National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#41
Dear Nick,

You raise very important points. I offer my opinion and my answers do not in any way reflect the view of my colleagues.
I appreciate your sharing with me the insights you have acquired after years of experience.

Furthermore, my opinion is in the context of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and may not be appropriate and certainly may not reflect the practices and views outside the GOA proper.
I appreciate that most of your experience serving the Church has been within the context of the Greek Archdiocese. But please don't forget that other Orthodox Christians exist in the United States, and many of us also use Byzantine music and experience some of the same challenges faced by Greek chanters in the United States. Working together to solve these challenges in a broader pan-Orthodox context has the potential to be more effective than trying to solve these problems separately without taking each other into account.

At the same time, I would not support "any" lay person coming to chant in a choir or an analogion without evidence that they can sing, they can listen, they can participate in a group and that they understand the ethos and the traditions AND the basis of Orthodox Christianity. I would first ask them to read and understand for example "Elements of Faith" (translated by Bishop Kallistos Ware from the Giannaras original) and also involve my priest in ensuring that they know what Orthodoxy is all about. Ecclesiastic catechism is a life-long process ESPECIALLY for chantors and clergy.
As Richard also noted, this is well put. I completely agree.

The rationalisations in the GOA that "we don't understand" are reflective of the pietism that has changed the faith and the failure to understand that Christianity is an EXPERIENTIAL faith. One is immersed in an environment where the SENSES guide and hone the faith. It is better, in my view, for a parishioner to spend an hour the day before a service to read it in its translation and then to go and EXPERIENCE the service.
As Richard also noted, this is well put. I agree that sensory experience is crucial to the Orthodox faith. The language issue is complex, so I won't comment on it in great detail in this thread other than to make a few brief personal remarks.

I am a Lebanese-American (and son of a priest) who grew up in a parish where services were conducted mostly in English and with a small amount of Arabic. I am presently serving at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, where services are conducted almost entirely in Greek. Over the past year and a half I have studied and chanted almost all of the main hymns of the Sunday Orthros and Holy Week in Greek. (I still chant a few things in English, such as some fast-paced heirmologic pieces, mostly because it is too difficult for me to chant them in Greek. Over time, I hope to improve my facility with sight-reading Greek to the point where I can chant these fast-paced hymns in Greek, as well.) I love the Greek language, and I truly enjoy experiencing the services in their original language. Moreover, chanting in Greek on a regular basis has deepened my understanding of Byzantine music and given me a strong sense of appreciation for the Greek culture.

At the same time, I would be lying if I said that I am completely comfortable. It is hard for me to chant pieces in Greek (particularly the fast-paced heirmologic ones), and even if I practice them many times in advance I still sometimes trip up on pronunciation. When I'm chanting in English, I focus about 10% of my mental energy on reading the notation, 20% of my mental energy on intervals, 20% of my mental energy on analysis and vocal production, and 50% of my mental energy on praying the hymn. When I'm chanting in Greek, I focus about 10% of my mental energy on reading the notation, 10% of my mental energy on intervals, 10% of my mental energy on analysis and vocal production, 60% of my energy on reading the Greek text, and only 10% of my energy on praying the hymn. In short, when I chant in Greek my intervals, analysis, and prayer suffer because I am distracted by the challenge of reading the Greek text. Over time, I hope this will change, but that's the way things stand today. Oftentimes, I feel that if I had not already memorized the services in English from my youth I would be even more uncomfortable than I am today.

Finally, I should again note that Orthodox Christians of other ethnic backgrounds also use Byzantine music. It's not reasonable to expect all of them to conduct their services entirely in Greek. For example, I'm sure you wouldn't go to my father's parish (an Arab-American community in Rhode Island) and insist that the services be conducted entirely in Greek. So the problem of producing high-quality English-language Byzantine music still exists in the context of the broader pan-Orthodox community in America.

Now, if the language matter cannot be overcome, then one needs to begin what what one has in hand, consider it as a first or second edition and then, over time, make it better. To re-invent the wheel everytime instead of focusing on evolution is not helpful.
I completely agree! However, I have seen very little collaboration between translators in practice. Far too often, I see the same mistakes being repeated again and again with no substantive discussion or evolution taking place.

For the choirs that serve the GOA, the level of complexity in performance you cite will be difficult to achieve if not impossible. Even choirs of well-trained chantors temper the minutiae to ensure a uniform product that offers the tradition, and the KEY articulations, but does not create the confusion where one chantor adds a "harmonic" on a psifiston that is off-time with that of his/her nearest neighbor.
I completely agree! I have had direct experience working with transcriptions that are both too simple and too complex for Western-trained musicians. It's hard to talk about this subject without giving specific examples, but there's a lot to say about striking a balance between metrophonia and extreme analysis in transcriptions. For example, I've found that big clusters of sixteenth notes are hard for Western-trained choirs to execute and that using bar lines that accurately reflect the accentuation of the text can also be extremely helpful. I really do have a lot to say here (with specific musical examples); maybe I should open a separate thread about Western notation transcriptions and discuss the matter there in greater detail if people are interested.

Last, to understand the Modes in a Western context, takes practice and a trained chantor to lead the choir. Or a choirmaster who has learned and understands BM. Just like a football team practices at least once a week, so should choirs get together and practice at least two hours per week.
I completely agree!

I am not in favor of Sakellarides or Kazan.
I would go one step further and say that such music is not Byzantine music at all, because it fails to follow the formulaic rules that genuine Byzantine music follows and represents an abrupt break in the centuries-old tradition of continuity that has defined the very essence of Byzantine music.

The traditional music in the Mousikos Pandektis can readily be transcribed. Furthermore, the long Cherouvika and Koinonika are incompatible with the length of today's liturgies in the US, thus the less complex music in the classic books is not hard to transcribe. Fr. Ephraim has already done an excellent job at this.
I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but so have I. See, for example, my English adaptation of the Communion Hymn for Sundays by Ioasaph of Dionysiou in First Mode. I was also recently commissioned to compose an English-language setting of the Cherubic Hymn for the Presanctified Liturgy «Νυν αι Δυνάμεις» in Tetraphonic First Mode in both Byzantine notation and Western notation.

The isokratima is an issue that is still debated among the Greek chant community. The traditional Constantinopolitan ison reflected and emphasized the tetrachord/pentachord. Personally, I prefer the isokratimata of the style of the choirs of the Constantinopolitan schools, but that is my personal choice and passed down to me by my teachers and their teachers.
Same here. I completely agree!

I don;t think that an Athonite ison, or a Constantinopolitan ison or a "Vasilikos-like" Athenian ison will be of prime importance to a GOA choir, so long as it meets one of the three "ethos".
Indeed, I agree that this issue is of a lower priority than the others. Although I will note that not too long ago John Michael Boyer elbowed me in the ribs for going down to Ga on a Second Mode Soft Chromatic terminal cadence, so clearly some people are a lot more dogmatic about this issue than others (maybe even too dogmatic).

On a side note, I've observed that Western-trained choirs often have a hard time reading the ison when it is notated as letters above a single staff. In my experience, they have an easier time when the ison is notated as a separate part, either in the same staff as the melody or on a separate staff. If I were writing a transcription of the Divine Liturgy in Western notation for Western-trained choirs, I would employe the latter convention. I still think that writing the ison above the staff is ideal for transcriptions that are intended for chanters. Again, this is a bigger discussion that probably deserves its own thread.

The criteria should first reflect what the tradition of the Mother Church is (in the case of the GOA). Trained psaltae know what this means. They can look at an English translation in Western notation and can tell you whether it is in line with the tradition or not.
I completely agree! Though I should add that even though trained psaltes can look at an English composition (in either Byzantine notation or Western notation) and classify it as being either in line with the tradition or not, many trained psaltes can't clearly articulate what is wrong with the piece. I have observed that relatively few people (e.g., Papa Ephraim, Fr Seraphim Dedes, John Boyer, Gabriel Cremeens, myself, and others) can provide an in-depth technical critique of such work.

Transcribers should work together with trained chantors who are also fluent in Western notation. The young-"er" generation has an excellent grasp of Western notation. Approval rests with a Synodical Committee whose members include reputable chantors and of course the Hierarchy. That is the tradition of the Mother Church which, incidentally, has a Synodical Committee on Art and Music that performs this very function of verification and recommendation (or not) that you describe.
I completely agree! However, I will note that no such committee exists in the Church of Antioch, and as we both know all too well, these types of "committees" in the United States are usually comprised of individuals with little to no background in genuine Byzantine music. I wonder what they do in Romania these days.

As concerns Mr. Asteris, he is more than fluent in Western Music, being a protagonist tenor of the Turkish Lyrical Theater and having received many distinctions throughout his career. Thus, I find it difficult to accept that he would not be at all helpful.
I'm sure he could be very helpful indeed, for the reasons you point out. I was merely saying that to date, I have not observed much interaction between him and the broader community outside of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece. Like you, I think he can (and should) be a strong presence in the Americas.

My answers and views may or may not be in line with yours, since you stated that "Those of you who know me personally already know my answers to these questions, so I won't give them right now."
I am pleased to see that we are mostly in agreement here.

To your comment that "these issues are complex, and there is not yet widespread understanding of them in the psaltic community, let alone agreement about them. There needs to be more discussion of these issues before we can successfully lead choirs to a repertoire of genuine Orthodox liturgical chant." undermines your first statement "I am generally in favor of moving in this general direction."
I am certain you have misunderstood me. I was not saying that we shouldn't move forward; rather, that we should be aware of these issues as a community and not repeat the same mistakes over and over again. For example, beginning composers of Byzantine music tend to make the same mistakes in their compositions; beginning transcribers tend to make the same mistakes when transcribing pieces from Byzantine notation into Western notation; beginning translators tend to make the same mistakes when translating texts from Greek into English. Rather than duplicating all of this effort, we should be aware of each other's work (even if it is not directly relevant to us) and support each other. To date, I have seen a lot of coldness between rival groups of chanters, and it makes me very sad.

If you really favor moving in this direction, then you must agree that one needs to put the ignition key in the starter and turn the car on. Then, you begin at a reasonable 10-20 mph, ensure that you are comfortable with the cruise and then ramp it up to a higher speed. Otherwise, as I tell my students and fellows: You can argue and philosophise till you are blue. At some point, you have to conduct the first experiment.
Oh, but I have! I have been working to educate Western-trained musicians about Byzantine music for many years now, starting with the Antiochian Archdiocese "Boston Byzantine [sic] Choir" in Cambridge, MA. I joined that choir when I was a high school student, and it was in fact my first exposure to something that resembled Byzantine music; only later on did I become a classical psaltis. Although I am now living in California and no longer sing in that group for geographical as well as philosophical reasons, they represent a rather decent implementation of what Stan and Nancy Takis have termed "New Byzantine Chant" (a name that I find problematic, but there we are) -- that is, an attempt to bring Western-trained choirs in a more traditional direction. I might add that their director, Charlie Marge, was doing this work even before Stan and Nancy Takis took on a more traditional focus. It was in this choir that I started learning about the challenges in educating Western-trained musicians about Byzantine music. I continue to correspond with the choir's director on a semi-regular basis, and he in fact commissioned me to compose an English-language setting of the Cherubic Hymn for the Presanctified Liturgy «Νυν αι Δυνάμεις» for them (see my link above for the score), which was recorded on their latest CD Lenten Journey.

Within the Greek Archdiocese, I spent two summers serving the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Belmont, CA. I conducted weekly practice sessions in Byzantine music there, and over the course of two summers trained a group of young adults to chant the Divine Liturgy in Byzantine chant. The group consisted of Greek-Americans, Arab-Americans, and converts with varying degrees of skill in the Greek language, Byzantine notation, Byzantine music theory, and Western music. I put together a combination of scores for the Liturgy in both Greek and English using both Byzantine notation and Western notation, in some cases transcribing classical chants from Greek into English myself or creating new compositions. This experience has given me many valuable insights about how to teach Byzantine music to people without formal training in either Byzantine or Western music, as well as how to organize a choir in an extremely short amount of time and with limited resources.

In short, I am not "philosophizing till I am blue." I am acutely aware of the issues, and I have put in many hours in the "driver's seat" on the field. If I were a lesser person, I might be offended by your presumptions about me, but I have a bigger heart than that. Come now, Nick. We're all on the same team here.

Basil
 
#42
Although I will note that not too long ago John Michael Boyer elbowed me in the ribs for going down to Ga on a Second Mode Soft Chromatic terminal cadence, so clearly some people are a lot more dogmatic about this issue than others (maybe even too dogmatic).
If that's the only time he did it, then that means he's mellowed over the years. I measure my own progress by how fewer bruises I have after chanting with him than I did the last time.

Richard
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#43
I will note that somebody told me a couple of weeks ago that the Romanian Patriarchate makes a point of doing a thorough revision of their liturgical books every seventy years or so to keep them in a vernacular used by the current generation. If that's true, that strikes me as having the potential to wreak havoc on their liturgical music.
I didn't know that; thanks for sharing! I wonder how invasive the changes are. For example, are they sufficiently minor in scope so as to require minor modifications to some phrases in some hymns, or are they significant enough so as to require a large number of pieces to be recomposed?


I'm picturing Visual SourceSafe being used for check-ins of new scores.

<shudder>
Yes, and let's do document management in Microsoft SharePoint! :p

Who knows what's going on here, but I will say that I have run into my share of cantors who treat what they do as some kind of gnosis that, if you don't have it, there's got to be a reason, and they're not going to be any more helpful than they feel they have to be. I will take K. Giannoukaki's description of K. Asteris at face value and assume that he is not one of these types, but something very strange is going on here.
I have experienced the same phenomenon. Like you, I am at a loss to explain it.

Well, I know some of them, but how would you treat points 6 & 7?
I would borrow some of the methods that are used in the world of software development. For example, one should start out with a very clear design document that calls out all of the anticipated challenges. Such a design document should discuss several possible methods of dealing with each challenge, their advantages and disadvantages, and the reasoning behind one's final decision (which, of course, is subject to change during the course of implementation). Such a design document should go through peer review, and people of sufficient expertise should feel welcome to make comments on it and raise issues, with a project manager or tech lead arbitrating disagreement and setting the direction of the implementation. Papa Ephraim, for example, goes to great pains to specify his methodology for composing Byzantine music on public forums, and this is one of his greatest strengths. The quality of his work has increased exponentially as a result of this careful design work.

Once one has considered all of the relevant issues and come up with a detailed strategy for addressing them, implementation begins. With a good design and good project management, many people can work on the implementation in parallel. Initial drafts of implementations should be also peer-reviewed. This provides the opportunity to catch problems in design and glaring implementation errors right away. Peers of sufficient expertise should feel welcome to make comments and raise issues, and implementers should feel obligated to address all such comments. A fast iteration cycle helps significantly. Again, project leads should arbitrate disagreements during the review process and enforce that all issues are addressed in a satisfactory manner (or put off until later and tracked in some type of issue management system). There will, of course, be problems that are only noticed later on. There should be an organized issue management system tracking these problems, and project leads should periodically assess these issues and come up with a strategy for addressing them.

In contrast, what I see far more often today is musicians doing work with very little design and planning (or even awareness of the issues that they will hit during implementation). Beginners often make the same mistakes over and over again. There is no culture of peer review in Orthodox music: musicians generally have big egos, put together something on their own, and release it directly to the public with little to no supervision. Furthermore, many experienced chanters don't know how to objectively criticize bad work, and many composers are loathe to take even objective, factual criticism. Without a clear design document, and given all the controversies and disagreements within the world of Byzantine music, even simple criticism often becomes very emotional and people's feelings get hurt.
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#44
If that's the only time he did it, then that means he's mellowed over the years. I measure my own progress by how fewer bruises I have after chanting with him than I did the last time.
I realize that I'm veering off-topic here, but that doesn't strike me as a very healthy approach. Let's look at the case of me singing a Ga ison during a Second Mode soft chromatic terminal cadence while the melody is holding Ke before finally coming to rest on Di. This is not only common practice in the Ecumenical Patriarchate (see, for example, page 156 of Stanitsas' Triodion, and just about any recording with such a terminal cadence) but also throughout the Middle East and in many recordings I've heard from Thessaloniki and Crete. Now, Karas thought that this didn't make sense theoretically and preferred to keep the ison on Di (perhaps he thought that going to Ga was too much like harmonizing with the melody). OK, that's an interesting point (though it doesn't necessarily mean we should all change our performance practice as a result). Perhaps to avoid the jarring sound when the melody is on Ke and the ison is on Di, Karas followers also usually attack the Ke from Zo with what Karas calls an "isaki". Again, that's also an interesting point (though it doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to change my performance practice tomorrow). In the end, I find it unnerving that John's response to someone who is doing his best to learn Byzantine music performance practice from the prevailing oral tradition in the Middle East and Greece is to dismiss it as invalid just because it fails to meet Karas' abstract notion of theoretical purity.
 
#45
I realize that I'm veering off-topic here, but that doesn't strike me as a very healthy approach. [...] In the end, I find it unnerving that John's response to someone who is doing his best to learn Byzantine music performance practice from the prevailing oral tradition in the Middle East and Greece is to dismiss it as invalid just because it fails to meet Karas' abstract notion of theoretical purity.
I truthfully doubt he was thinking about it with the same consciousness of theoretical detail in the context of a service. When I'm chanting with him, he gives cheironomy for where he wants the isokratima; I don't know if he was doing that in your case. As for the overall approach of elbows in the ribs as a way communicating with other cantors at the psalterion, my understanding is that he got it from Angelopoulos. Make of that what you will.

As for peer review -- a particular set of festal hymns was published (for purchase, even) a couple of years ago in both psaltic and staff notation, composed by somebody whom I tend to think of as generally knowing what they're doing, if not necessarily inspiring in terms of the level of what they produce, and perhaps ideologically more in line with, say, somebody like Chris Holwey. I purchased a copy of the work, sang through it, and found a number of typographical errors in the psaltic notation, and I'm not even talking orthography, just plain wrong notes. I sent a polite e-mail to this person saying, hey, we've met before but I doubt you have any idea who I am, and you have no reason to assume I have any idea what I'm talking about, but I've got questions about these spots in your score. This person wrote back saying, yes, those are all mistakes that I didn't catch, apologies, I couldn't find anybody who was available to proofread this ahead of time, and can I put you on my list of possible proofreaders for future scores?

I said sure thing; happy to be useful however I can. So, last summer I got an e-mail from this person with a last-minute request for proofreading for a score that needed to be turned in the next morning. As it happened, JMB was a houseguest of ours for a few days at the time, he saw that this person had gotten in touch (knowing exactly who they were), and in addition to my corrections sent this person a list of his own orthographic errata. I got an e-mail later with a very stiff thank you along with the explanation that this publisher was doing something they weren't normally amenable to doing by publishing a score in Byz notation in the first place, that the due date was impending enough that they felt they didn't have time to consider the orthographic points, that they just needed to get the neumes on paper, and they were a little "taken aback" to get an e-mail from John as well as from me.

Needless to say, I've never heard from this person since; the implication was clear enough that I represented a "softball" proofreader, which is why they were asking me to do it in the first place, and that there were too many personal concerns tied up with asking somebody they knew would have a higher quality bar to do it.

So yes, egos get in the way of peer review, as you say.
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#46
Dear Basil,

From your note here:

http://analogion.com/forum/showpost.php?p=172230&postcount=41

I will take your last sentence "Come now, Nick. We're all on the same team here." and based on our enthusiastic responses of agreement in earlier notes I will say that there is definitely grounds for collaboration across ecclesiastic jurisdictions. At the same time, in the following note:

http://analogion.com/forum/showpost.php?p=172241&postcount=44

and in subsequent notes, references are made to what the "Karas method" tells one about what is "right" and "wrong".

I am bound by my principles of historical accuracy and facts, musicologic and scientific considerations that are objective and not colored to challenge the validity of the Karas method. The overwhelming majority of the Greek psaltae and many in the Arabic and Balkan and Russian world who have considered the weaknesses and shortcomings, not to mention the innovations of the Karas interpretations and tenets have refused to define BM along its lines. And, you are no doubt aware of the recent decision of the Holy Synod of EP to repudiate it.

Thus, as a consecrated lower-level cleric of the GOA which respects the Mother Church and as a scientist who considered sincerely the Karas method, I cannot go along with it as a reference or a guide.

This does not mean that I cannot collaborate with people who have followed it, but where I depart from them is at the point they invoke Karas.

Byzantine chantors did not need Karas in the golden age of chant in Asia Minor, Constantinople and the Balkans pre-1980s just like they don't need it now.

If we can agree that we all stick to a system and an approach that is accepted by all and everyone, that has taught the renowned chantors since the mid 1800s until our day, we can move forward.

But we digressed from the topic at hand which is whether the National Forum wants BM or not. I think we pretty much arrived at a tentative answer.

NG
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#47
This does not mean that I cannot collaborate with people who have followed it, but where I depart from them is at the point they invoke Karas.
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry here. You did realize that my post was criticizing both Karas' method and one of his followers, right? Is it anathema to even mention the man? That strikes me as both unreasonable and a form of argumentum ad hominem.
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#48
Sorry Basil, I did not see that in your note.

My argument is not ad hominen. Criticism of the works of someone does not translate to criticism of the person. Many of Karas' supporters resort to the argument "If you are against the Karas Method, you are against Karas the person". That disingenious assertion to avoid the scholarly dissection of the problems of the method is endemic on the Greek side of Psaltologion.

It would be most unfortunate if it were used here.

Again, I point out that we have digressed from the topic of discussion which is the National Forum. We have already discussed the merits and shortcomings of the Karas method years ago in other posts. Those interested can look for those using the search function herein.

If we have exhausted the topic of the National Forum's support for BM compared to its statements, then let's seal this discussion thread until there is a reason to revive it.

If we want to open a new topic, let's create a new thread.

NG
 

romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#49
Spending time at local Greek festivals is a great way to have impromptu meetings on all kinds of topics - this one included.

I'm perhaps more optimistic than Mr. Giannoukakis, but I think it's because at the micro-level we're subject to different circumstances. In otherwords, while my Metropolitan isn't making any bold declarations he clearly understand the need to have good liturgical execution. This is evidenced by the fact that when he travels for Holy Week he brings with him an experienced chanter to ensure the services are executed properly. He will always take time to thank everyone equally - choirs and chanters.

In our Metropolis every year around Apokries we have our FDF or Folk Dance Festival which, despite being predominantly a dance competition, does have a choral competition as well, despite dwindling participation. I never cared much about it personally, but this year I made a point to make sure I was there in between my dance team's rounds. So this past February a group of priest's children named "Papadopaidia" competed and won the top award. The 15 minute repertoire consisted of probably 90% liturgical music in Byzantine chant, one Greek folk song and Dum Pater Familias from the Codex Callixtinus. The Metropolitan addressed the audience after they sang and acclaimed their achievement and called it the "future".

The award itself of course wasn't important or as significant to me - but the fact that a group of...~15 or so from across our metropolis (which I believe is the largest GOA Metropolis by Geography) got together in such a fashion proves to me that a) young people in my Metropolis do care about music and b) it's not Desby/Zes/etc. with piano/organ accompaniment.

Anyway - I spoke to several people, including one of said chanters who would travel with His Eminence, a former President of the Metropolis Church Music Federation and others. We're in the process of organizing a meeting that would bring together groups of chanters, at least from the Bay Area, and have an all day meeting whose goal includes of course parea, as well as chanting various hymns together to prepare for a non-Sunday festal liturgy TBD. The hope would then be to grow this into a Metropolis level Byzantine choir.

The Metropolitan would support this and at the same time he does not have to specifically endorse (or not) one style of music but of course this will send a powerful message and people will notice. It will show that people are taking action (and it's not just the youth who are interested by the way) and that they care about the good liturgics and our Traditions.

I believe actions like this will then lead to an environment in which the issues Basil previously enumerated can be seriously discussed with the proper attention they deserve.
 
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#50
A real pleasure reading everyone's posts. Thank you!

I have friends on both "sides", as it were, and it seems to me that communication and education are big issues. Perceiving a zero-sum game, it's difficult to have any kind of a constructive conversation without suspicion; a friend of mine who is very high-ranking in the Federation/National Forum circles told me very bluntly a few weeks ago that the people in choirs are worried that the chant people want to simply destroy what they've done, and that the chant people themselves act similarly paranoid (from where this person sits; this is not my opinion). Education is real problem, and it's a problem where there has to be a solution available in places like where I live, not just in Chicago, New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh.
I believe we really need to understand the messages we send and how the western music folks perceive us. (Perhaps we can avoid the terms "the chanters" VS "the choirs". How 'bout "byzantine choirs" VS "European choirs" or "western choirs". This way we respect the fact that byzantine music is for choirs as well as for individual chanters.

A common thread in this discussion has been the notion that today's chanters would like to lead choirs to a more genuine expression of Orthodox liturgical traditions rather than to eliminate them entirely. This attitude acknowledges the love, commitment, and organization with which choir members have served the Church, even as it maintains that there are serious musicological, methodological, and theological problems with the repertoire of choral music currently in use throughout the United States.

I am generally in favor of moving in this general direction.
Our intentions and dreams as a psaltic community are similar. Indeed, we "would like to lead choirs to a more genuine expression of Orthodox liturgical traditions." But have any western choirs approached any of us to have their choirs reformed? Are we simply making plans without the partners we need? How can we create constructive partnerships or at least make ourselves available to them?

(Btw, can ANYONE really "eliminate" western choirs even if they wanted to?)

 

romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#51
A real pleasure reading everyone's posts. Thank you!



I believe we really need to understand the messages we send and how the western music folks perceive us. (Perhaps we can avoid the terms "the chanters" VS "the choirs". How 'bout "byzantine choirs" VS "European choirs" or "western choirs". This way we respect the fact that byzantine music is for choirs as well as for individual chanters.



Our intentions and dreams as a psaltic community are similar. Indeed, we "would like to lead choirs to a more genuine expression of Orthodox liturgical traditions." But have any western choirs approached any of us to have their choirs reformed? Are we simply making plans without the partners we need? How can we create constructive partnerships or at least make ourselves available to them?

(Btw, can ANYONE really "eliminate" western choirs even if they wanted to?)

I think these questions are very tough but there are answers - and I think the origin of a response should originate from a place of love, understanding and a desire to ultimately see the right outcome for our parishes and the future of our Church.

The fact that the origin of the western, polyphonic music (specifically within the Greek Orthodox Church) has come from a place outside of the received tradition and was met with stark opposition from clergy, hierarchs, etc. is not something choirs are excited to hear/be reminded of however true this may be and the reaction to it is often a bit visceral.

That something will need to come from the hierarchy is I think a reality that will have to come true eventually - but Taso to your specific question we need to continue to offer diakonia, and come at this with the goal of education in mind.

Given that liturgy is the domain of the western choirs, I believe it is they that need extend an olive branch to the chanters. I've received compliments from my parish's former choir director (the position is vacant right now) and have provided compliments in return, though sometimes hollow though they may be but beyond that there has been this attitude of "our 'traditions' are equal" and nothing will change. Would a choir member or any member of my parish approach me about wanting to learn Vespers or Orthros I would welcome them with open arms and help them understand what such an undertaking would necessitate.

I think one thing the psaltic community takes exception to is that western choirs cut major corners, not only musically but in terms of really understanding what this tradition necessitates and its roll in liturgy and worship. That one enjoys singing is, frankly, not enough - however in America our attitude is that we don't turn people away from certain things, and this is one of them. From this has also come the attitude that choirs don't need to practice (because they are volunteers) and that this is somehow okay regardless of the result. If that result is distracting to worship then it's clearly not the right outcome. Good singers will carry the bad ones perhaps. This still perpetuates and we chanters, knowing what good Church music should sound like, cringe.

As pointed out earlier, our choirs and the Federation have largely turned into a Frank Desby (et al) preservation society as an end unto itself. We should keep singing this music because this is what people did when they were kids and that's what they want to hear in Church - considerations that are irrelevant.

As I mentioned earlier our choir director recently retired, citing lack of participation. To me this was selfish for myriad reasons but I think they're worth exploring in this context. First of all, this person was a composer and for him the Sunday liturgy became the place for him to put his pieces on display, pieces that other composers of western polyphonic music recently have, in their opinion, strayed far from the ecclesiastical tradition. Yet he expected us to pat him on the back for being an ASCAP member and that nearly every Metropolis in the Archdiocese has sung his setting of the liturgy (he likes to refer to it as "His Liturgy"). Make no mistake, it was all about him, all about his music. The one time I emailed him and asked him why he did something a certain way, he eventually became defensive and told me that it's all "for the Glory of God anyway, without which none of this matters." Ultimately he left because he wasn't appreciated. What was most frustrating was that at no point seemingly was the right outcome for the parish and our liturgical music ever the consideration but it was about personal appreciation. We have crosses to bear that don't always result in the praise of men.

Doing whatever we want to do and hiding behind the smoke screen of "it's for the Glory of God" is...well I'm sure you can think of a colorful description. So I'd wonder how it's a positive outcome when composers are creating music that people can't sing for choirs with screeching sopranos.

First of all this obviates the need to elevate our thinking about church music as liturgical ministry - (after all, don't chanters serve a semi-clerical roll, per the canons of our church? Should not the same pertain to choirs?) - and precisely that. Church is not a place to hear music we happened to like nor should we sing things merely to appease people. Church is not a place to put our compositions on display, but we chant what we chant precisely to lead the people in liturgical worship. This should be the starting place for any conversation about Church music.

On the basis of that - I would say the following to choir directors: "in your fervor for your western style music as an end unto itself, we've negelected the need to sustain our church's music for the future. You see the graying of the choirs - what are you doing to replace those who retire/pass on? Is your role as choir director merely to conduct/compose? Or is it to play a real liturgical role in the life of the parish? Who will be around to sing anything if we don't make this a top priority?

At an Axion Estin conference on Byzantine chant in the later part of the last decade, Prof. Alex Lingas speaks of a misapplication of western polyphony in our Archdiocese. Chant was what one just simply did and what everyone knew. Polyphony was adornment or "kalophonia". So that said, why are we endeavouring to sustain polyphony, which we're not doing well, when we're not even teaching and executing the original model? I think that's a tough question to answer.

So as chanters what should we do? Let's continue to do what we're doing. Let's continue to develop as chanters. Let's encourage people who want to learn to join us at the psalterion. Put it in the bulletin. Let's let the parish know that we're not just a closed group of individuals but want to share this ministry with those who are willing to put in the time and effort to learn it. Let's start Byzantine choirs within our Metropolises - let's show people that Byzantine chant can be learned by a new generation (as they're showing in the Archdiocesan District) and that this generation, the future of our church, is excited about this.

We can show the Hierarchy that excitement for chant will lead to increased participation amongst the youth in the liturgical life of the Church.

Then it won't become a matter of choirs approaching us asking for help being reformed. They'll have little option but to adapt or adjust. When I asked a friend who chants about how Holy Tuesday went at his parish he told me the choir showed up and sang Kassiane in "Harmonized Heirmologic 9th Mode". He pointed out however, that, being in his 20s will have many more opportunities to chant it. I think this is something else to understand - we're generally a younger generation and we'll be around longer - and by then we'll be taking the place of choirs.

Overall patience, love & diakonia as has been suggested are what's needed. Positive change, I think, is not far away.
 
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Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#52
Very nicely put, Romanos4.

For the sake of discussion along the lines of your comments above, an esteemed Western Polyphony Choir Conductor, when asked "what are you going to do in less than 10 years when most of your members will be >85"?

His answer:

He will make the parish pay for professional singers (not necessarily Orthodox) just to.....sustain the choir (!)

If that is not folly and ego, I do not know what is.

At the same time, the Hierarchs, even though they have established and have at their immediate disposal outstanding Byzantine Choirs, whenever a "visible" liturgy presents itself, they will opt to bring in busloads of sopranos and altos.

The visit of Ieronymos is one blatant example.

Why was the Archbishop afraid to showcase an outstanding choir that HE claims he supports?

Is the anwer really musical, pastoral, in the interests of "love", or does it lie elsewhere in other......"ministries"?

NG
 
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romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#53
Why was the Archbishop afraid to showcase an outstanding choir that HE claims he supports?

Is the anwer really musical, pastoral, in the interests of "love", or does it lie elsewhere in other......"ministries"?

NG
To say it's not political would be naive - of course it is. As I said, I think the answer is to wait and keep doing what we're doing. I want immediate action too - but because I'm friendly with people close to my Metropolitan I know the things he has to deal with when making these decisions.

As soon as we finish Christos Anesti at the Kai Nyn of Orthros I would love to have a choir of mixed voices with ison, perhaps antiphonally, chant Manuel's Plagal 4th Doxology or perhaps the Arga Doxology of Petros Vyzantios in Plagal 1st (if you prefer tone of the week). Instead I will have to endure Desby's 3rd mode again tomorrow. Instead of triumphally proclaiming the Heirmos of the 9th Ode of Pascha I will have to endure the choir sing it at a whisper.

It will change - it has to. My priest won't allow non-Orthodox in our choir. Maybe other priests will, but this is to me a non-negotiable.
 
#54
The visit of Ieronymos is one blatant example.

Why was the Archbishop afraid to showcase an outstanding choir that HE claims he supports?
In this particular instance, the exact same reason why the Patriarchate issued a statement condemning a monumental theoretical and practical musical treatise which helped create a plethora of outstanding choirs, not to mention a widespread return to historical manuscripts and original sources ... caving in to political pressure.

On the other hand, what would we have Archbishop Demetrios do? Ask the existing western choir to step down for a Sunday because of a special guest? That would've reminded me of how some priests scramble to correct all of their erroneous practices before the local Metropolitan's visit, only to revert back to 'tradition' after the visit.

Moreover, information and discussion about the Holy Trinity Cathedral Choir would've been more relevant to the Archbishop-Ieronymos-USA-visit topic, instead of The National Forum. Seems to me that this local western choir is well-established and isn't at a low quality level. How would Archbishop Demetrios reasonably justify asking them to step down for a Sunday? Not exactly realistic to expect him to have done so, even though we all would prefer the byzantine choir over the western choir.

 
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#55
Given that liturgy is the domain of the western choirs, I believe it is they that need extend an olive branch to the chanters.
I completely agree. But when they have thirty members and we have maybe two or three, chanters are usually outnumbered. That's another reason why I support byzantine choirs.

I've received compliments from my parish's former choir director (the position is vacant right now) and have provided compliments in return, though sometimes hollow though they may be but beyond that there has been this attitude of "our 'traditions' are equal" and nothing will change. Would a choir member or any member of my parish approach me about wanting to learn Vespers or Orthros I would welcome them with open arms and help them understand what such an undertaking would necessitate.
Would you be interested in filling the choir director position? :)

 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#56
Dear Mr. Nassis:

You write:

In this particular instance, the exact same reason why the Patriarchate issued a statement condemning a monumental theoretical and practical musical treatise which helped create a plethora of outstanding choirs, not to mention a widespread return to historical manuscripts and original sources ... caving in to political pressure.

You are mixing fermented with distilled. By the rules of logic, your comparisons make no sense whatsoever.

1) The Decision of Holy Synod of the Patriarchate concerns the stability and authenticity of its traditions. It serves as a guide and as a reminder about what the Patriarchate considers as tradition and what it considers authenticity in its traditions. It also determined what is not in line with its traditions and authenticity. You also insult the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and more specifically the Holy Synod when you propose that they "caved in to political pressure". The Synod was presented with a series of questions by renowned Protopsaltae (many of whom are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and who were long-time students of Patriarchal and Constantinopolitan Protopsaltae). The Synod considered the questions, the supporting documentation and it also spoke with representatives of both sides of the questions. It took YEARS for the Committee to look over the material and make its consideration and judgment. It is unfortunate that you consider this due process political pressure. With your reasoning, every Decision of the Synod is a consequence of political pressure....

2) The authority of a local hierarch to designate a chantor/choir to assist in celebrating a service is vested in him, and such a decision can be arbitrary or it can consider what his "boss" (in this case the Mother Church) has laid out as a guide and direction about what is expected of him. Given the hierarchy of Orthodox Christianity, a hierarch that innovates outside the bounds of what his "boss" directs as acceptable risks a lot. The innovations PERMITTED (and I emphasise this word) by local hierarchs as concerns the interjection (again, I emphasise the word) of elements of the governing body of polyphonic music in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (e.g. the Forum) go against three Encyclicals of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not to mention some critical Canons.

Having written this, and considering your comment-

On the other hand, what would we have Archbishop Demetrios do? Ask the existing western choir to step down for a Sunday because of a special guest?

I would answer YES, emphatically. One cannot serve two masters, especially when one is on Youtube lauding one's Byzantine Choir, exhorting its excellence and its uniqueness, and then removing the rug from under their feet to promote something that is un-Canonical. When a hierarch exhorts one of their cherished (me thinks) creations but acts otherwise when push comes to shove, it reveals exactly how much they respect what they claim they cherish.

You then write-

That would've reminded me of how some priests scramble to correct all of their erroneous practices before the local Metropolitan's visit, only to revert back to 'tradition' after the visit.

That is wrong. No one should revert back to anything out of line of the expected ecclesiastic authority (Canons and Encyclicals and Edicts).

You write-

Seems to me that this local western choir is well-established and isn't at a low quality level. How would Archbishop Demetrios reasonably justify asking them to step down for a Sunday? Not exactly realistic to expect him to have done so, even though we all would prefer the byzantine choir over the western choir.

Well-established and high quality does not mean that its material is in line with ecclesiastic tradition. This high-quality choir (which it is in fact), could it not have practiced a Byzantine liturgy (since they are all high quality musicians they CAN read Western transcriptions of a First or Plagal First, or Plagal Fourth liturgy, no?) and presented such a liturgy? That they did not implies that they (their leader and patrons) thumbed their nose at the music of the Mother Church and instead, everything be damned, they presented something out of line. We would not be having this discussion if that high quality choir would have presented a Byzantine liturgy.

If they could not, or were unwilling, the hierarch should have placed them on stand down for that day. One day would not have ruined the "prestige" of these paid, professional and (some) non-Orthodox musicians.

NG
 
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domesticus

Lupus non curat numerum ovium
#57


On the other hand, what would we have Archbishop Demetrios do? Ask the existing western choir to step down for a Sunday because of a special guest?


Of course, it's usual in Greece when a bishop visits a parish and the local chanter doesn't have the knowledge of the special typikon or can't perform the difficult extra chantings (e.g. Ton Despotin).

There are many villages in rural Greece with only basic knowledge chanters.

Since the western choir can't perform accordingly to the special guest, so it's natural to invite someone else who can.

It was very annoying to hear the clergy chanting the Trisagion inside the Bema and outside the western choir chanting TOTALLY different.

Also, I 've read a post above that the choir's singers weren't orthodox. IF it's true, I think it's a very serious allegation ...
 

romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#58


I completely agree. But when they have thirty members and we have maybe two or three, chanters are usually outnumbered. That's another reason why I support byzantine choirs.


As do I! I would be thrilled if our choir wanted to transition to a Byzantine choir yet we have this hodgepodge of, on some days, 4 different composers work without cohesion (and of course you have the organ) - so yes, but the olive branch would be "let's form a Byzantine Choir - let's work together to do so"

Would you be interested in filling the choir director position? :)
Well I don't have the experience conducting a choir quite frankly - I have knowledge of the typikon and generally what should be done and how to organize a service. I have liturgies that are transcribed into western notation. I would say I know *how* it should sound - perhaps most importantly - consistent with the phronema of our liturgy - and could lend help in bringing about a desired outcome in this sense.

On another note, while I am personally thrilled about the Certification Program - I think it needs to be scalable and geographically extensible. As such I would hope that we could have the same certification training within our Metropolises and/or a distance learning approach as others have suggested. It may not be realistic to think this could happen immediately but definitely something to aspire to.
 
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romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#59


Also, I 've read a post above that the choir's singers weren't orthodox. IF it's true, I think it's a very serious allegation ...
I agree - and this would be consistent with this distortion of one's role as a Church musician into a group of singers putting on a performance versus their proper liturgical function.

I am pleased that the first criteria my proistamenos has for finding the replacement for our choir director is that this individual be Orthodox above all else.
 
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#60
Of course, it's usual in Greece when a bishop visits a parish and the local chanter doesn't have the knowledge of the special typikon or can't perform the difficult extra chantings (e.g. Ton Despotin).

There are many villages in rural Greece with only basic knowledge chanters.

Since the western choir can't perform accordingly to the special guest, so it's natural to invite someone else who can.

It was very annoying to hear the clergy chanting the Trisagion inside the Bema and outside the western choir chanting TOTALLY different.
Please excuse the late reply, but great example which I can totally understand. But I don't think it quite applies as analogously as your post suggests. It is quite different to replace (or perhaps support) a single, (probably) elderly chanter with limited ablilities and to replace an entire western choir which can perform the liturgy but in a different style. I didn't see the liturgy, but it doesn't sound as though they didn't know the order of the hierarchical liturgy. From a pastoral (and even a basic common sense) perspective, I don't it would be reasonable to expect the western choir to step down. It is demands such as these, which unfortunately stereotype chanters as irrational absolutists.

Also, I 've read a post above that the choir's singers weren't orthodox. IF it's true, I think it's a very serious allegation ...
Serious allegations of all types can be found in abundance in Psaltologion and within some psaltic circles. Are they substantiated here? Regardless of our allegiances, no matter how strong and loyal, rules of fair play will always delineate any debate or discussion. I don't think it's fair to accuse an entire group saying, the "choir's singers weren't orthodox" without any supporting information.

 
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