Re: [greekorthodoxmusic] First Topic: Effect of music on the priest.
- On 14 Jul 2005 at 2:13, Stan Takis wrote:
> Topic One: Does four-part polyphonic music with organ accompanimentIn my previous post, I said that this has two aspects: polyphony and
> negatively affect the priest in the performance of his liturgical
> duties and thus diminish the essential work of the liturgy?
organ accompaniment. There, I addressed polyphony. Here, I'll address
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
(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
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. :-)
-- (Mr) Dana Netherton, dana@...
I'm not a member of any organized religion.
I'm Eastern Orthodox.
- 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
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
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.
Justin "Chrysostomos" Bates
> I know that several of you, particularly Stan, haveYes, Justin. I've been living at my mom and dad's house for a week and
> 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.
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.