11 Comments

  1. Thank you for the article Richard!
    it has given me much to think about and to discuss with our small mission community Church.
    We have one woman who valiantly with no training uses AGES as her practise tool to lead us at the liturgy and has been joined by 2 others. However problem still remains for us how do we get the music right?
    Whilst I can “spiritualise” it by saying we are giving the angels something to do as they carry our worship to heaven that doesn’t satisfy the hunger of us to have a way of improving our worship.
    I have mixed feelings about the objections to “tablets”, part of me says yes it can never be a “holy object” if it is also used to surf the net etc but the other side of me says that if it used purely for liturgical purposes then it can indeed be a “holy” book.
    Again thanks for a very thought provoking article.
    In Christ
    Fr Paul

    1. John Peter Presson

      I am not sure that entirely buy into the “book as a sacramental” in and of itself. I have a full collection of liturgical books in my home library that are largely used more for reference than they are for home worship, since I transcribe the text to arrange music around for Church. My preference at Church as been to use books, but for scores that would otherwise be used only for that service and only printed as loose sheet music, I have steered more towards using the ipad because of economy and logistics.

  2. This article is very difficult for me. As a choir director myself, I can certainly appreciate some of the practical conveniences addressed here, but I can’t help but feel an intuitive aesthetic disgust of where this is heading.

    We must be careful of making assumptions about which elements of our religion are important and which are not. For instance, there is the assumption that singing the correct texts is important, but that having them printed and bound in a beautiful book is not important. Likewise, that the ascetic discipline of arranging those books on the stand, and finding the right pages quietly and with liturgical dignity, is not important. And that the intense beauty of an analogion illuminated by a small warm lamp, whose color matches that of candlelight, is not important.

    Who has the authority to say that these small things are dispensable – that they are not among the important elements of our religious inheritance?

    The use of the microphone reflects a similar problem of judgement – an assumption that loud, understandable vocalization is important, but that the natural beauty of the unamplified human voice is not important. Why? It strikes me as erroneous logic, which, if taken to its natural conclusion, would lead us to listening to professional recordings rather than live music in church.

    But I should specifically address the question asked of me in this article – how would I, as a designer, handle a digital analogion? I would first say that the aesthetic language of everything in a church should be consistent. Therefore, if we are generally committed to Byzantine architecture and its associated palette of materials and details, then it is not appropriate to have an overtly modern machine-aesthetic analogion. It will undermine, rather than support, the whole, even though it has an internal consistency, even beauty, of its own. The design integrity of the whole is more important than the design integrity of the parts.

    So I would not change the design of the analogion at all – it would still be good traditional wood furniture, and the tablet would simply sit on the music desk, replacing the printed book in the least disruptive way possible. Any associated computer equipment would be hidden away.

    As for the tablet itself, I, personally, would find the glow of a typical screen to be an intolerable imposition on the liturgical aesthetic. These screens command all our attention, focusing our vision there alone, pulling us through a window into a another realm of existence. We all know the frustration of conversing with someone continuously glancing at an iPhone, as opposed to a printed book. The attention-consuming characteristics of a glowing screen are fundamentally different from printed paper. So I don’t see how choristers could sing from a glowing screen while also maintaining an easy mindfulness of the service going on around them.

    On the other hand, a non-glowing screen, like that of a Kindle, illuminated by a traditional incandescent lamp or candle flame, would not be so bad. That I could tolerate.

    1. I appreciate your points, Andrew; my question is, how far do we want to take the preference for a beautiful bound book? A preference for a calligraphic manuscript on vellum bound in leather? A preference for a scroll? I’m being serious. Was some version of this conversation had when liturgical/music book production moved from the monastery to the printing shop?

      In terms of the ascetic discipline of handling books — yes, I agree. On the other hand, implicit there is the assumption that there are books, they are available, and if it weren’t for tablets, people would learn said discipline. Depending on what you’re talking about, this is not a safe assumption to make. For example, if Byzantine chant is what you do, then the Greek books have to be imported; there are, as yet, no English-language books printed, not yet. Most cantors I know who chant principally in English have to work from PDFs either downloaded from platforms like AGES or distributed in samizdat-fashion via a network of people who know people. If you chant any in Greek, you probably have a judicious selection of books that you either bought in Greece or invested in having imported (I should also note that, generally, cantors have to buy their own books), and then you generously supplement from PDFs of scores that are distributed, again, through the chant social circle. It is commonplace now, not just via platforms like AGES, but also through other channels, for service-specific PDFs to be generated with scores embedded in them, so that you just need that PDF and nothing else for a given service. Where do the scores come from? Often they are images cut-and-paste from PDFs of the books themselves, or they are from a database of digitally-typeset scores created just for this purpose.

      And, the thing is, the American jurisdictions have, by default, created this situation. They have, in the main, not made it a priority to create or publish quality liturgical books or music books. The printed books that do exist are not without their problems, and while there are newer efforts (such as Benedict’s lovely publication), it’s been expensive and endlessly iterative just to get where we are now. Most individuals are not in a position to self-publish beautiful, bound books, and the economics of doing so for Orthodox music do not make it particularly interesting for commercial publishers. Different jurisdictions for some time now have distanced the singer from the actual books by focusing on “liturgical guides” and whatnot rather than teaching singers the Typikon and how to use the books. (This has had the additional impact of enforcing a set of preferred cuts to various services by simply not telling people that there are cuts. A recent example is the complete omission of any mention of singing “By the water of Babylon” during Matins on Triodion Sundays in the various liturgical guides that are out there.)

      All of this is to say, the message from the top down has been very plain that the supplying texts and rubrics has been the practical concern, the specifics of publishing books are not an area where they feel they can put their resources, and so it has been up to musicians to come up with their own solutions. I suppose we can like it or dislike it, but it’s what is happening. I think that eventually books will be more available than they are, but until then, there are limited options.

      This is why I suggest that “enabling rather than replacing” is a useful guideline; technology making it possible for somebody to carry a complete music library with them is enabling, but using a recording to replace a singer is, well, replacing.

      As for “mindfulness” — well, the New York Times article suggests that the tablet is becoming a common tool at all levels of music-making. This seems to me like an adjustment that people are already making.

    2. Andrew Gould, I want to preface my response to your remarks and this artilce with the points that: (1) I have never used a tablet in church; (2) once or twice in desperation due to a missing text that was found on line and distributed to singers via email/SMS, our choir actually sang briefly from hand held devices and it worked out OK; and (3) I recall nostalgia for raggedy hand-copied texts when they were replaced with neatly printed, computer typeset scores… that didn’t mean the rag-tag slips of yellowed paper were necessarily better.

      And yet part of me longs for church to be a screen-free zone, and low-to-no tech. We all need a break from the endless stream! Yet, with even bishops wielding smartphones inside the altar, it seems that there is no avoiding the tidal wave.

      There is a lot to digest here. But, what I really wanted to say is: I like your sense of aesthetic.

      p.s. to the publisher: what happened to the link for “but since nobody in North America is exactly getting rich off of Orthodox music publishing” … I wanted to see what the author had in mind there! I’d say, only a few make any money at all off of sacred music publishing, and for most of us, it’s an endeavor that costs (but reaps rewards that are not pecuniary).

    3. Baker Galloway

      Thank you for speaking up, Andrew. You are not alone.

      I am blessed to be a reader at a parish whose priest observes the full unabridged cycle of daily office and services – with every day of the week Orthros and Vespers, including full text of the canons and kathismata (from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery books).

      I can verify from my experience that there is something about a piece of paper that keeps you ‘in the room’ in the way that a traditional icon does. Whereas an illuminated screen takes you out of yourself and out of the room in a similar way that innovations in liturgical art from the renaissance on did so. So, PLEASE … keep printing those PDF’s y’all.

      And artificial amplification of the voice is an imposition on the spiritual space of our fellows. It is akin to raising one’s hands above the heads of those around us in a gesture of prayer. It’s not bad per se; it’s just very much not the ideal.

      If we don’t notice that we are imposing on the spiritual space of our brethren, then we are not doing the primary job of a reader/chanter, which is to listen. Give more energy to listening than than to enunciating.

      One last point (which now, I’m putting on my crazy end times prepper hat) is that by trusting the archive and retrieval of all of our services to the digital realm, we as the church make ourselves vulnerable to hard times to come. A set of decades-old books in every parish is much more resilient to flood, famine, earthquake, the sword, foreign invasion, and civil war than a centralized cloud-based sequence of 1’s and 0’s. Let’s think about that before we dismiss the expense of bound books as an unrealistic investment.

      1. I agree that dismissing the expense of bound books as an unrealistic investment is unwise. That’s not what I’m saying. There is nonetheless a state of affairs such that the jurisdictions have not, by and large, made it a priority to make such books available. Materials produced by HTM and AGES, while at the opposite ends of a number of spectra in terms of approach, fill a vacuum. I, as an individual cantor/choir director, am not personally going to spend $1,200 on a Menaion set that does not even employ the register of English my bishop prefers; that leaves me with few options.

        Do you know that you can buy a complete set of analogion-size liturgical books (Menaia, Triodion, Pentecostarion, Psalter, Orologion, Apostolos), in Greek, published by the Church of Greece using the Church of Greece’s text, for maybe $200-250 at most? That’s because the Church of Greece has made the investment in making them available. That has not been taken on by any canonical jurisdiction in North America. What we have now, in its various forms be it HTM or AGES – fills that void; it’s what’s available.

        And that doesn’t even get into the question of *music* books.

        I’ll cut and paste here from an earlier comment that nobody has really engaged:

        In terms of the ascetic discipline of handling books — yes, I agree. On the other hand, implicit there is the assumption that there are books, they are available, and if it weren’t for tablets, people would learn said discipline. Depending on what you’re talking about, this is not a safe assumption to make. For example, if Byzantine chant is what you do, then the Greek books have to be imported; there are, as yet, no English-language books printed, not yet. Most cantors I know who chant principally in English have to work from PDFs either downloaded from platforms like AGES or distributed in samizdat-fashion via a network of people who know people. If you chant any in Greek, you probably have a judicious selection of books that you either bought in Greece or invested in having imported (I should also note that, generally, cantors have to buy their own books), and then you generously supplement from PDFs of scores that are distributed, again, through the chant social circle. It is commonplace now, not just via platforms like AGES, but also through other channels, for service-specific PDFs to be generated with scores embedded in them, so that you just need that PDF and nothing else for a given service. Where do the scores come from? Often they are images cut-and-paste from PDFs of the books themselves, or they are from a database of digitally-typeset scores created just for this purpose.

        And, the thing is, the American jurisdictions have, by default, created this situation. They have, in the main, not made it a priority to create or publish quality liturgical books or music books. The printed books that do exist are not without their problems, and while there are newer efforts (such as Benedict’s lovely publication), it’s been expensive and endlessly iterative just to get where we are now. Most individuals are not in a position to self-publish beautiful, bound books, and the economics of doing so for Orthodox music do not make it particularly interesting for commercial publishers. Different jurisdictions for some time now have distanced the singer from the actual books by focusing on “liturgical guides” and whatnot rather than teaching singers the Typikon and how to use the books. (This has had the additional impact of enforcing a set of preferred cuts to various services by simply not telling people that there are cuts. A recent example is the complete omission of any mention of singing “By the water of Babylon” during Matins on Triodion Sundays in the various liturgical guides that are out there.)

        All of this is to say, the message from the top down has been very plain that the supplying texts and rubrics has been the practical concern, the specifics of publishing books are not an area where they feel they can put their resources, and so it has been up to musicians to come up with their own solutions. I suppose we can like it or dislike it, but it’s what is happening. I think that eventually books will be more available than they are, but until then, there are limited options.

        This is why I suggest that “enabling rather than replacing” is a useful guideline; technology making it possible for somebody to carry a complete music library with them is enabling, but using a recording to replace a singer is, well, replacing.

  3. Pete

    Thank you, Richard.

    I have mixed feelings about all of this, actually. I have been helping as best I can to acquire some sort of access to each of the available liturgical books for the choir at our OCA parish, including the real books when possible (Violakis Typikon from the Metropolis of Denver, Saint John of Kronstadt Press books, Saint Polycarp Press books, Holy Transfiguration Monastery books, General Menaion from Father John Peck, Antiochian Liturgikon, Hapgood, OCA Archieratikon, Mother Mary’s books, &c., &c.), but also some digital stuff that I have found to make up for bare spots. But in all honesty, they are nearly just eye candy for liturgical-minded individuals at our parish because we basically use OCA music from across the last fifty years, and we have binders for different services. The director needs to know how to use the “abridged typicon” that the OCA puts out each year, but that’s it.

    In our small parish situation, regarding the tablets, my personal “ten-year plan” is to somehow utilize a tablet and create an app that replicates our binders, giving access to our director to adjust them as he sees fit, but otherwise just making page finding easier and preventing the loss of music (such as in a flood, which we have already experienced). Also, backlighting is just simpler sometimes, especially with some weaker eyes trying to see music in a dimly lit Church during Great Lent or Holy Week. As long as a warm light filter can be applied, it also doesn’t mess as much with the ambience of our Church.

    Nevertheless, things can go wrong, and so I know the liturgical books should not be abandoned. I would much rather use the books, honestly, but a 20-person choir cannot read from one set of books, and having a library for each person to use is obviously impractical on many, many levels.

    Thankfully, we do without microphones, but our parish has been retrofitted and is does not welcome resonance. I find it interesting that most of the Church structures that I have seen built for amplification tend to be the ones where clergy utilize electronics most, by the way.

    Anyway, great points to ponder as we continue our trek into the future of Orthodox singing…

  4. Ross Ritterman

    This very conversation (specific to tablets / using AGES and similar) came up in a conversation with a hierarch this past weekend. He was largely opposed because of issues you’ve mentioned, specifically:

    1) the convenience of AGES (as well intentioned as it is) has enabled both ‘laziness’ and sort of a blind-adherence to what’s provided (to the exclusion of all else either because what I am handed must correct and I wouldn’t know how to even begin to question it – i.e. if I even wanted to verify that the content is accurate how would I do so? – or due to lack of education about possible modifications or variances in the typikon in particular parts of the service). I personally am someone who has just enough liturgical vocabulary in Greek to where I can read through the hmerologion published by the Patriarchate and, if needed, put a service together from the catalog of books. Fr. Seraphim is certainly not trying to enable ‘laziness’ but any materials need to be used in the ‘right hands’.

    When I have attempted to teach people who are interested in chanting, I always begin with (or shortly after the beginning) a discussion of the liturgical books required to put a service together. This may not not be wildly exciting to everyone but it absolutely (in my opinion) HAS to be taught before giving into “okay thanks, now can we please sing something?” One key reason for this is that there is, in most chant choirs, a role assigned where an individual is charged with preparing the books. This person should know the order of the service and what books are needed because the singers, even if the books are near at hand, will not always have time to pick up the next book and find the right page in a timeframe that doesn’t disrupt the service. So the books need to be ready to be used on an as-needed basis in the moment.

    2) The iPad/Tablet as distraction. I think there are easy ways to solve this. 1) The parish can invest in several tablets (older models that are used and refurbished that are less expensive may be purchased in secondary markets – the need to read PDFs arguably does not require the most up-to-date processing power, though at least a current OS to be able to handle the most up-to-date viewing applications perhaps would be). When people see demonstrations of software on tablets or, if you’ve ever gone to an office and checked in using a tablet, this tablet is only enabled to run that specific application. As such, it is likely that there exists some kind of administrator software that would restrict usage of the tablet to only specific applications and access to specific applications (i.e. social media) and specific websites could be restricted. Implicit in this however, is that the person using the tablet has a minimum competency in rubrics and music. I’m not sure otherwise that there’s much difference between giving someone with lack of training a tablet or giving them a book. If they don’t know how to navigate that book, or sing what’s in it, what’s the difference?

    Other than addressing the glow of the tablet which Mr. Gould brought up, I believe there are solutions to the above

    As to the ‘rolling one’s own’ with respect to musical choices, it is likely in many cases that the chanter/choir director knows more about what’s available with respect to music for a given piece/service than the priest does (although this is changing as more priests-in-training are learning the ins and outs of music). Moreover, it’s been my observation that choir directors are not in the habit of pre-clearing most music with their clergy (though this is just my experience and may not be the case everywhere, of course). As such, regardless of whether that music is printed or handed out or used on a tablet, the problem is the same. If clergy wish to have some opportunity to vet the music being selected for services, then that’s a chance for the choir director/chanters to discuss with the priest what’s available, and explain why they want to use what they want to use – but that’s not a problem of printing vs. tablets (we could have athonite music, music from the patriarchate, music from chanters from Thessaloniki, transcriptions from the old teachers…lots of choices out there).

    At the same time, I would like my priest to trust that I 1) have good taste and trusts me (though this needs to be earned) and 2) that if I wish to sing, say, a version of a Holy Week hymn by Theodosopoulos instead of Petros Peloponnesos that I have the ability to make that call. If a priest has the knowledge and conviction to say “no, we use only Petros for Holy Week” then alright, but that’s certainly the vast minority of priests. The selection of music is generally in the domain of the choir director / head chanters and having such a position should imply that trust in taking on those duties has been given by the priest.

    If the existence of tablets has caused consternation among certain individuals and caused them to pay more attention to what’s happening musically then I would say this is overall a good thing, to the extent it is now helping to take something that was once marginalized and making it more top of mind.

  5. […] recent article by Richard Barrett in the Orthodox Arts Journal called “Voice and machine: Technology and Orthodox Liturgical Music” got me thinking about a lot of things, but one of the comments by Andrew Gould has really stuck […]

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