Proposal to teach Byzantine Chant throughout the U.S.A.

#21
If I may --

As somebody directly involved in a couple of things mentioned in this discussion, I'd like to say some things. This is a bit long; apologies in advance.

1) The Saint John of Damascus Society is not, and has never claimed to be, an ecclesiastical body. We are an arts organization that seeks to find ways of using the wide variety of traditions of Orthodox music, as well as music education, for purposes of outreach to the general public. No more, no less. Long story short, we started out as a "music boosters"-type organization for the parish in Bloomington, Indiana; when it became clear that the Bloomington parish was not interested in involving itself in such efforts, we rethought things, and here we are. We have participated in events sponsored by groups and parishes within GOA, ROCOR, and AOCNA; we have sponsored events bringing together people from those jurisdictions as well. We do not claim to have any authority within any particular church body, nor do we wish to have any. That's not what we do. I should also note that, despite efforts that cross jurisdictional lines, we rather studiously avoid the term "pan-Orthodox" in describing ourselves, likewise "ecumenical"; both of those terms carry baggage we don't want. For more on what we're doing, I recently did a phone interview for the radio show Come Receive the Light with Fr. Chris Metropoulos about the St. John of Damascus Society, and you can find it here: http://www.myocn.net/index.php/2013...tional-society-for-orthodox-church-music.html

2) This last weekend was the annual convention for the Mideastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, the choir federation for the Metropoles of Detroit and Pittsburgh. I was there, and I was asked to give a an hour and a half talk on Mode III as part of a "Church Music Institute". I hesitate to even bring this up, because I suspect that somebody like me doing such a thing only proves K. Giannoukaki's point about the choir federations/National Forum and psaltiki (possibly because of, not in ignorance of, who my teacher is), but by the same token, I'm pretty sure I don't qualify as anybody's "darling" or "favorite".

Regardless of such concerns, I was given two tasks: demystify the concept of modes for an audience used to the polyphonic musical idiom, and use the polyphonic setting of the third mode resurrectional apolytikion being sung that Sunday (Chris Zervos' adaptation of Sakellarides' melody, set to his own English translation) as a jumping off point for discussing the third mode.

In a nutshell, I spent 45 minutes going over some really basic theory; types of scales, νη πα βου, kommata (albeit without dwelling on it too much), the idea of melodic formulae that go with modes, syllabic vs. melismatic, irmologic vs. sticheraric vs. papadic, that kind of thing. What I was shooting for was to explain what these things *mean*, and why, apart from the technical terminology, and then to put the terminology back in to explain why it's necessary to know it.

(My point of reference here, I should note, is a priest who once asked me, "Isn't talking about νη πα βου kind of silly when people already know 'do re mi'?" I said, no, learning and using the proper terminology is part of any craft. "But it makes it less accessible," he said. No, I insisted; it makes it less idiosyncratic. "Well, find a way to make teaching the terminology more accessible, then," he said.)

Where we got to was that the third mode resurrectional apolytikion is third mode, it's authentic, it's irmologic, and it's enharmonic, and there seemed to be *something* of an understanding of what all those things mean.

So, then I showed them scores, starting with the apolytikion from the Anastasimatarion of Petros Lampadarios; I showed them the score in Byzantine notation and said, I'm not showing you Byz notation to freak you out, i'm just showing it to you so that my process is transparent -- I won't show you any byz notation I don't also transcribe, and if we have time, I can talk more about it if you want later. I then showed them a very dry transcription in staff notation, had them sing it parallagi a couple of times, and asked, okay, what are some general observations we can make about how this behaves? How the melody works? The relationship of text to music?

Then I showed them Mr. Zervos' adaptation of Sakellarides' melody; again, I asked everybody how it was the same, and how it was different. (I should stress that at no point was I trying to convey the idea that "Zervos is doing it wrong"; not at all. He's not claiming that he writes Byzantine music; he's adapting an adaptation in his own musical idiom, and I am not interested in evaluating his music based on criteria not applicable to the end product he's seeking to create.)

Then what I did is showed them another version that used Zervos' translation, but recomposed the melody with the right formulae to properly fit the text, and asked, so, how is THIS different from Zervos' adaptation? People said, oh, it's a lot more like the version from the Anastasimatarion, the relationship between text and melody is clearer, and it's easier to sing. By that point we were basically out of time, but what I said seemed to be received well.

That's one part of the story; the other part is that I heard a number of comments about chanters over the course of the weekend that were antagonistic at best. The perception was clearly communicated; chanters are cowboys and lone wolves, they want to do everything themselves, and they want to tell everybody else they're wrong. They're not team players, they're not welcoming, they're not inclusive, they're not democratic.

To further add to the mix -- I helped chant Orthros on Sunday, and the psalti there is a gentleman who clearly lives to serve the Church, but he is perhaps well past the point where he should have been given relief from his duties as a reward gratefully given for his decades of service. His voice no longer produces pitch with any accuracy, his ear fails him, and while he was perfectly welcoming, he was neither overly communicative nor terribly concerned to make sure that other cantors could see the book on the psaltiri.

Now, God bless the man who at 97 still has the energy and determination to get up on Sunday morning to chant Orthros (at 36 it's a fight for me), but if the picture people in the choir loft have in their heads of what "Byzantine chant" means is that it's what the old man with no voice left does solely on his own, then I can understand where some of the problem comes from.

To be blunt -- we've got a PR problem, and it's not going to go away by insisting that we don't actually have a PR problem, everybody else is just doing it wrong.

In a way, I get it -- nobody wants to be marginalized, nobody wants to be told that what they do or what they like is wrong, AND nobody wants to give up any ground. It's treated as a zero-sum game by all players. The solution that seems to be embraced in most parishes is that the psalti gets all of the services that, let's be honest, nobody comes to, the choir members get the Sunday Liturgy, and since the choir members probably are warming up before Liturgy, they don't get to participate in Orthros (furthering the problem of it being a service nobody goes to). The fact remains, that's a really awful solution in every way; it keeps everybody apart and, in truth, solves nothing. Since most parishes don't seem to do Vespers (that I've seen, anyway), that can't serve as any kind of a mediating ground. It's all or nothing on Sunday morning.

I will say, not to dislocate my shoulder patting myself on the back but simply to say how I handled this disconnect over the course of the weekend, that I spent my time at the convention trying to be useful however I could. I participated in choir rehearsals and sang in the choir for Liturgy, and did my best in the choir loft as much as I did my best at the psaltiri. I talked to, and thanked, the choir director and the composer (as I also thanked the psalti for his hospitality). Things like that.

All of this is to say, with respect to the National Forum and the choir federations, my advice, for whatever it's worth, is -- we don't need a National Forum of Psaltai. There's the Archdiocesan School, there's HCHC -- there is no need whatsoever for yet another body of unclear authority doing its own thing. Rather, I would argue that chanters need to FLOOD the choir federation council meetings and conventions, as well as the National Forum meetings. I went to the MEFGOX council meeting in Ohio in May -- with around 100 parishes in the federation, I was stunned to see less than ten people in attendance. That is a terrible ratio, and those are meetings where people might actually be able to do some good in the long run. Same for the conventions -- our attendance was evidently quite low this year. Imagine a federation convention that has so many chanters registering to go that they have to rethink the offerings and the repertoire! Imagine the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians seeing a rush of chanters at their gathering, such that it is necessary to take very seriously the notion that psaltai count as "Greek Orthodox Church Musicians"!

The thing that everybody is terrified of is attrition. That was a huge topic this last weekend, with "Go home and grow your choirs!" being a rallying cry, and there being a lot of noise about getting youth in our *choirs*. Not at the psaltiri, but in the choir loft. That's telling. What's even more telling is that of people older than college age, I think I was the youngest participant (again, at 36). What's still even more telling is that I had a lot of the college age (and younger) participants at my presentation, and some of them expressed a lot of interest in learning about chant, but not having any idea how to go about learning it. Without easily accessible educational opportunities, of course those kids are going to wind up in the choir loft instead of learning to chant, and they will be acculturated accordingly.

As to the issue of GOA's chant practices needing to be subject to the Tradition of the Great Church -- if our (as in GOA's) hierarchs don't care about pews, organs, and pastel colored choir robes, why in the world would you think they'd care whether or not an oxeia is used in a score? A visiting luminary of some notable rank at MEFGOX last weekend made fun of me (and chanters generally) for even using the words "chromatic", "enharmonic", and "diatonic"; if somebody told him it was his job to monitor how Byzantine chant was taught in all of its particulars, I expect he'd laugh you out of the room. The Antiochians at least have a new Patriarch who once wrote a Byzantine music textbook.

All right, that's long enough for now. My $0.02 worth, if it's even worth that.

Richard
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#22
A couple of notes on two prior posts:

@ Mr. Nassis:

You state:
some views of what constitutes Tradition are more accurate than others. And whoever disagrees has ABSOLUTELY no business at the analogion ...

Please look up the word tradition in the context of the church and then re-evaluate the statement you make.

You then state:
Afterall, "Mr. Giannoukakis' views" are very much his own. Which of his views should we seek to "understand and accept"? And why?

What part of the Patriarchal Decision do you not understand and accept?

@ Richard Barrett:

You state:
That's one part of the story; the other part is that I heard a number of comments about chanters over the course of the weekend that were antagonistic at best. The perception was clearly communicated; chanters are cowboys and lone wolves, they want to do everything themselves, and they want to tell everybody else they're wrong. They're not team players, they're not welcoming, they're not inclusive, they're not democratic.

Richard, the problem is not one of "we vs. they". The problem is the reluctance of the choirs to learn and adopt the Byzantine musical tradition. I am putting myself on the record as a psaltis who will step down from the analogion the minute a western choir in a parish I serve picks up Fr. Ephraim's transcriptions and performs them.

That statement I believe is clear as can be. The problem is that the Forum and its appendages obstruct the possibility of advocating for Byzantine music by the choirs and instead are doing everything to promote anything but Byzantine music. Romanos4 has clearly shared and articulated this view in earlier posts. The issue is NOT choirs. The issue the MATERIAL that choirs use and promote. We would not be having this discussion if the choirs that constitute the membership of the Forum would be using, for example, Fr. Ephraim's (or Dedes') transcriptions. Can Ms. Pappas tell us WHY SHE IS RELUCATANT to promote this, and instead, rationalises the issue away as one of "egotistical chantors vs. poor choir members"?

You then state, Richard:
To be blunt -- we've got a PR problem, and it's not going to go away by insisting that we don't actually have a PR problem, everybody else is just doing it wrong.

The PR problem belongs to the Forum and its appendages. I am not in any way envious that you were invited to the MEGFOX conference. But, at the same time, do you not find it curious that other psaltae, with some more experience and expertise, were not invited? Why? Is it a PR problem, or a matter of "we don't want them because they might just sway our membership in favor of Byz. Music".

Why not hold more than one session? Why not try and get the MEGFOX people more aligned to material from Fr. Ephraim instead of Zes, Desby, Cardiasmenos and the entire American spiel?

You then state, Richard:
we don't need a National Forum of Psaltai. There's the Archdiocesan School, there's HCHC -- there is no need whatsoever for yet another body of unclear authority doing its own thing.

I agree with you completely. At the same time, the Forum has to disengage from Byzantine Music and allow the people who know it well, to teach with properly and accurately. The Forum can interface with the Seminary and bring people out to their meetings (as they did you), to advance the self-evident fact about Orthodox music. Get the choirs to adopt what is Orthodox.

You then state:
Rather, I would argue that chanters need to FLOOD the choir federation council meetings and conventions, as well as the National Forum meetings.

Without a reason to participate, why would the chantors flood these meetings? To sit and listen to why Desby represents tradition? Are you kidding me?

You then state:
and some of them expressed a lot of interest in learning about chant, but not having any idea how to go about learning it.

There are individuals and programs in existence (since 1998 in MEGFOX district) that the people running MEGFOX know about yet DO NOT PROMOTE AMONG THEIR MEMBERSHIP. We have a school of Byzantine Chant in PGH since 1998. It has become online on an as-needed basis. Does MEGFOX even mention it??? AND IT IS FREE OF CHARGE ALSO.

You then write:
A visiting luminary of some notable rank at MEFGOX last weekend made fun of me (and chanters generally) for even using the words "chromatic", "enharmonic", and "diatonic"; if somebody told him it was his job to monitor how Byzantine chant was taught in all of its particulars, I expect he'd laugh you out of the room.

This luminary is obviously unlearned. He is far from luminous. If he is a hierarch, and has an clue about his duties to uphold the truth and the "orthotomia", his laughter would betray a hypocrite at best. I'd love to meet this luminary and remind him of his duties to the Faith and to the Mother Church as its representative.....assuming this was a clergyman or hierarch. I'd ask him to recite a couple of canons and edicts and, record his opinion of them, and send to the Patriarch to see what the Patriarch and the Holy Synod would think....

NG
 
#23
Your thoughts mostly speak for themselves, K. Giannoukaki, and require no further comment on my part; there are two or three questions you have that I will do my best to answer, however.

I am not in any way envious that you were invited to the MEGFOX conference. But, at the same time, do you not find it curious that other psaltae, with some more experience and expertise, were not invited? Why? Is it a PR problem, or a matter of "we don't want them because they might just sway our membership in favor of Byz. Music".
I was invited to do it because I was already going to be there. It was really that simple. Further, I was already going because, at present, I am my parish's only musician of any stripe, so it was up to me to represent the parish at the convention, and my parish council strongly encouraged me to go. The parish itself, being new and still finding its feet, is trying to establish some kind of a place amongst the other parishes in the Metropolis, and this was a way to help with that effort.

Why not hold more than one session? Why not try and get the MEGFOX people more aligned to material from Fr. Ephraim instead of Zes, Desby, Cardiasmenos and the entire American spiel?
I can't speak with any authority as to "why not", but based on comments that were made to me, my semi-educated guess is that previous presenters have been not entirely well-received.

As to materials, while I ultimately had less time than I wanted and so only got through a few high points, they got a handout that contained scores from the Anastasimatarion of Petros Lampadarios, Fr. Ephraim, and Fr. Seraphim Dedes, and it also listed St. Anthony's Monastery as one of the main recommended resources.

And I will say that the comment I heard more than any other after my presentation was, "I have been wondering how this works and what those terms mean for years, and I've never understood it before today." To the extent that this has any impact towards winning hearts and minds, I'll take that as positive, but it's but one step. There's a long way to go.

Without a reason to participate, why would the chantors flood these meetings? To sit and listen to why Desby represents tradition? Are you kidding me?
My advice is predicated on the assumption that it would work to the advantage of chanters to make enough of a showing at such events to convey to the National Forum and choir federations that it is necessary to rethink their program. I've never seen an argument won by both sides saying, "We won't talk to the other side until they admit we're right and they're wrong."

There are individuals and programs in existence (since 1998 in MEGFOX district) that the people running MEGFOX know about yet DO NOT PROMOTE AMONG THEIR MEMBERSHIP. We have a school of Byzantine Chant in PGH since 1998. It has become online on an as-needed basis. Does MEGFOX even mention it??? AND IT IS FREE OF CHARGE ALSO.
For whatever it is worth, K. Giannoukaki, I understand you far better than perhaps you realize. I am more than aware of how it is to pour one's lifeblood into efforts to serve the Church for the Church's benefit, not one's own, and to see that the people with apparent power in the areas you're working in aren't willing to play ball or acknowledge what you're doing. I'm sorry about that, I truly am. I am brand new to the politics of GOA and don't completely understand what that's all about, but I can tell you that I toiled in vain in the Antiochian Archdiocese for years. Central Indiana is, unfortunately, a no-man's land where Orthodox music is concerned, and as hard as I worked to try to get the parish and the Archdiocese to care about what was going on here, we were out of sight and out of mind for the Archdiocese, and the parish itself was indifferent at best, if not outright hostile.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I now drive more than an hour each way on Sundays to go to Indianapolis, but even there, the picture is complicated. The psaltis at Holy Trinity is a friend, he's a wonderful man, and he's a great musician, but he's been conditioned to do things a particular way by his former priest that has left him little room to go beyond staff notation transcriptions. He'd like to, but it's all a question of time, and to be honest, what he does works well enough for how the parish operates. This may change after the new priest gets settled; who knows. There is a family of Arab chanters at the Antiochian parish in Indianapolis, and they do lovely stuff with the Arabic tradition, but everything they do is 100% based on the oral tradition; nobody reads any notation of any kind. And, of course, the Antiochian parish switches to a big polyphonic choir for Divine Liturgy. The group of us chanters from the three parishes have talked about putting together a Byzantine choir, but it's all a question of time and energy, particularly since I'm having to drive from so far away.

The parish I chant at does not yet have the human resources to form a choir of any kind; I'm all there is for the time being, and there aren't really any youth to try to teach (my 1 year old represents the only real "youth" in the parish, and while he's plenty vocal, he's got a few years to go before we can get him up there following along). That's the downside; the upside is that this means that I basically make the call about what repertoire to sing, and I can tell you, it isn't Desby. At some point there will be a conversation about what this parish's musical culture looks like in the long run, and what I will encourage is this -- there's already a big Greek parish in Indianapolis that does the "lone chanter for Orthros/big polyphonic choir for Divine Liturgy" program. There doesn't need to be another one. Rather, we're already doing something distinctive in that we (or rather, I) do Byzantine chant for Divine Liturgy; let's build on that. Let's have antiphonal Byzantine choirs, let's make it a point to teach psaltic notation, let's be a center for Byzantine music instruction. Let's do something that no other parish in Indianapolis is doing or is capable of doing. I don't know how that plan will be received, but it's what I will argue for.

As for the Pittsburgh school -- μπράβο, sir, truly. That's amazing, I'm sorry if I've never conveyed that sufficiently before, and it's a shame that the effort hasn't been more widely recognized. In 2008 (I think?) I was looking at any possible way I could come to your August session, but a month off (or however long it was), particularly in a place where I would need housing, simply wasn't feasible. It would have never been of any help to me in Indiana, and meaning no disrespect, but lessons over Skype or YouTube don't cut it for somebody who had in-person studio instruction in voice for probably fourteen years straight from the time he was 16 to the time he was 30. I ultimately have the same problem with the Archdiocesan School and, sad to say, Holy Cross -- great for people who are in the Northeast and/or who have the means and opportunity to relocate; not so much for everybody else.
 
#24
The problem defined ...
...I heard a number of comments about chanters over the course of the weekend that were antagonistic at best. The perception was clearly communicated; chanters are cowboys and lone wolves, they want to do everything themselves, and they want to tell everybody else they're wrong. They're not team players, they're not welcoming, they're not inclusive, they're not democratic.

To be blunt -- we've got a PR problem, and it's not going to go away by insisting that we don't actually have a PR problem, everybody else is just doing it wrong.
The problem exemplified...
You then write:
A visiting luminary of some notable rank at MEFGOX last weekend made fun of me (and chanters generally) for even using the words "chromatic", "enharmonic", and "diatonic"; if somebody told him it was his job to monitor how Byzantine chant was taught in all of its particulars, I expect he'd laugh you out of the room.

This luminary is obviously unlearned. He is far from luminous. If he is a hierarch, and has an clue about his duties to uphold the truth and the "orthotomia", his laughter would betray a hypocrite at best. I'd love to meet this luminary and remind him of his duties to the Faith and to the Mother Church as its representative.....assuming this was a clergyman or hierarch. I'd ask him to recite a couple of canons and edicts and, record his opinion of them, and send to the Patriarch to see what the Patriarch and the Holy Synod would think....
Any questions?

P.S. I completely agree with the goal of promoting byzantine chant. But I completely disagree with these inappropriate, rude, and, frankly, ugly means used as an attempt to achieve that goal. This threatening, aggressive, and demeaning manner can only hurt our cause. Thankfully, we have plenty of better examples to emulate.

 

saltypsalti

Παλαιό Μέλος
#25
I don't think anyone in this thread is in disagreement as the to the problem, but there does seem to be a lack of dialogue as to the way forward and a lot of intersecting monologues.

JPP
 

romanos4

Παλαιό Μέλος
#26
I don't think anyone in this thread is in disagreement as the to the problem, but there does seem to be a lack of dialogue as to the way forward and a lot of intersecting monologues.

JPP
Clearly - my struggle (among the others I face) is how to deal with attitudes of people who believe the statements I made earlier - such that the tradition is that the liturgy begins at 10am. That the organ is now part of the the tradition - but not only that - but that Byzantine Music does not have the a place in the future of "American Orthodoxy."

While Kyr. Giannoukakis's statements cut to the quick, how is it not frustrating when even the hierarchy makes fun of Psaltis for emphasizing the particulars of Byzantine Music?

Arguing again by analogy - would this same hierarch say that terms like "Theosis" or "Consubstantial/Homoousios", "noetic" "kenotic" (i.e. terms that are particular to Orthodoxy) - are dismissable? If so then I think the implications of the future of Orthodoxy are unfortunately clear and we'll just keep watering things down and lose our identity.

I'll ask it again - why when it comes to music we have this "anything goes" attitude?

We must always approach all situations out of love, but while our Church has plenty of "nice people" at some point, people sometimes need to be told they're wrong.

While there's something of a PR problem, what do you do with a body that posthumously awarded Sakellarides for his work as a "Founding Father"?

I do think there's merit to Richard's suggestion that we "flood" the federation meetings. There's clearly a perception that Byzantine Music is a "museum piece" among some people - I think we can very much prove that it is an active, living tradition.
 
#27
I might also suggest another concrete step, at least at the local (more or less) level.

GOA Choir Federations, or at least Metropoles, should each have their own Byzantine Choir, with an effort to organize them specifically under the framework of the appropriate Choir Federation (or Metropolis). Organize a CMI around the Byzantine Choir at a central location for the Federation/Metropolis; if you've got at least 20 participants and 6 hours of instruction, the Choir Federation will pay for it. Maybe there could even be some cooperation from the Archdiocesan School or Holy Cross or ASBMH. Definitely there would be cooperation of some kind from The Saint John of Damascus Society. Set it up so that you're doing a workshop, a concert, AND maybe a cycle of Vespers/Orthros/Divine Liturgy with the participants. If you can get a Metropolitan or two to show up, so much the better.

And then promote the heck out of it with the choral people in the nicest, most positive way you possibly can. Present it as a way chanters are trying to contribute constructively and productively to the activities of the Choir Federation.

I'm in the Mideastern Federation, which I guess would require a location central to Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Nashville -- so maybe Columbus, OH would be the place to try to do something like this for us? Handily, they're also hosting the Federation's convention next year.

Anyway, just throwing this out as an option that that could be constructive.
 
Last edited:

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#28
Dear Richard,

As you know, I am responsible for our Metropolis' school of BM and the Byzantine Choir- this year celebrating its 15th year of active existence.

MEGFOX held CMIs in our areas in the past. Forum people have come and gone through our areas many times. With the sole exception a request in 2005 to sing some Greek songs for a MEGFOX event, the Forum pretends it does not know about us or our programs.

Possibly, you might want to ask "why".

I don't know the answer.

I also don't expect anything to change vis-a-vis what the Forum does in terms of BM. My view is that it pays lip service to BM, it has APPROPRIATED BM just to stifle it from within. That is the impression that is being created. That is why I have argued that any BM matters be removed from the Forum's list of interests, placed under the aegis of the Holy Synod and then delegated to the HCHC program. That way, BM can be served honestly and the programs that can be developed, I am confident, will involve learned and credible people.

Otherwise, we will go nowhere.

I am repeating what I wrote many posts earlier: Other non-ecclesiastic entities may take up the role of training chantors in the USA, but as we have discussed- who will teach? What is their credibility? WHAT WILL THEY TEACH? Will they follow and respect the decisions of ecclesiastic authorities? Will ecclesiastic authorities recognise the educational program(s)? What if what is taught is not in line with tradition? What happens then? Are these potential entities willing to challenge ecclesiastic authority (jovially-laughing and mocking clergy notwithstanding, there are Patriarchates that are serious about these matters). Chantors will serve churches and thus, they must respect ecclesiastic rules and decisions. Chantors are not mere "church musicians". They never were (read up on the Canons). These are germane questions for any non-ecclesiastic or para-ecclesiastic entity to ask itself. The Forum included.

My view is that we wait and see how the HCHC program evolves. I am confident that it will grow and espouse outreach in innovative ways. Professor Karanos is an innovative thinker and a magentic personality with the knowledge, expertise, respect, and enthusiasm to build it.

NG
 
Last edited:
#29
Well, K. Giannoukaki, the practical issue, it seems to me, is one of impasse. As I said, I've never seen an argument successfully resolved by both sides insisting that the only possible resolution is one side admitting that the other is right. I'm trying to suggest positive and constructive solutions to the impasse, working within the reality in which we find ourselves. Waiting around for everybody to concede to doing things our way doesn't seem to be getting us very far. (And before you talk about "our way" being governed by ecclesiastic rules and decisions of the Patriarchate, I have learned the hard way over the years that it is a losing battle to take a harder line than one's own priest or bishop is willing to take.)

My observation, based on conversations I've had, is that the problem is ultimately one of fear. The choirs are afraid of attrition and they are afraid that the chanters want to take the music that they love away from them. As long as we talk in the language of "All of you are doing it wrong, you're heretics for doing it that way, and you need us to show you how to do it right," the discussion will continue to go nowhere and the choirs will continue to respond to chanters with disinterest informed by fear. That is, I believe, the reality as at least some of the choir people see it. From where I sit, it will be more productive for us to acknowledge reality and thus try to change the game with positive, constructive tactics rather than continue to run around in circles.

And, for whatever it's worth, having met him a number of times now and sat in on his classes, I of course have the greatest of respect for Menios and I have no doubt that he will help be part of the solution. At the same time, it seems that it will ultimately be most effective to have a grassroots, local effort that can meet an official, archdiocesan effort halfway.

Again, strictly my $0.02 worth, I'm new in terms of the GOA lay of the land, and for all I know I'm dead wrong. At the same time, Vicki Pappas has been a friend of mine for years (she lives maybe two miles from me, if that) and she has spoken as frankly with me on some of these points as you have. I freely acknowledge that I may be wrong, but I'm at least not entirely uninformed as to the tenor of the conversations and what the various perceptions are.

Richard
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#30
Dear Richard:

To address a couple of points you raised-

You state-
I've never seen an argument successfully resolved by both sides insisting that the only possible resolution is one side admitting that the other is right.

The argument is not about right or wrong. This is not a juridical matter. It is an ecclesiastic matter that everyone seems to not understand. Everyone believes that their personal tastes are correct, and in a democratic community, that may be appropriate. In a church, which is DIRECTED by rules and traditions, democracy and personal likes take second, and third place. Otherwise, the CHURCH is divided and falls.

You state-
I'm trying to suggest positive and constructive solutions to the impasse, working within the reality in which we find ourselves

And so have I and others- we do NOT want to eliminate choirs. Since choirs can read Western notation, take up BM in Western notation and incorporate it in the repertoire. Week 1 do Desby, week 2 do Fr. Ephraim/Serapheim transcriptions of classic BM, week 3 do Gallos, week 4 return to BM and so on. WHY IS THERE RESISTANCE to this???

Then, let the parish decide what they like. If the parish as a whole is more comfortable with Gallos, then forget about BM. If the parish likes BM, stick with BM, or a rotating repertoire. Is this so difficult???

You state:
The choirs are afraid of attrition and they are afraid that the chanters want to take the music that they love away from them

This takes us again to the comments raised by Romanos4 and validates his arguments that choirs and their patrons want nothing to do with BM because it IS NO THE MUSIC THAT THEY LOVE. Period.

Thus, since it (BM) is not the music that they love, why would they ever even accept using it as part of their repertoire?

You state-
As long as we talk in the language of "All of you are doing it wrong, you're heretics for doing it that way, and you need us to show you how to do it right,"

Our argument is that: Be it resolved that choirs want to incorporate BM in their repertoire, call in people who know Western and BM and have them ASSIST the choir in the implementation. Yes, we do want to show you how to do it right and then, once we do, we will move on to help another choir. See my note on rotating repertoire earlier....

You state-
From where I sit, it will be more productive for us to acknowledge reality

The reality is that few choirs are interested in changing repertoire, because their members DO NOT LIKE BM. Add to that a Forum that only fuels this position and I am afraid that my argument that the Forum is NOT IN THE LEAST interested in BM promotion or helping choirs incorporating it into their repertoire because it is NOT THE MUSIC THAT THEY LOVE is validated.

Thus, we have an even deeper problem- one that Romanos4 outlined many posts ago-

One of where we stand on our faith. Orthodoxy, Richard, is not a faith of the a-la-carte type. This is what the secularising elements would want you to believe, but this line of thought is precisely what the Fathers of our Church fought against.

You then state-
And before you talk about "our way" being governed by ecclesiastic rules and decisions of the Patriarchate, I have learned the hard way over the years that it is a losing battle to take a harder line than one's own priest or bishop is willing to take.

So, if there should be no rules, then can a CHURCH exist??? Which rules do we respect and which rules do we trample? Your comment scares me.

Those saints and martyrs who also happen to have participated in formulating the Orthodox faith and laying down its principles, whose apolytikia you chant, and whose synaxaria you read, do you not even for a moment think about WHAT those words in the apolytikia mean? Does it not bother you in the least that on the one hand you are chanting and commemorating the persons whose defense of the principles of Orthodoxy are outlined in those poems and yet you are liberally able to accept "softening of the faith" through the so-called "American Orthodox model"?

I don't buy the postmodern revisionist and relativist view that is so flagrantly thrown around in the Orthodox Church these days. Call me anything you want, but I cannot condone anything that is outside the order of the church.

Priests, monks and bishops died defending these tenets in the past so you and I can chant poems dedicated to their "extremity".

I hope that, as a convert, and a learner of our faith, that you see this truth in Orthodox Christianity.

Christ himself said it best: "Whowever WANTS to follow me, DENY yourselves and TAKE UP YOUR CROSS". This tripartite phrase has been defined over the centuries by enlightened Fathers.

Post-modernist relativism is incompatible with this central tenet of Christianity. Certainly Orthodoxy.

Finally, you state-
At the same time, it seems that it will ultimately be most effective to have a grassroots, local effort that can meet an official, archdiocesan effort halfway.

Sure. But what if the grassroots local level promotes something that is NOT in line with archdiocesan efforts? Patriarchal and traditional practices? What then?

Last, perceptions and reality can be very different. I hope that your interactions with the Forum will be constructive and that you will not one day feel betrayed.

NG
 
Last edited:
#31
Thank you, K. Giannoukaki; as usual, your comments speak for themselves. As to your questions --

Thus, since it (BM) is not the music that they love, why would they ever even accept using it as part of their repertoire?

Well, call me naοve, but what I'm trying to suggest is that if we drop what is perceived as the collective tough-guy stance and go out of our way to act like we think we're part of the same church as the people we're trying to communicate with, we might actually have a better chance of communicating with them. Call me crazy, call me (as you did) a convert, but I was raised to believe that one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. There has to be another way.

Does it not bother you in the least that on the one hand you are chanting and commemorating the persons whose defense of the principles of Orthodoxy are outlined in those poems and yet you are liberally able to accept "softening of the faith" through the so-called "American Orthodox model"?

I'm not entirely sure what you think I'm advocating here with your comment. I have gone out of my way, in a geographic and parochial situation where I had fewer than zero resources available to me of any kind, at no small inconvenience to me and to my family, to seek out teachers, to learn what I can about the tradition of our craft, to promote it wherever possible, and to try to make what I have experienced as an extraordinarily difficult uphill battle even the least bit easier for whomever else I can. I have no earthly idea what you think you are claiming about me with your second clause, but with all the respect due to a brother in Christ, to say nothing of a man of your accomplishments, education, and service to the Church, K. Giannoukaki, back off and calm down. I have zero interest in participating in a conversation that is going to devolve into accusations of bad faith.

Good day to you, sir.

Richard
 

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
#32
Confrontation was not my intent, Richard.

I'm sorry if my questions offended you. They were not intended to do so. They were intended to challenge some thinking-mine and yours and possibly others who are reading this thread. In the end, I might discover that my thesis has no factual basis and that my approach was never viable. Time will tell.

Possibly the questions I posed could have been better formulated with the honey as you described and maybe that is what my approach has been lacking all along.

You too, sir. Have a wonderful evening and may St. Panteleimon intercede for the Lord to grant you health always.

NG
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#33
I participated in choir rehearsals and sang in the choir for Liturgy, and did my best in the choir loft as much as I did my best at the psaltiri.
I assume that the choir in question deviated from the traditions of the Great Church of Christ (for example, by employing Western-style polyphony or egregiously violating the formulaic rules of Byzantine music). How could you, being well aware of these deviations, sing in such a choir in good conscience? If you truly believe that these rules should be followed, then why do you break them yourself?

I was invited to do it because I was already going to be there. ... I was already going because, at present, I am my parish's only musician of any stripe, so it was up to me to represent the parish at the convention, and my parish council strongly encouraged me to go. The parish itself, being new and still finding its feet, is trying to establish some kind of a place amongst the other parishes in the Metropolis, and this was a way to help with that effort.
Attending a Metropolis-level event on behalf of your parish in order to help your parish establish some kind of a place amongst the other parishes in the Metropolis is, of course, a noble endeavor. But if the event in question is centered around deviating from the traditions of the Great Church of Christ, then how could you attend it in good conscience? Isn't that putting the desire for social acceptance above safeguarding Holy Tradition?

... I toiled in vain in the Antiochian Archdiocese for years. Central Indiana is, unfortunately, a no-man's land where Orthodox music is concerned, and as hard as I worked to try to get the parish and the Archdiocese to care about what was going on here, we were out of sight and out of mind for the Archdiocese, and the parish itself was indifferent at best, if not outright hostile.
By the way, New England is not a no-man's land where Orthodox music is concerned, but my former Antiochian parish was still overtly hostile to Byzantine music efforts.
 
#34
Basil: I would say that your problem is with the culture of GOA, not with me, and you need to take it up with the appropriate hierarchs. I believe I stated very clearly the nature of my participation and what I did, and that I do not think a separatist mindset accomplishes anything productive; rather, it establishes de facto, if unstated, schisms.

Beyond that, see my comments made throughout this thread, as well as our various correspondences over the last five years. You know full well what I think, what I have done, and what kinds of choices I have had to make, and I will say again, I am not the least bit interested in participating in a conversation that is going to devolve into character assassination.
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#35
... I would say that your problem is with the culture of GOA, not with me, and you need to take it up with the appropriate hierarchs.
I criticize both the culture of the GOA for its deviation from the musical traditions of the Great Church, as well as your specific actions that deviate from this musical tradition in a manner complicit with this culture. I haven't taken my criticisms up with any hierarchs because I don't have a clear solution to these problems in mind, but that doesn't make my criticisms any less legitimate. In my opinion, chanters who deviate from the musical traditions of the Great Church for political purposes do a great disservice to Byzantine music and implicitly condone many unwarranted innovations. I can't see what ends justify these means, which is why I asked you to explain your position to me.

I believe I stated very clearly the nature of my participation and what I did, …
You stated that you attended a conference, that you gave a talk on Understanding the Third Mode, that you chanted at the psaltiri, and that you sang in the choir for Liturgy. To be absolutely clear, it's fine that you attended the conference and that you chanted at the psaltiri. I commend you for giving your talk; the subject material you described sounded good to me, and I'm also curious what you discussed about the formulaic rules of Third Mode. But I object to singing Western-style polyphony in a choir or chanting pieces that egregiously violate the formulaic rules of Byzantine music.

... I do not think a separatist mindset accomplishes anything productive; …
I'm not a separatist, but I refuse to compromise the quality of my chanting or composing. You claim that this doesn't accomplish anything productive. I ask: what productive thing does this accomplish that is valuable enough to justify compromising the quality of my chanting?

... rather, it establishes de facto, if unstated, schisms.
I certainly don't mean to establish de facto, if unstated, schisms. How can I determine whether or not this is actually the case?

Beyond that, see my comments made throughout this thread, as well as our various correspondences over the last five years. You know full well what I think, what I have done, and what kinds of choices I have had to make, and I will say again, I am not the least bit interested in participating in a conversation that is going to devolve into character assassination.
This conversation hasn't devolved into character assassination yet, has it? Like you, I'm not interested in personal attacks. I asked because I saw an apparent contradiction in your behavior in this particular instance and wanted to understanding the reasoning behind it in an attempt to see your point of view and to possibly change my own.
 
#36
In my opinion, chanters who deviate from the musical traditions of the Great Church for political purposes do a great disservice to Byzantine music and implicitly condone many unwarranted innovations. I can't see what ends justify these means, which is why I asked you to explain your position to me.
I make a distinction between political and practical, just as I make a distinction between bridge-building and collaborating with the enemy.

In a nutshell, Basil, I made a judgment call in sizing up the room when I arrived Friday evening that I knew exactly one person in attendance; nobody else had the slightest clue who I was, which meant that nobody had any reason to care the slightest bit about what I would have to say Saturday morning. The best chance I had to actually make a positive case for what I had to say was to be realistic about the context I was in, and take advantage of the perhaps unique position I was in to fully participate as a cantor and as a choral singer to the best of my ability. You may call that political; I do not.

I commend you for giving your talk; the subject material you described sounded good to me, and I'm also curious what you discussed about the formulaic rules of Third Mode.
In the time I had available, not much more than "they exist, and this is a way that the translation Zervos uses here could be set using those rules; beyond that, go to the St. Anthony's website".

But I object to singing Western-style polyphony in a choir or chanting pieces that egregiously violate the formulaic rules of Byzantine music.
Object away. I have other reasons that I am not going to go into here, and I don't particularly feel the need to justify myself to you.

I'm not a separatist, but I refuse to compromise the quality of my chanting or composing.
I must have missed the part where compromising the quality of your chanting or composing had anything to do with what I was doing there.

I ask: what productive thing does this accomplish that is valuable enough to justify compromising the quality of my chanting?
My overall point in this thread is that conscious bridge-building efforts can be seen as a positive third way. We can shout all we want about the things we argue about here, but when even our own metropolitans make jokes about us, then we have a problem that isn't going to go away by simply saying it's everybody else's problem. At what point do we look for ways to be productive and constructive within the reality that we actually have in this country, and stop chasing away people who really should otherwise be on our side?

I asked because I saw an apparent contradiction in your behavior in this particular instance and wanted to understanding the reasoning behind it in an attempt to see your point of view and to possibly change my own.
My point of view is that we do not do well to isolate ourselves. I see a way that the choir federations and the National Forum can be participated in by cantors that will change the conversation for the better; you either agree with that or you don't. If you don't, you don't, and nothing I say is going to change anything.

Richard
 
#38
I see -- rational debate requires me justifying myself to you. That's fascinating. I would have expected far better from you.

I'm not sure what bee got into your bonnet, Basil, but someday it will be good for you guys to figure out it helps nobody to be jerks to people who want to help you and further the same aims you have. I've tried to suggest this to you before; I'm sorry that you're not interested in listening.

Good day to you, too.

Richard
 

phokaeus

Παλαιό Μέλος
#39
The polemic spirit with which this topic is approached never ceases to amaze. Naturally, I wish you all the best in your efforts toward the dissemination of traditional chanting, but to be frank it will surprise me greatly if any fruit ever comes of them.
 

basil

Παλαιό Μέλος
#40
Dear forum,

After reflecting on the exchange that took place, I have concluded that my manner of questioning was not an appropriate way of framing this conversation. I have apologized to Richard privately. In the interest of full transparency, I am posting my apology here publicly. As I write below, I hope that the specific issues regarding the interaction between traditional chanters and the National Forum can be discussed in a clear and polite tone, free of personal accusations and emotional reactions. May God help us all to act with patience, humility, Christian love, prudence, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Basil

Dear Richard,

I would like to sincerely apologize for my remarks to you on Psaltologion in the past few days. I don't regret raising the specific issues I raised, but I regret the accusatory and unnecessarily personal manner in which I raised them. Please forgive me for that.

What these posts have uncovered, for me, is a deep philosophical divide and a question I have been struggling with personally for some time now. The question is, "Is it acceptable for a chanter to compromise the quality of his singing in order to accomplish the greater goal of improving the liturgical life of our parishes?" You seem to imply that it is not only acceptable but necessary -- that we must participate in erroneous activities in order to reach people at their level and raise them up to a greater awareness. I question whether or not that is truly necessary or even acceptable in general terms (specific cases of oikonomia notwithstanding). After all, why should education and following one's consience be mutually exclusive? Isn't it possible for me to be (a) kind to people whose singing deviates from the parameters of the Church while (b) not deviating from those parameters myself? This is the issue I sincerely want to discuss, in a polite and respectful tone free of personal accusations and emotional reactions. That's not how I started the conversation, and for that I sincerely apologize, but the truth of the matter is that that's what I have been trying to discuss with you.

Stated succintly, the question is: Is it truly necessary to compromise the quality of one's own singing (or composing) in order to accomplish the greater goal of improving the liturgical life of our parishes? What, exactly, are the consequences of doing so? What are the things we gain? Is the tradeoff acceptable?

Personally, I can think of many cons. Let's not forget that the reason the Greek-American choral style exists today is precisely because Greeks in the early part of the 20th century began to Westernize their music, iconography, and even theology without considering the ramifications of these compromises. Another con that I can think of is that once a few knowledgable chanters begin bending the rules in their chanting and composing, then people are more emboldened to put pressure on other knowledgable chanters to also bend the rules. I have personally experienced this, which is one of the reasons I reacted the way I did. But if we all observed the rules of Byzantine music, then this wouldn't be an issue.

You've already listed some of the pros, but your manner of describing them seems vague to me -- promises of a better future if we just act a different way. I'm an engineer, and that doesn't cut it. What, specifically, are we going to gain? And is the loss of our credibility (and possibility the integrity of our musical tradition) worth gaining that thing?

Given this backdrop, I find your most recent response to me puzzling. Richard, I have no desire to humiliate you personally or to be rude in any way. But I do want to have a rational debate about the issues I raised above. I've been completely transparent with you, but you haven't been transparent with me. When you say, "I have other reasons that I am not going to go into here", well -- neither of us can learn anything then, right? What are those reasons? When you say, "I don't particularly feel the need to justify myself to you," I read that as: "I don't feel the need to justify my compromises." Well, that's fine (after all, you're a free agent), but that doesn't help us get any closer to answering the questions I raised above -- questions which divide the chanting community, and which we need to form consensus on. And I am absolutely willing to change my view with discussion, but so far the points I've raised above haven't been addressed by anyone in the "we must compromise" crowd.

Again, please accept my apologies, and I hope this email clarifies the sincere intent of my original questions to you.

Basil
 
Top