Introduction to Forum for Composers


Παλαιό Μέλος
This subforum will be used as a place where composers may post their compositions for the "Divine Music Project" of St. Anthony's Monastery, and receive detailed suggestions how to improve their compositions.

As I have explained in another message, I am trying to compose music in English for every doxasticon and idiomelon in the Menaion. Since the magnitude of this task exceeds my capabilities, in that message I have asked for volunteers to help. I expect that some of my volunteers will have less composing experience than me, so I would like them to post the initial draft of their compositions here. In this way, I (and others) will be able to examine them and find ways to correct and improve them. The reason why I want to do this correction process publicly is so that these corrections will be available to the general public. My hope is that as more and more compositions are added to this subforum, all the corrections and suggestions will constitute a seminar of sorts that beginner composers can refer to in order to learn the "tricks of the trade" of composing Byzantine music.

in Christ,
+Fr. Ephraim
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Παλαιό Μέλος
Dear composers,

In this message, I will set forth some guidelines so that your compositions will conform to the style of Byzantine music I want the "Divine Music Project" to have.

1) First and foremost, it is imperative that all compositions I include in our website follow the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. As you may know, I have collected more than 10,000 formulas and posted them at:
Those of you who already know the classical formulae might not need to refer to these lists of formulas. But when I compose music, even though I do know many of the formulae by heart, I still refer to the lists. I do so for two reasons:
a) The lists protect me from using a wrong formula that only exists in my faulty memory, and
b) They enable me to find the best possible melody for a particular situation, since they often present more than one option for a particular syllabic pattern. My criteria for the "best possible melody" are one that imitates the original melody better, matches the meaning of the text better, or introduces more melodic variety by not repeating the same formula too many times in the same hymn.
In order to see examples of what I mean, I urge you to read my Article on Adaptation and the Workshop I prepared for using my lists of formulae.

2) Second, I want the doxastica and idiomela to be in the style of Mousike Kypsele. (If you don't have it, you can download it for free if you click here (The file is 69 MB so be patient or use a download manager such as this one). I have explained the reasons for this choice of mine in an article I wrote at:
Since the English translation of a hymn usually has fewer syllables than the original Greek version, I expect the English version to be sometimes quite different from the original. But usually it is possible to use the same martyrias in approximately the same places that the original in Mousike Kypsele has them. You will see what I mean if you look, for example, at my compositions for the Elevation of the Cross at: In the first doxasticon (pages 2-4), I was able to preserve not only many of the martyrias, but even many of the specific melodies of the original. But usually, I am not quite so "lucky" and able to preserve so much of the original. For example, if you look at the Vespers Doxasticon of the Aposticha in that file and compare it with the original in Mousike Kypsele, you will see that there were far fewer martyrias and melodic phrases of the original I was able to preserve.

Also try to bear in mind how well-known the original melody is. If you are composing music for a doxasticon whose Greek melody has some well-known melodic lines, I think it is worth the effort to find ways to preserve reminders of those lines, if at all possible. But if you are composing music for an idiomelon of the liti of some relatively unknown feast day, I don't think it really matters if you manage to preserve any melodic reminders or not.

3) Third, I want the compositions to comply with the orthographical rules of Byzantine music. If you do not already know them, please review my collection of these rules at: for the rules in English, or for the rules in Greek. Try to do the best you can, but it's okay if you make a few mistakes, since I will be on the lookout for any orthographical errors.

4) I would like you to write your music in the non-exegetical style of Kypsele, as opposed to the analytical style of composers such as Karamanis. For example, in a melody where Kypsele would have a vareia followed by an ison followed by an apostrophos above an aple, Karamanis would typically replace this combination by writing an ison and kentemata with a gorgon all over an oligon, followed by an elaphron with a klasma.

5) For marking the rhythm, the standard I have decided on is the standard used by Simonos Petras in their publications. In particular, this means that only the numbers "3" and "4" will be used. Vertical lines are to be inserted three beats after the number "3" and four beats after the number "4", as can be seen in the attached file: View attachment formatted_with_music.pdf . When a hymn begins on the upbeat, a vertical line will be inserted after the first note.

6) Although I hold in high regard Simon Karas' ideas of reintroducing symbols such as the oxeia, the lygisma, etc. and using many microtonal sharps and flats, I have decided against using them in the Divine Music Project (although I did use them in my compilation of The Intonations of All Eight Modes).

7) I suggest that you use my Microsoft Word template for formatting the texts I will send you. This template has a macro that hyphenates a text. (You run the macro by pressing the "HYPHENATE" button on the toolbar.) It also has macros that format a hyphenated text so that one can print it out and write the music on that printout. The "HeirmFormat" button will format the text with a few spaces between each syllable, which is useful for writing out heirmologic melodies. The "StichFormat" button inserts more spaces between each syllable, which is useful for writing out sticheraric melodies.

Since this description of the macros might not be clear, I will show you examples of what I mean:

Here is the unhyphenated text of a hymn:
Thy precious Cross, which Moses prefigured in himself of old, defeated Amalek and put him to flight; and David the sweet-singer cried out commanding that it be worshipped as Thy footstool. As we sinners worship it with unworthy lips today, O Christ God, we praise Thee Who didst deign to be nailed thereon and we cry to thee: O Lord, with the thief, count us worthy of Thy Kingdom.
Here is the text after it has been automatically hyphenated:
Thy pre-cious Cross, which Mo-ses pre-fig-ured in him-self of old, de-feat-ed Am-a-lek and put him to flight; and Da-vid the sweet-sing-er cried out com-mand-ing that it be wor-shipped as Thy foot-stool. As we sin-ners wor-ship it with un-wor-thy lips to-day, O Christ God, we praise Thee Who didst deign to be nailed there-on and we cry to thee: O Lord, with the thief, count us wor-thy of Thy King-dom.
Here is the text after it has been automatically formatted:
And here is the text after a melody has been written in by hand:
Although it is not absolutely necessary that you use this template to write your music on, I think you will find it very helpful, because having the entire text in front of you enables you to decide ahead of time where all the martyrias will be. It also allows you to compose the melody for certain difficult phrases (that might be in the middle) first. This is advantageous when you are trying to imitate a particular melodic phrase or use a specific form of melodic coloring (i.e., using a fthora).

Most of the texts I send you will already have been hyphenated, but keep your eyes open just in case they might still have a word here and there that didn't get hyphenated or was incorrectly hyphenated by my automatic hyphenator.

* * * * *​

Let me warn you that I am a perfectionist with very high standards for Byzantine music compositions (if you couldn't tell already after all the detailed instructions I wrote here!) So this means that I will ruthlessly criticize every little thing that I think can be improved. I will insist on changing it, unless of course you (or someone else) can explain to me why it is not incorrect. I will try to be courteous in my corrections, but I ask your forgiveness if at times I am abrupt.

After your composition has been corrected, please do not delete or replace any of the older versions with the corrected version, because if you do, other people will not be able to learn by seeing what was corrected. I will prefix a number to the title of your post that corresponds to the order it was submitted, so that people coming later to this seminar will be able to read the posts in sequential order.

If for any reason you would prefer to post your compositions anonymously, feel free to send them directly to me, and I will post them for you.

May God bless you and enlighten you to do this work for His glory!

in Christ
+Fr. Ephraim
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Παλαιό Μέλος
Dear composers,

As you already know, English is a difficult language to pronounce correctly. And since music should be sung as it is pronounced, there are three complications in particular that we composers need to bear in mind:
1) syllabification,
2) accentuation, and
3) phrasing.
I will address each of these issues separately here:

1) Syllabification.

The number of syllables a word in English has is usually obvious. By referring to a dictionary, one can easily find out how many syllables each word has. There are, however, a few words that have an ambiguous number of syllables. For example, the dictionary claims that the words fire and oil are one-syllable words. But because they have diphthongs, they are usually pronounced as if they have two syllables. Other common words with diphthongs that could be treated as two syllables are: desire, inspire, and inquire. Since lyrics should be sung as they are normally pronounced, this means that we composers should usually treat these diphthongs as two separate syllables. But I have seen in practice that there are particular instances in which these diphthongs fit the music better if they are treated as one syllable. This means that I expect you to use your best judgment how to deal with each individual instance of such words.

Bear in mind that there are also some other words that have a deceptive number of syllables. The word baptism supposedly has only two syllables according to the dictionary, but I have found in practice that it is best to treat the final "m" as a separate syllable when setting it to music. The words sovereign and hierarch are supposedly three-syllable words, but I think they sound best when treated as two-syllable words: sov-'reign and hier-arch.

There are some words in English for which elision [i.e., the omission of a vowel] is always understood, but never explicitly written with an apostrophe. Examples of these words are: every, toward, Barbara, and Catherine, which are pronounced ev-'ry (two syllables), t'ward (one syllable), Bar-b'ra (two syllables), and Cath-'rine (two syllables). Also in this category are adverbs ending in "-cally". So, for example, magically should be treated as a three syllable word: mag-i-cl'ly. Also adverbs ending in "-fully" are pronounced as if this suffix were one syllable. So, for example, wonderfully should be treated as a three-syllable word: won-der-f'lly. However, when "-fully" is added to a monosyllabic word, the suffix is treated as two syllables. Thus, the words faithfully and skilfully are treated as three-syllable words. Another word in this category is the word immeasurable, which is treated like a four-syllable word: im-meas-'ra-ble.

Furthermore, there are many words in English for which elision is optional. Common examples of these words are: suffering, honourable, venerable, victory, mystery, power, radiant, glorious, champion, trial, initiate, warrior, guardian, and spiritual. In my opinion, these should not be elided for sticheraric melodies, but sometimes for heirmologic melodies the rhythm is smoother if they are elided.

When a name ending in s is followed by an apostrophe and an "s" (indicating genitive case), that final "s" constitutes its own syllable. So Moses's, for example, should be hyphenated as: Mo-ses-'s.

Bear in mind that the texts I am giving you have only been automatically hyphenated. This means that there will be some words that have not been hyphenated in accordance with these guidelines. I hope you will be alert enough to catch any hyphenation errors and also to make the appropriate adjustments for words with optional elision.

2) Accentuation

If you are ever unsure how to accentuate a word, you should look it up at You might notice that some words have more than one way of being accented. For example, if you look up the word tabernacle you will see that the first entry states that it should be accentuated as: tab-er-nac-le. But further down on the same page, the American Heritage Dictionary states that it has two accents: tab-er-nac-le. You will have to decide for yourself if a 1000 or a 1010 will be more appropriate. (A "1" represents an accented syllable, and a "0" is an unaccented syllable.)
Similarly, this dictionary says that word glorify may be accented either as glo-ri-fy or glo-ri-fy. So you will have to decide if you want to use a 100 or a 101 formula for it.

A common mistake is to accentuate the adjective august on the first syllable like the noun August. But the adjective august is accented on its last syllable.

3) Phrasing

Phrases in English sometimes have several consecutive monosyllabic words. In such instances, the composer of Byzantine music must decide which words should be treated as having an accent and which as not. For example, take the sentence: "He will go forth to save the dead man." In my opinion, it should be accentuated as follows: "He will go forth to save the dead man." Having two consecutive accented syllables (or words) is problematic for those who compose Byzantine music by relying on the lists of formulae, because it is rare to find formulae with two consecutive accented syllables. In such instances, we must experiment by seeing what would happen if one of those accented syllables (or words) were treated as if it were unaccented. In the example given, we would examine which of the formulae ending in 1001 and 1010 would work well with the phrase "save the dead man". Hopefully, one of the syllables we treated as unaccented will have enough of a melodic emphasis to match our text. A common example of an unaccented syllable getting enough of a melodic emphasis is when a phrase ends on an unaccented syllable. Such cadences tend to hold the final syllable for two beats, which is usually enough to give the sense of an apparent melodic emphasis.

I have tried to answer some of your questions ahead of time by writing all this. But if you are ever unsure about something, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

in Christ,
+Fr. Ephraim

P.S. To give credit where credit is due, I am obliged to mention that most of the information I presented about syllabification was borrowed from the introduction of the HTM's Menaion.
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Παλαιό Μέλος
One of the primary differences between Greek and English is their complexity of pronunciation. In Greek, a given combination of vowels and/or consonants always has the same pronunciation, regardless of lexical context (except for a few very rare exceptions). In other words, it is not necessary to know what word a group of vowels and/or consonants is a part of in order to pronounce them correctly. Vowels and consonants in English, on the other hand, depend greatly on their lexical context. As a result, it is imperative to know what word a given combination of vowels and/or consonants is a part of in order to pronounce them correctly.

This basic difference between the two languages necessitates a different way of writing the lyrics for vocal music. In Greek, if a particular vowel is held for several notes, one may write it under each of those notes, and the lyrics will be correctly pronounced. In English, however, this cannot be done, because adding additional vowels can change the word, and thus the pronunciation as well. For example, the vowel "e" in the word "met" would be pronounced differently if there were two "e's": "meet".

Since the pronunciation of a combination of vowels and/or consonants depends on what syllable they form, writers of music in English have devised two practical conventions to ensure proper pronunciation:
1) All lyrics are to be hyphenated as they are hyphenated in a dictionary, and
2) When the final syllable of a word is held for more than one note, a "word extension" (a horizontal line) is added to the lower right of it.

1) Regarding convention #1, the Essential Dictionary of Music Notation says on page 191:
"Hyphenate words according to the dictionary. [emphasis in the original] Do not hyphenate according to how the word sounds like it should divide. If there is any question at all, check the dictionary."
Although this may seem to be an arbitrary convention, it actually has practical ramifications. For example, the word "hearken" is hyphenated "heark-en" in the dictionary. If we hyphenate it as it sounds, we would associate the "k" with the second syllable: "hear-ken". The problem with this is that if this word were used in a papadic melody where the "ken" is far away from the "hear-", some people would mispronounce the first syllable thinking that it is the word "hear".

When the next syllable of a word comes several notes later, multiple hyphens are written between the two syllables. This convention also has practical value. For example, in a word such as "immaculate", the final syllable "late" could be mispronounced if singers have lost track of the "cu" syllable, which in a papadic melody could have been written a line or two beforehand. Whereas if there are numerous hyphens leading up to the final syllable, they are forced to remember that they are continuing a word.

2) As for convention #2, word extensions are a very helpful and practical aid to pronunciation. If a syllable ending with a consonant is held for many notes, the presence of a word extension (a horizontal line extending from the lower right of the syllable to the final note that the syllable is sung) reminds singers that they need to pronounce that consonant at the end of the horizontal line. Without such word extensions, it would be much too easy for someone to forget to pronounce the final consonant if that syllable is held for many notes. Word extensions are unnecessary in Greek music, since it is permissible to duplicate the final syllable with a consonant beneath the final note. But for the reason I mentioned above, letters in English cannot be duplicated without potentially altering a syllable's pronunciation.

There is one more convention I should mention here regarding the lyrics. According to the Essential Dictionary of Music Notation:
"Use normal punctuation and capitalization. [emphasis in the original]... A common mistake is to use little or no punctuation."

* * * * *​

Admittedly , these conventions for music in English were developed for Western notation, not for Byzantine notation. Nevertheless, there is nothing special about Byzantine notation that exempts it from these practical benefits of hyphens and word extensions. For this reason, composers who have written thousands of pages of Byzantine music in English, such as Fr. Seraphim Dedes and I, have chosen to adopt these conventions. I urge you to do likewise.
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Νέο μέλος
Dear Fr. Ephraim,

I started to work on the Workshop you have authored. I very quickly got discouraged. There are a number of reasons for this but I will choose to focus on one particular example which is really hanging me up. On page 3 you make the comment "If we choose the second formula given for 0100, the pattern for our filler notes will be 10." This I assume refers to the complete phrase "Ja-cob the Pa-tri-arch" (100100). Obviously I must be missing something, because I do not see a formula in Section G under 0100 that matches up with the result you give for "the Pa-tri-arch" on the bottom of page 3. What I do see is a formula that ends like the first and second formulas under 100. How does this reconcile with the comment I quoted above?

Any help you can give to clarify this would be appreciated.

In Christ
George Stefanidakis
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Παλαιό Μέλος
Dear George,

I am sorry to hear that my Workshop, is not as clear and straightforward as I would like it to be.

First of all, I hope you have the latest versions of my formulas and the Workshop. When I first posted the Workshop, someone found some typos which I immediately corrected and re-posted. As for my collection of formulas, about once every year I make a few dozen changes, most of which are additional formulas I missed or some minor typos.

The problem that you pointed out is due to my carelessness: instead of writing "the second formula given for 0100" I should have written "the third formula given for 0100" I will correct that mistake immediately.

This is how that page in my formula collection begins:

I use the third 0100 formula there to create the following melody:

We are allowed to change the first note from a jump of 3 to a jump of one because we aren't changing its absolute pitch. As I explained a few pages later in the workshop in "Important Comment #4":
"It is the absolute pitch of the first character in a formula that is important rather than its intervallic jump. For example, a formula beginning with a martyria of Ga and an ison can be used as a formula from Pa by replacing the ison with a jump up of two."​

If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Thank you,
+Fr. Ephraim
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Νέο μέλος
Dear Fr. Ephraim,

Thanks for your prompt reply, It was very useful. Your reply made me wonder if I have the latest version of the Formula.pdf, because, there is a discrepancy between what you wrote and my version; the formula you suggested was in my version, the fourth formula not the third. In any case I should have had the sense to look a little further down. I won't make that mistake again. How can I tell if I have the latest version?

In Christ
George Stefanidakis


Παλαιό Μέλος
How can I tell if I have the latest version?
If you look at the end of the "Sources" section in my webpage that presents the formulas, there are three updates listed that show when the formulas have been changed. If you look at the date of the formula files you have in your computer and compare them with those dates, you will be able to tell which (if any) updates you need to download. Or you could just replace the formula files in your computer with the formula files posted in that webpage, which are always the most up-to-date versions.