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

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  • 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 1 of 9 , Jul 17, 2005
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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 2 of 9 , Jul 17, 2005
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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 3 of 9 , Jul 17, 2005
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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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