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Re: [greekorthodoxmusic] First Topic: Effect of music on the priest.

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  • Dana Netherton
    Hi, Stan, and all. Sorry I ve been so quiet lately. My computer developed mechanical problems and I had to replace it ... with the usual growing pains. And
    Message 1 of 9 , Jul 17 3:14 PM
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      Hi, Stan, and all.

      Sorry I've been so quiet lately. My computer developed mechanical
      problems and I had to replace it ... with the usual growing pains.
      And life got, well, lively. Nothing bad, just ... things happening,
      you know? But I have a little time here, so ...

      For the newcomers, I'm a 6-yr convert (showed up at the door 6 years
      ago, late July 2000, after 25 yrs as an Episcopalian suffering under
      the delusion that Anglicanism was the English form of Orthodoxy), in
      the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, in St Louis MO (Metr of Chicago). My
      priest asked me to join the chanters in Fall 2001. I'm largely self-
      taught, as probably all of us converts are. I sing mostly in English,
      though I join our Greek chanter in his Greek from time to time.

      But I also sing in our choir. (At my priest's request; he thinks
      (rightly, I think) that this will help soften the rivalry between
      chanters and choristers.) So I have Some Thoughts on Stan's
      question(s), from both sides of the aisle, so to speak.

      And Stan and I met a few months ago, when he and Nancy were passing
      through St Louis. (Dana waves in the general direction of Detroit.)

      Now then ...

      On 14 Jul 2005 at 2:13, Stan Takis wrote:

      > Topic One: Does four-part polyphonic music with organ accompaniment
      > negatively affect the priest in the performance of his liturgical
      > duties and thus diminish the essential work of the liturgy?

      There are two aspects to this question. One aspect is the "four-part
      polyphonic music." The other aspect is the "organ accompaniment."
      I'll handle them separately, if that's OK.

      First, the polyphony. I think that our Slavonic (Russian etc)
      brothers and sisters have shown that four-part polyphony does not
      *necessarily* detract from the priest's ability to serve well. But I
      do think that the polyphony used in the GO Archd. can, and very
      probably does often, detract from etc. Why? Here's why.

      This morning, Sunday July 17th, we had a supply priest while our
      usual priest was out of town. This priest meant well, of course (I
      have never encountered a priest who has not), but he was utterly
      incapable of chanting his litanies on a note higher than concert
      pitch E below Middle C. Once, by a great effort, he managed to climb
      all the way up to F# ... and from the unusually strength of his voice
      it seemed that he was making a huge effort to get there. Soon
      thereafter he dropped back down to his Es, and his Ds.

      My priest knew this, and so he advised our choir director to let us
      chanters take the Divine Liturgy. During the coffee hour I touched
      base with one of the choristers, who said she understood why, having
      heard him. The choir would simply have been equally incapable of
      singing *with* him. Why?

      Consider. The Anastassiou (sp?) hymnal we use typically puts things
      in the keys of A-major or D-minor. This puts the bass line on low A
      fairly often, with occasional brushes with low G for harmonic
      cadences. It also means that the priest's basic pitch for his
      litanies is expected to be *A* below Middle C.

      What happens when he can't make A, can't make G, can't make F# ...
      can only make E?

      If a 4-part choir is going to continue to sing the chords they're
      used to singing, then the male bass line is going to be singing low
      *E*, with occasional brushes with low *D*.

      Sorry, folks. Maybe a skilled Russian bass might hit those notes,
      but not your typical male voice in a typical amateur church choir.
      I'm talking Episcopal cathedral choir (I used to belong to one), not
      just the Baptist "praise bands" ... it ain't gonna happen.

      Now, a really really skilled choir might be able to reshuffle the
      chords on the fly, in order to let the lower parts sing pitches they
      can actually reach. But "a really really skilled choir" is a
      description that does not apply to my church's choir. Knowing all
      this, our choir director saw the wisdom of giving the service to us
      chanters.

      Mind you, it wasn't a piece of cake for the chanters, either.
      Sometimes a melody would take us down awkwardly far below the
      priest's favored chanting note. But with just two or three people
      there, we could fall back and regroup with far greater flexibility
      than a choir with eight to twelve voices.

      How do the Slav four-part polyphonic choirs handle that? Dunno,
      haven't been in one. Maybe their harmonic settings don't push their
      bass parts down as low as the Anastassiou book does.

      But it can be durned disastrous with our choir.

      That was the first aspect. Since it was pretty long, I'll put my
      discussion of the second aspect, the organ, in a separate e-mail.

      -- (Mr) Dana Netherton, dana@...
      -----
      I'm not a member of any organized religion.
      I'm Eastern Orthodox.
    • Dana Netherton
      ... In my previous post, I said that this has two aspects: polyphony and organ accompaniment. There, I addressed polyphony. Here, I ll address the organ.
      Message 2 of 9 , Jul 17 5:43 PM
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        On 14 Jul 2005 at 2:13, Stan Takis wrote:

        > Topic One: Does four-part polyphonic music with organ accompaniment
        > negatively affect the priest in the performance of his liturgical
        > duties and thus diminish the essential work of the liturgy?

        In my previous post, I said that this has two aspects: polyphony and
        organ accompaniment. There, I addressed polyphony. Here, I'll address
        the organ.

        Unlike polyphony, where some Orthodox Churches have adopted it and
        have made it part of an Orthodox phronesis (Gk, roughly "mind-set"),
        organs have only been used by one part of one Orthodox Church -- the
        American Archdiocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate -- and that, for
        less than a century of the Church's 2,000 year existence.

        I will admit that my personal experience with the organ in Orthodoxy
        is limited. I have attended Sunday morning services in only 2 other
        GOA parishes, and one of those visits was so early in my
        catechumenate that much of it is a blur for me, now. In my own
        parish, the organist was a different person from the choir director,
        and she resigned from her position as organist after I had been in
        the choir for perhaps a year. We have not found a replacement, so
        our 4-part polyphonic choir has sung a capella for nearly the whole
        time, since. I'm going to talk about several parts of this situation.

        First, the organ itself. I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but the
        organ we have is an expensive toaster. A kitchen appliance. It's
        electric, and it has one speaker ... which is placed directly behind
        the last row of the choir. (Our church is built with a balcony/choir
        loft.)

        Sound quality? Think of your Hammond Organ outlet in your favorite
        neighborhood mall. Sound usefulness? Put it in the negative
        numbers. Here's why.

        1. For the organ to be loud enough to be heard, down in the nave, the
        speaker's gain has to be cranked up fairly high.

        But when it was cranked up that high, the choristers could hear each
        other. (Shucks, we could barely hear ourselves.) So we could not
        judge whether we were singing in or out of pitch with the rest of the
        choir.

        Turning that durned thing OFF was the best thing we ever did for
        getting our choristers to sing In Tune.

        How do Other Churches (non-Orthodox Churches) handle that? The ones
        that can't afford true pipe organs (1) get higher-end organs and (2)
        put their speakers *elsewhere* in the nave of the church. If you
        must go low-end on an organ, folks, then suck it up and do without.

        2. Vamping with the organ.

        As many folks here probably know, "vamping" is a term musicians use
        to refer to "marking time" or "filling dead air" with music, while
        waiting for something to show up or finish or the like. When the
        music is a capella, human singers pull out their music. Orthodox
        music comes with texts, often either from Scripture or from hymns
        that have darned good teaching materials in their texts.

        But when the music is accompanied, then it's easy for the singers to
        "take a rest", and to let the organist noodle non-verbal chords.

        When is this likely to happen? During the Divine Liturgy, it's
        likely to happen when the priest is occupied behind the iconostasis,
        usually with the "secret" prayers of the Liturgy.

        In my parish, and, I gather from comments I've heard on other
        Orthodox mailing lists, in lots of other parishes, the priest chooses
        to keep his microphone turned on during those prayers, so that the
        people might hear those beautiful and uplifting prayers of the
        Liturgy.

        Now then. What happens if the secret prayers are "covered over" by
        the chanters? The people get *other* beautiful and uplifting texts.
        (The "language" issue is one to be handled separately ... )

        What happens if they are "covered over" by the *organ*? The people
        get chord progressions. Beautiful perhaps, but uplifting? C'mon.

        (This probably addresses some of the questions you asked in your
        Second Question, Stan.)

        So ... the organ did not prove nearly as useful as its proponents
        thought.

        Now, the customary argument for the organ is that it can serve as a
        "crutch" for our not-well-trained amateur choristers. Indeed, the
        Anastassiou hymn book is written with that expectation, because the
        music in the book is not written in the format of choral music: it is
        written in the format of organ music. The choristers are supposed to
        echo one of the harmonic parts being played by the organ.

        Sometimes this is ludicrous, as with the Cherubic Hymn which begins
        with a pedal note on low D. Often it is difficult or awkward, as when
        a treble-clef chord suddenly grows from two notes to four, and then
        back to two. (Are we now suddenly talking First and Second Soprano
        and Alto lines, here? And have the "Second" lines just disappeared,
        here?)

        But I digress. One of the curious things about psychological
        crutches is that they can foster a psychological dependency. People
        who are capable of doing without them, can persuade themselves that
        they cannot.

        Our choir thought we could not do without the organ. Until we lost
        our organist. When I urged us to continue to try to sing, without
        waiting for a new organist, we discovered (some of us were quite
        astonished and delighted to discover) that we *could* sing without
        the organ, and that we could sing *better* without the organ.

        A keyboard instrument can be useful for a 4-part choir -- *during
        rehearsals*, to correct problems or to learn new music. That's the
        proper setting for a "crutch" -- in a physical/musical therapy
        setting. But once you're healed ... don't need it any more.

        So ... the "crutch" argument doesn't carry a lot of weight with me.

        3. Staffing

        In my experience in Episcopal Churches, the Music Director was
        generally an accomplished organist who was also able to lead the
        choir from the keyboard. He (most often "he", not "she") was also an
        accomplished teacher, who could plan and execute rehearsals
        effectively to teach his choir to sing new music in many months of
        the year.

        (Do keep in mind that these choirs generally did not sing responses --
        responses were generally said, by the congregations -- and they were
        generally not responsible for the primary execution of hymns --
        hymns' melodies were generally sung by the congregation; the choirs'
        role for hymns was as the "crutch" for the *congregation*. Further,
        all hymns that would be used in services were published in a one-
        volume hymnal which used English and had clear musical notation. The
        principal musical challenge for these choirs was a choral "anthem",
        which changed each week and which was usually sung while the
        collection was being taken, often after the gospel-and-sermon, before
        the sacramental part of the service.)

        This Music Director was generally the only paid musician on the
        staff; it was usually a part-time position (the musician had a "day
        job", often teaching music at a school, to make ends meet). In some
        very ambitious Episc parishes, some professional or semi-professional
        singers might be paid to be part of the choir; they usually had
        special responsibilities as well, such as Section Leader (lead the
        tenors, or the altos, or whichever; help them learn new music and get
        old music right). I met someone who had such a role in such a
        parish, once; but I never belonged to such a parish in my 25 years in
        that Church.

        Long introduction. What's my point?

        So. If we already have an accomplished musician to lead the choir,
        why do we need a separate person to play the organ? ;-)

        Bottom line -- ditch the organ.


        And of course, the next question (once we have) is ... what happens
        to the music we're using? (Remember that low-D first note in that
        Cherubic Hymn? Who's gonna sing that note, *now*?)

        If we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on the organ because
        our music sounds bad without it ... then we *do* have a problem.

        IMHO, YMMV, and the rest of the usual disclaimers, of course. :-)

        Yours,

        -- (Mr) Dana Netherton, dana@...
        -----
        I'm not a member of any organized religion.
        I'm Eastern Orthodox.
      • Justin Bates
        Dana (and everyone), It occurred to me while I was reading your post that the organ situation may resolve itself in less than two decades. As I understand it,
        Message 3 of 9 , Jul 17 8:08 PM
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          Dana (and everyone),

          It occurred to me while I was reading your post that
          the organ situation may resolve itself in less than
          two decades. As I understand it, decades ago here in
          the US people used to take organ lessons like they
          used to take piano lessons. But, for reasons that
          aren't entirely clear to me, people interested in
          learning to play a keyboard instrument began to favor
          the piano, and fewer and fewer people were learning to
          play the organ. (I suppose the piano was always more
          popular than the organ in this country.)

          I took piano lessons when I was growing up in north
          central Kentucky. I know that my piano teacher also
          played the organ in her church, as did most piano
          teachers in that area at that time. I never learned
          to play the organ, although I always wanted to. And
          I'm not aware of any people my age growing up that
          were specifically taking organ lessons. Many people
          took piano lessons, but usually not long enough to get
          really good.

          What is my point? That organists are an endangered
          species in the US. I think there is a shortage of
          them, even in Protestant churches. So, in a decade or
          so, there may not be anyone around with the necessary
          training to play one. Problem solved?

          BTW, for those organists on this list, I don't intend
          for what I state on this list to offend you. I do
          believe that you have talent and that you have
          something significant to contribute to the church.
          I'm just saying that when we are discussing
          traditional orthodoxy it is difficult to make the case
          for the use of the organ during the liturgy. Special
          non-liturgical concerts or plays or whatever are a
          different story.

          I know that several of you, particularly Stan, have
          expressed that some things have come up that will
          limit your ability to respond for a while. I'm
          perfectly happy to resume these exchanges whenever you
          have the time.

          God bless,

          Justin "Chrysostomos" Bates
        • Stan Takis
          ... Yes, Justin. I ve been living at my mom and dad s house for a week and in that time, we ve had two flat tires, a broken washing machine, lost medicine, and
          Message 4 of 9 , Jul 17 10:01 PM
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            > I know that several of you, particularly Stan, have
            > expressed that some things have come up that will
            > limit your ability to respond for a while. I'm
            > perfectly happy to resume these exchanges whenever you
            > have the time.

            Yes, Justin. I've been living at my mom and dad's house for a week and
            in that time, we've had two flat tires, a broken washing machine, lost
            medicine, and several trips to the hospital. The good news is that my
            mom's operation was successful and her recovery is proceeding at a
            good pace, although she's in a lot of pain and discomfort.

            I have some thoughts I will post soon. In the meantime, I hope some of
            the lurkers out there will drop a thought or two. But we don't have to
            hurry the discussion.

            Stan
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