choral works sung by a western choir). When Fr. Seraphim began composing in the early 2000s, there was basically nothing available to chant in English, other than very poor staff notation transcriptions. His Anastasimatarion (2004) was a Godsend to chanters at the time who were in parishes where English was needed. His initial approach was to translate the English in nearly the same meter as the Greek (keeping the syllable count and accentuation the same). This allowed him to use traditional melodies, but unfortunately resulted in some extremely awkward translations.

The project that Mr. Michales referenced above influenced Fr. Seraphim to change his approach. In fact, his new Holy Week material is all composed from "scratch," employing the musical formulae that Fr. Ephraim (then, of St. Anthony's Monastery) catalogued. I believe most of his new work is done in this manner. As Mr. Giannoukakis has mentioned above, Fr. Seraphim has grown much as a composer since the beginning of his project, which is vast in scope. Not only does Fr. Seraphim compose, he also translates and sets prosomoia and the troparia of canons, with the original Greek meter preserved. To be frank, his automated system of compiling services (AGES DCS) acts as a de-facto hemerologion/typikon for the Greek Archdiocese, which allows many untrained chanters to at least follow the services correctly. I don't think one person has done more work in a shorter amount of time, while also navigating the complicated political minefield of American Orthodoxy. He deserves a lot of praise and support for his efforts.

That being said, the OP's observations on Fr. Seraphim's style are not entirely without merit. When compared to the works of others in English (that of John Boyer and Gabriel Cremeens in particular), the shortfalls of Fr. Seraphim's compositional style become especially apparent. This doesn't make his corpus of work poor, but there is room for growth. However, It seems to me that the most common criticism of his work is not really his settings, but his translation philosophy, which allows for colloquialisms in an attempt to be culturally relevant. Nonetheless, Fr. Seraphim does good and important work and I hope he is able to continue his ministry for a long time.
 
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