10 Comments

  1. Pauline Costianes

    It is wonderful that a project like this has been undertaken. As an American of Greek descent, NOT raised in the GOA and NOT raised on Byzantine music, I find that some of it is quite majestic and beautiful. What I find troublesome and I think other “Americans” might find also, is when the music is overly-ornamented and hyper-melismatic, carrying one syllable on and on and on , etc., over a bunch of notes

    I also wonder about these translations. “In everlasting remembrance shall the righteous be. Alleluia. ” for instance. What is wrong with the current “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not fear evil tidings. Alleluia Alleluia, Alleluia (OCA translation)” It makes so much more sense in English, that the subject is first, the verb, and then the adverb and noun…….. whereas the previous translation seems artificial and stilted. Just my two cents

    1. Can you unpack “troublesome” a bit? There are multiple textures in Byzantine music, some syllabic, some less so, some very melismatic. I frequently hear people claim “this doesn’t work for English”, but I can’t say I particularly understand this criticism; there is plenty of, say, Baroque music in English, and a lot of it is highly ornamented and melismatic — Handel’s Messiah, for example. I think most of it simply a question of the ear adjusting.

      Can you also say more about what you mean by the “current” translation of the Communion verse? There are a lot of current translations. I believe Gabriel tends to prefer setting Holy Transfiguration Monastery’s translations, which are certainly current.

      1. Perhaps this is a matter of whether the translation is metrical. Byzantine chant generally requires metered texts, and metrical translations inevitably have some unusual syntax. OCA translations are not metrical at all, and though well-suited to Kievan chant, are of little use in Byzantine chant. Metrical texts really must not be judged by how they sound as prose. They can only be judged by how they come across when such to the appropriate metrical tune.

        As for melismatic singing, Richard is right to point out that it’s common in English church music also, and there’s no shortage of it contemporary pop music either. I think the frequent objections to it have to do the quality of the performance. We often hear church music sung poorly. It’s easy to overlook that when it moves along quickly, but a poor singer doing slow melismas will make us tire of the music real fast. As with any art, more ornate music demands a more skilled performance.

        1. Well, papadic compositions generally aren’t prosomoia, so meter is not the issue in this case.

          My hunch is that it’s probably less of a matter of things not being performed well, at least today, than it might be of not knowing what it sounds like when it’s done well. Byz chant in English has a relatively short recorded history, and in even in Greek the predominance of polyphonic choirs in GOA parishes means that papadic compositions don’t have a ton of exposure in American parishes.

          These issues are complex, to be sure; my friend Amy Hogg and I sort through how Byz chant is taking root in English on our podcast A Sacrifice of Praise. It may be helpful: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/a-sacrifice-of-praise/id1436331507?mt=2

          1. Anastasios

            If I understood correctly, the setting we used for this Koinonikon was based on a 17th century composition. As such, we can’t swap the phrases of the original text (maybe if we sang the melody backwards too lol). Of course, the original text comes from the psalms, particularly psalm 112:6, where we have “εις μνημόσυνον αιώνιον έσται δίκαιος” , which directly translated is something like “For memory eternal will be the righteous”. The grammar/word order matches up very well with the translation we used, so we can have the correct words filling in the correct melodic content.

  2. Michael Roeder

    I’m sad to say I am finding this conversation almost unintelligible, speaking as a new orthodox believer, with only 4 years experience in liturgy (but another 50 years in a traditional sacred music-loving Protestant church). I can add that we have 15 or 20 CDs obtained via my friend Vlad Morosan.

    I started to look up some of the words such as “papadic” and what I found is only moderately helpful:

    Papadic melodies are melodies in which most syllables are held for many beats. These melodies are more elaborate than sticheraric melodies, in which most syllables are held for only a few beats. The most frequently used hymns set to papadic melodies are cherubic hymns and communion hymns.

    [so far so good, then it goes wild]

    The scales and tonics for all almost modes are the same for both their papadic and sticheraric melodies. There is only one kind of papadic grave mode (which is diatonic), whereas there are two kinds of sticheraric grave mode (enharmonic and diatonic). The papadic fourth mode has a different tonic and more melodic attractions than sticheraric fourth mode.

    Might this be too much “rocket science” for a lay person to understand?

    1. I’m not sure what you’re getting at Michael. These things are surely important for professional Byzantine cantors, composers, and translators to understand. But why should it matter whether ‘lay persons’ understand them? I doubt that very many ‘musical laity’ in the western church understand the rules of counterpoint that undergird western music.

    2. Hi Michael! It’s true that Byzantine music has its own technical terminology, just like any field or musical genre, that can seem a bit bewildering at first. A lot of the terminology applies to Orthodox music more generally, but not all of it.

      To try to offer something of a brief explanation:

      Byzantine music is organized into what we, call eight modes (or “tones” as some call them). Modes 1-4 we refer to as “authentic”; the other four are called the “plagal” modes. In terms of the nomenclature, then, if somebody is saying “mode” then they will call the authentic modes “mode 1”, “mode 2”, “mode 3”, “mode 4”; the plagal modes they will call “plagal of the 1st”, “plagal of the 2nd”, “grave mode”, and “plagal of the 4th”. If somebody uses “tone” they will likely say “tones 1-8”. Incidentally, we say there are eight mostly for reasons of liturgical convenience; there are variants within each numbered mode, so Plagal 1st mode, for example, is a label that refers to two distinct modes in reality, but we still call them both Plagal 1st or Tone 5.

      In other words:

      Mode 1 – Tone 1
      Mode 2 – Tone 2
      Mode 3 – Tone 3
      Mode 4 – Tone 4
      Plagal 1st – Tone 5
      Plagal 2nd – Tone 6
      Grave Mode – Tone 7
      Plagal 4th – Tone 8

      When we say “mode”, we mean roughly the same thing that we mean when we talk about “modes” in Western music. Generally we limit the discussion to two modes in Western music, “major” and “minor”, but both of those are only two of seven; the “major” mode is simply all the white keys from C-C (or “Ionian” mode), and the “minor” mode is all of the white keys from A-A (the “natural” minor, or “Aeolian” mode). You can start on any white key and go up an octave by white keys and get a different mode; D-D is the Dorian mode (the original mode for Greensleeves, with a raised 6th), E-E is Phrygian, F-F is Lydian, G-G is Mixolydian, and B-B is Locrian.

      Byzantine music does the same thing with its modes, with a few more nuances, and also a couple of more scale types (because it doesn’t use an equal-tempered scale with the half-step as the irreducible minimum, but I won’t get into that for now). Each mode has the following:

      – A type of scale: diatonic (similar, but not identical, to a major scale), enharmonic (identical to a major scale), and chromatic (basically a structure of a small interval followed by a big interval). There are variants within those classifications, but never mind that now.

      – A base pitch (or “tonic” as the text you quote says) within the scale where the melody likes to come to rest.

      – “structural pitches” or “mediants” where the melody might come to rest besides the tonic; to over-simplify a bit, the melody will start at the tonic, go to a structural pitch, and then come back to the tonic. In many contexts, neighbor pitches of structural pitches tend to be attracted to the structural pitches; if you think of the movement by step of C-D-E-F-G, imagine a composer treating the G as a point of arrival by making the F an F# so that it’s a leading tone to G. That’s what is meant by melodic attraction — but in Byzantine music, the D would also be made a leading tone to E in some contexts: C-D#-E-F#-G.

      For example: plagal 4th, then, has a diatonic scale (we’ll call it a major scale for now), a base pitch of what we can call C, and E and G are structural pitches.

      None of this is terribly different from Western music theory when you sort through the terminology; in functional harmony, a major key has — by definition — the major triad built on the first pitch of the key (the I chord) as its “tonic”, and then I ultimately likes to go to V in various ways, and then come home to I. Secondary dominants give non-tonic pitches leading tones, or melodic attractions. And so on. Byzantine music does all the same things, it has just elaborated its system of doing so with melodic movement rather than harmonic movement.

      Also, “papadic” and “sticheraric” (and the third category, “irmologic”) refer to — at least in common parlance — the melodic texture a given composition employs. This is more of a practical shorthand then anything, because those terms actually mean something else, but that’s a story for another time. For now we can say that “irmologic” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are *generally* (by no means exclusively) syllabic and fast. “Sticheraric” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are slower, more melismatic, and more drawn out. “Papadic” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are very melismatic and elaborated. Irmologic melodies generally serve as model melodies for canons and troparia, sticheraric melodies generally are employed for festal compositions in Vespers and Orthros, and the most common papadic compositions these days are the Communion verse and the Cherubic hymn — hymns that accompany a priestly action at the altar. These are usually shorter texts that have to cover perhaps ~5-8 minutes depending on the priest (maybe more if there is a bishop), which is why they are more elaborate and melismatic.

      Does that help at all? Please feel free to ask for clarity on anything. This podcast may also be helpful: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/a-sacrifice-of-praise/id1436331507?mt=2

  3. I did want to add that I made a grave oversight in the explanation of our work, especially with regard to texts. I focused solely on the texts directly edited by the members of the choir and our role in shaping many of the texts used, but I should add that we also relied upon the work of Fr. Seraphim Dedes for the metered canon to Saint George, and that Fr. Seraphim listened and gave feedback on some of the suggested edits we had to his already existing texts. To him, Richard Barrett, and the AGES Initiatives we owe a large debt of gratitude for his work with us and his work over the years that have helped contribute and shape the very explosion of artistic creativity and production I mention in the opening paragraph.

  4. Kudos Samuel, your growth as an artist of Byzantine chant is commendable and we’re all very glad you are dedicating yourself to its continued application in English, demonstrating that our native tongue is just as good for church singing as any other, as Ss. Kyrill and Methodius taught over a thousand years ago in Moravia. This gives me hope for the future of Orthodoxy in America as a faith suitable for whomever comes into church.
    Thank you and your brother for having made our worship in the Tennessee mission so glorious!

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