Using the meaningless "chi" in English compositions


Παλαιό Μέλος
While gathering papadic formulae, I noticed that occasionally Greek composers insert the letter "chi" in particular places in those formulae. For example, in the padadic first mode formulae, there is one near the end of page 6.

When composing papadic hymns in English, I would like to follow this tradition used by the Greek composers, but I hesitate to do so, knowing that many English-speaking chanters cannot pronounce the Greek letter "chi". I am wondering if I should perhaps replace those "chi's" with "h's" or "n's" or just omit them entirely. What do you think?

+Fr. Ephraim
What is the purpose of these meaningless 'n' and 'h'? They exist also in the Slavonic books. Whether these letters must stay in English or not depends on their purpose.

In the Slavonic books instead of the regular Cyrillic 'n' other symbols are used. These are the same symbols (actually letters, but old) that Chrysanthos is using to write ananes, neanes, nana, etc. (see §68 of his book) - there are two different 'n'. Maybe you can do the same, i.e. you can use the two old symbols for 'n' and the Greek letter chi instead of the Latin letters 'n' and 'h'.

I am not sure about this, but as far as I can remember, before 'o' the meaningless 'h' is used and before 'e' the meaningless 'n' is used. If this is indeed so, it would mean you should not consult only the neumatic formulae when placing 'n' and 'h'. You should take into account also the actual English text.

EDIT: Now I noticed that the English translation of the book of Chrysanthos has not preserved these symbols. So I am attaching a scanned image from the Bulgarian translation (that seems directly copied from the Greek original).


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Παλαιό Μέλος
What is the purpose of these meaningless 'n' and 'h'?
According to Dr. Dimitri Conomos, a Byzantine musicologist:
Two problems were solved with the introduction of these foreign sounds into the text. First, a practical one: they had the effect of abbreviating an extended melodic phrase into groups of a few notes, thereby making it easier for the soloist or the choir to sing. Secondly, it solved an aesthetic problem; the consonants erased the unpleasantness of a sustained vowel and offered an incentive to the chanter to add emphasis at certain points where the composer, scribe or psalte [i.e., chanter] thought fit.​

- Conomos, Dimitri E., Byzantine Trisagia and Cheroubika of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies, Thessaloniki, 1974, p. 264.


Παλαιό Μέλος
What is the purpose of these meaningless 'n' and 'h'? They exist also in the Slavonic books.
Dr. Dimitri Conomos writes on p. 262 of his book:
"Paleobyzantine Russian chant also reproduced this device. Mme Verdeil* mentions that they were called ananejki or chabuvi and that they survived in early chants until the reforms of Mezenec."

* R. P. Verdeil "La Musique byzantine chez les bulgares et les russes (du IXe au XIVe siecle)", MMB III, Subsidia (Copenhagen 1953) 145.​
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My opinion is (obviously from my compositions) a hearty YES on the "n" sound, but an adamant NO on the Chi sound. This is because "n" is a natural sound in English, whereas the Chi sound is not. If I am adapting a piece with a Chi sound in it, I personally change it to an "n". This may not be proper form, but I haven't encountered any problems with it.


Παλαιό Μέλος
I also reached the same conclusion that it is best to replace the "chi's" with "n's" in English. But then what should we do when a formula has a meaningless "chi" and a meaningless "n" on two consecutive notes? Although it's rare, it does happen. For example, take a look at the "alleluia" in the koinonikon of St. John Koukouzeles in plagal first mode. (Angelopoulos has also made a recording of this.) If we replace the "chi" with an "n", we'll be singing "na na". Is that alright?