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Over the past year

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  • Stan Takis
    Dear List: Christos Anesti! Here are some things I have learned after serving my first year as choir director in a large metropolitan Greek Orthodox Church.
    Message 1 of 5 , May 31, 2006
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      Dear List:

      Christos Anesti!

      Here are some things I have learned after serving my first year as
      choir director in a large metropolitan Greek Orthodox Church. These
      include beliefs I have acquired through experience, study, and reading
      Internet forums.

      1. As a choir director, I do not have the power to select and approve
      the music for the Divine Liturgy. This power rests with the priest as
      the agent to the bishop, who has the ultimate authority. I can offer
      suggestions to the priest, which he can either approve or not approve.
      The result is the music that we chant at our services.

      2. Despite any personal beliefs about Church music, it is my duty as a
      servant to accept any music, or any system or rotation of different
      musics, that the priest desires to make, and that my job is to be an
      agent of the priest, and to provide him with the services that he
      requires to effectively execute his responsibilities. In addition, it
      is also my responsibility to educate the choir members in the rubrics
      and tradtitions of Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical music.

      3. I believe there is a difference between chanters and the choir,
      although we basically perform the same function. Chanters are highly
      trained in a specific and arcane musical system and are specialized
      office holders of the Church. Choirs consist mostly of lay people
      untrained in the special musical practices of the Greek Orthodox
      Church. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect that choirs will
      possess the special knowledge to sing the music of the church the way
      chanters are specially trained to do, therefore they must sing a
      simplified form of the music that the congregation can easily sing
      along with.

      4. Despite this difference between chanters and the choir, the choir
      cannot expect to be allowed to create its own musical tradition of the
      Church without respect to the ancient traditions and the leadership of
      the Church heirarchy. It is not enough for the heirarchy to simply
      approve a musical work, but that the work must also fall within the
      general tradition of the Church. There are many complete four-part
      polyphonic liturgies that have been approved by a heirarch, but exceed
      the limits set by Church tradition. Parts of these liturgies may be
      appropriate, but other parts may not. (See next point.)

      5. The general tradition of the Orthodox Church holds that the
      liturgical texts are held supreme over any artistic musical treatment.
      In other words, the music must serve the text by enhancing and
      clarifying the meaning of the words, and not obscure it. In addition,
      there are certain situations within the liturgical context where the
      music itself has another role, and that is to evoke a spiritual
      atmosphere to facilitate prayer. However, at no time should
      ecclesiastical music call attention to itself, solely for the purpose
      of artistic display and appreciation of the art. This is fine in the
      secular arena, but not in the Church. Also the music of the Church
      must subscribe to and operate within an octoechos--that is a system of
      eight musical "tones" or styles. These tones must each have a unique
      ethos that evokes a certain spiritual response. It is not enough to
      operate within a harmonic system of only major and minor scales.

      6. There are indeed canon laws of the Orthodox Church forbidding the
      use of instrumental music in the liturgical services. There was also a
      patriarchal synod that issued an encyclical in 1846 to the Greek
      Orthodox Church in Vienna forbidding the use of "alien" four-part
      music in the services of the church. However, I believe that through
      the judgement and the dispensation of the heirarchy, some of our
      chants have been approved to be harmonized in three-parts and in a
      homophonic style, (that is, all three voices follow the same rhythmic
      pattern of the chant) and that this harmonization is such that it only
      enhances the octoechos and does not replace it, and that organs have
      been allowed, not as a part of worship, but as an aid to choirs in
      America who execute the allowed three-part harmony.

      7. The litanies, antiphons, troparia, and kontakia of the Divine
      Liturgy must always be chanted in a simple one-note-per-syllable style
      for maximum clarity and enhancement of the text. Papadic hymns such as
      the trisagion, the cheruvikon, the consecration, and communion, create
      an atmosphere for prayer and therefore may properly use a more
      elaborate style of music, such as polyphonic harmony or the
      melismatic, kalophonic Byzantine styles, as long as the music does not
      draw too much attention to itself, as expressed above, and that it
      remains within the ethos of the designated tone.

      (The ethos of the echos :-))

      Please remember that these seven points are my personal opinions and
      that I am a lay person. These are the beliefs that motivate me and
      what I try to do with the choir, which, of course, is first subject to
      the approval and dispensation of the priest. I probably will revise
      them as I grow older and learn more.

      Stan
    • Apostolos (Paul) Combitsis
      Stan, Excellent analysis of Year One. Some questions I have, however, are as follows: 1) What if the priest is completely ignorant of the musical tradition of
      Message 2 of 5 , Jul 29, 2006
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        Stan,
         
        Excellent analysis of Year One.  Some questions I have, however, are as follows:
         
        1) What if the priest is completely ignorant of the musical tradition of the Church?  In other words, what if he wants trumpets and guitars in the Liturgy, and insists on "re-arranging" the Sunday service to the point that it borders on becoming unrecognizable?  It may be my duty to be a servant of the Church and agent of the priest, but not at the expense of our Faith.  A resignation letter would have been in the works.
         
        2) What if the laymen begin demanding a certain type of music?  What if the Parish Council, as supreme rulers of the parish (because that's what most of them think they are, right?  "WE pay you, NOT the priest...") begin demanding things OUTSIDE the scope of the tradition?  Another resignation letter that would be drafted.
         
        3) I like your Point #5.  Very well put.  And in fact, with all of the traditional Byzantine melodies of the "classical" masters, this "music serving the text" job has already been done.  And as shown by Fr. Ephraim at St. Anthony's Monastery, there is now NO REASON why choirs can't sing the classical melodies:  they've been transcribed into western notation.
         
        4) Let me add to your Point #6:  Did you know that there is also a Canon forbidding the use of the female voice in the Liturgy?  (See The Rudder ["Pidalion"], Canons of the 6th Ecumenical Council, Canon #70).  No further comment.  Just a tidbit of information.
         
        Apostolos
        -----Original Message-----
        From: greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com [mailto:greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com]On Behalf Of Stan Takis
        Sent: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 8:35 AM
        To: greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [greekorthodoxmusic] Over the past year

        Dear List:

        Christos Anesti!

        Here are some things I have learned after serving my first year as
        choir director in a large metropolitan Greek Orthodox Church. These
        include beliefs I have acquired through experience, study, and reading
        Internet forums.

        1. As a choir director, I do not have the power to select and approve
        the music for the Divine Liturgy. This power rests with the priest as
        the agent to the bishop, who has the ultimate authority. I can offer
        suggestions to the priest, which he can either approve or not approve.
        The result is the music that we chant at our services.

        2. Despite any personal beliefs about Church music, it is my duty as a
        servant to accept any music, or any system or rotation of different
        musics, that the priest desires to make, and that my job is to be an
        agent of the priest, and to provide him with the services that he
        requires to effectively execute his responsibilities. In addition, it
        is also my responsibility to educate the choir members in the rubrics
        and tradtitions of Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical music.

        3. I believe there is a difference between chanters and the choir,
        although we basically perform the same function. Chanters are highly
        trained in a specific and arcane musical system and are specialized
        office holders of the Church. Choirs consist mostly of lay people
        untrained in the special musical practices of the Greek Orthodox
        Church. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect that choirs will
        possess the special knowledge to sing the music of the church the way
        chanters are specially trained to do, therefore they must sing a
        simplified form of the music that the congregation can easily sing
        along with.

        4. Despite this difference between chanters and the choir, the choir
        cannot expect to be allowed to create its own musical tradition of the
        Church without respect to the ancient traditions and the leadership of
        the Church heirarchy. It is not enough for the heirarchy to simply
        approve a musical work, but that the work must also fall within the
        general tradition of the Church. There are many complete four-part
        polyphonic liturgies that have been approved by a heirarch, but exceed
        the limits set by Church tradition. Parts of these liturgies may be
        appropriate, but other parts may not. (See next point.)

        5. The general tradition of the Orthodox Church holds that the
        liturgical texts are held supreme over any artistic musical treatment.
        In other words, the music must serve the text by enhancing and
        clarifying the meaning of the words, and not obscure it. In addition,
        there are certain situations within the liturgical context where the
        music itself has another role, and that is to evoke a spiritual
        atmosphere to facilitate prayer. However, at no time should
        ecclesiastical music call attention to itself, solely for the purpose
        of artistic display and appreciation of the art. This is fine in the
        secular arena, but not in the Church. Also the music of the Church
        must subscribe to and operate within an octoechos--that is a system of
        eight musical "tones" or styles. These tones must each have a unique
        ethos that evokes a certain spiritual response. It is not enough to
        operate within a harmonic system of only major and minor scales.

        6. There are indeed canon laws of the Orthodox Church forbidding the
        use of instrumental music in the liturgical services. There was also a
        patriarchal synod that issued an encyclical in 1846 to the Greek
        Orthodox Church in Vienna forbidding the use of "alien" four-part
        music in the services of the church. However, I believe that through
        the judgement and the dispensation of the heirarchy, some of our
        chants have been approved to be harmonized in three-parts and in a
        homophonic style, (that is, all three voices follow the same rhythmic
        pattern of the chant) and that this harmonization is such that it only
        enhances the octoechos and does not replace it, and that organs have
        been allowed, not as a part of worship, but as an aid to choirs in
        America who execute the allowed three-part harmony.

        7. The litanies, antiphons, troparia, and kontakia of the Divine
        Liturgy must always be chanted in a simple one-note-per-syllable style
        for maximum clarity and enhancement of the text. Papadic hymns such as
        the trisagion, the cheruvikon, the consecration, and communion, create
        an atmosphere for prayer and therefore may properly use a more
        elaborate style of music, such as polyphonic harmony or the
        melismatic, kalophonic Byzantine styles, as long as the music does not
        draw too much attention to itself, as expressed above, and that it
        remains within the ethos of the designated tone.

        (The ethos of the echos :-))

        Please remember that these seven points are my personal opinions and
        that I am a lay person. These are the beliefs that motivate me and
        what I try to do with the choir, which, of course, is first subject to
        the approval and dispensation of the priest. I probably will revise
        them as I grow older and learn more.

        Stan




      • Stan Takis
        Dear Apostolos: Greetings! I hope all is well with you and your family. Thank you for the feedback and questions concerning my analysis of the first year of my
        Message 3 of 5 , Jul 29, 2006
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          Dear Apostolos:

          Greetings! I hope all is well with you and your family.

          Thank you for the feedback and questions concerning my analysis of the
          first year of my stewardship as choir director of the Assumption
          parish. Before I answer your questions, I would like to add to my
          report by including some insights that I have recently been thinking
          about concerning the difference between chanters and the choir.

          In my earlier post, I pointed out the difference in training between
          chanters and choirs. I have been thinking of other differences since
          then. When we use the word "choir" we are alternately referring to one
          of two things--either a group of chanters who assist the protopsaltis
          or a group of lay people directed by a lay person who lead the
          congregation in chanting hymns and responses or who actually stand in
          as a proxy for the congregation. The former is the traditional kind
          of choir in a Greek Orthodox church, and the latter is the situation
          in America and possibly in other places I am not aware of.

          Originally, the hymns and responses of church services were chanted by
          the congregation. As more hymns and more services were added, the
          office of chanter came into existence, because it required the
          additional training and giving of time that an ordinary congregation
          could not do.

          Regardless of the type of choir you are talking about, there are times
          that the choir is playing the role of the congregation and times when
          it is playing the role of the chanter. When it is playing the role of
          the congregation, it is singing the heirmological and short
          sticheraric music that the congregation would be most likely to be
          singing along with. On the other hand, when the choir represents the
          chanters, they are singing the music that requires special training.

          This brings me to my new point. The culture around chanters and
          American choirs is very different. Good chanters spend inordinate
          amounts of time learning their craft. They must learn all of the
          automela and prosomia, they must learn the order and construction of
          all of the services. They must practice and know these services well
          in advance. They must learn the octoechos and all of the nuances. They
          pay no regard to how many people will be in church and if anyone will
          hear them. I know all of this because I saw it with my wife. Over the
          last twenty years, she has spent countless hours preparing for
          hundreds of services that may consist of only her and the priest and
          once in a while, there may be two or three elderly ladies in the
          congregation.

          American choirs, however, have in general, a different approach. Most
          of their specialized training has to do with the ability to sing in
          four parts with a good tone, balance, and blend. They may spend
          several rehearsals learning a new, complicated Cherubic hymn, or
          practicing a arrangement of a single Holy Week hymn, or perhaps they
          are learning a new liturgy arrangement for a festival. It's more of a
          glee club approach. They mostly sing at services that are
          well-attended and people will hear their performances, such as the
          Sunday liturgy, (not Orthros), Holy Week evening services,
          Salutations, or their church's feast. On many of these services, they
          will not provide all of the music, but they will "cherry pick" certain
          pieces, like the Kassiane, or the Simeron Kremate, or Tin Oreotita.
          Thus, they will spend an inordinate amount of time rehearsing a
          polyphonic arrangement of one of these and not bother to learn the
          rest of the service, which they will leave to the chanter. (Some may
          also show up in the middle of the service, just in time for the
          featured music.) They may sing litanies or even a Kyrie Ekekraxa for a
          special Vespers (mostly only in one tone), but there will be large
          portions of the service that must be handled by the chanter.

          The problem with this, in my opinion, is that the congregation may not
          be able to chant along with an elaborate four-part Kassiane or Ton
          Nymphona Sou or whatever. Secondly, it's not exactly fair to the
          chanters to expect them to prepare an entire service and then step
          aside when the big number comes up. My conclusion is that the choirs
          in America should stick to doing the Divine Liturgy very well, and if
          they want to do a special service, they should learn the whole thing
          the way the chanters do. In the past year, my choir did this with the
          Cheretismi (Salutations/Akathist). We served as the left choir with
          the chanters on the right. We alternated with them on responses and on
          verses of the Canon. They sang Greek, we sang English. We were an
          integral part of the service from beginning to end. I thought it was
          beautiful.

          Now I will answer your questions.

          >1) What if the priest is completely ignorant of the musical tradition
          of the Church? In other words, what if he wants trumpets and guitars
          in the Liturgy, and insists on "re-arranging" the Sunday service to
          the point that it borders on becoming unrecognizable? It may be my
          duty to be a servant of the Church and agent of the priest, but not at
          the expense of our Faith. A resignation letter would have been in the
          works.

          *****This actually happened to me in my first job as a choir director,
          only I didn't quit. I was fired. I didn't want to rehearse an English
          arrangement of a hymn by my priest, because it was full of errors. My
          priest took that as disobedience (which it wasn't, because I was
          trying to propose that we work together to correct the errors, but I
          was kicked out the door before I knew it.) Actually, that was a part
          of a situation that was very complicated, but it was one of the things
          that happened.

          >2) What if the laymen begin demanding a certain type of music? What
          if the Parish Council, as supreme rulers of the parish (because that's
          what most of them think they are, right? "WE pay you, NOT the
          priest...") begin demanding things OUTSIDE the scope of the tradition?
          Another resignation letter that would be drafted.

          *****Actually, that also happened in the same parish around the same
          time period. The protopsaltis, who was also the choir director, was
          teaching the choir more Byzantine music in the liturgy. The parish
          council, however, wanted a certain four-part liturgy installed from
          beginning to end. He actually tried to accomodate them to an extent,
          but it wasn't enough, and the final result was that he had to resign.
          That's when I became the choir director, and perhaps another factor in
          my firing was that I continued his program and did not move towards
          what the council wanted.

          >3) I like your Point #5. Very well put. And in fact, with all of
          the traditional Byzantine melodies of the "classical" masters, this
          "music serving the text" job has already been done. And as shown by
          Fr. Ephraim at St. Anthony's Monastery, there is now NO REASON why
          choirs can't sing the classical melodies: they've been transcribed
          into western notation.

          *****True to an extent. The other issue I see with that is that even
          with the classical melodies in staff notation, culturally speaking,
          people may want a different kind of music. My point is that there are
          other ACCEPTABLE forms of music that an American choir or priest may
          prefer, and I say there's nothing wrong with that as long as the music
          serves its purpose and does not do damage to the liturgical work of
          the service.

          >4) Let me add to your Point #6: Did you know that there is also a
          Canon forbidding the use of the female voice in the Liturgy? (See The
          Rudder ["Pidalion"], Canons of the 6th Ecumenical Council, Canon #70).
          No further comment. Just a tidbit of information.

          *****No I didn't know that. But again, sometimes there's dispensation
          for different circumstances, especially with non-doctrinal issues. I
          know there are other canons on the books that have long fallen into
          disuse. Whether this particular canon is doctrinal or just a
          convention of its historical time period is up for debate. I do know
          that I would not have much of a choir without female voices, and all
          of the places Nancy chants would not have a chanter if it weren't for her.

          Stan
        • Stan Takis
          In my last post I answered the following question... ... I realized after I posted this that I made it sound like my former priest was ignorant of musical
          Message 4 of 5 , Jul 30, 2006
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            In my last post I answered the following question...

            > >1) What if the priest is completely ignorant of the musical tradition
            > of the Church? In other words, what if he wants trumpets and guitars
            > in the Liturgy, and insists on "re-arranging" the Sunday service to
            > the point that it borders on becoming unrecognizable? It may be my
            > duty to be a servant of the Church and agent of the priest, but not at
            > the expense of our Faith. A resignation letter would have been in the
            > works.

            ...in the following way.

            > *****This actually happened to me in my first job as a choir director,
            > only I didn't quit. I was fired. I didn't want to rehearse an English
            > arrangement of a hymn by my priest, because it was full of errors. My
            > priest took that as disobedience (which it wasn't, because I was
            > trying to propose that we work together to correct the errors, but I
            > was kicked out the door before I knew it.) Actually, that was a part
            > of a situation that was very complicated, but it was one of the things
            > that happened.

            I realized after I posted this that I made it sound like my former
            priest was ignorant of musical tradition. I should have mentioned that
            this priest was NOT ignorant of chant and tradition, (he was actually
            pretty good at it), but he felt that if you used English, you could
            break the all the rules you wanted to because the Greek melodies were
            the most important thing. He had no problem with the English in the
            Green Book, for example.

            When I said this happened to me, I meant that I had to leave my
            position over errors, but not because of ignorance.

            I HAVE met a few priests who, if they were not ignorant of the musical
            tradition, ignored it to the point where they may have seemed
            ignorant. These priests favor polyphony and organs because they feel
            it helps bring people into the Church. Many favor the Green Book
            because people already "know it." In my experience, no matter how many
            times they have heard it, people still have trouble singing the
            English in the Green Book because of misplaced accented syllables and
            strange repetitions of phrases.

            Stan
          • Father Ephraim
            Dear Stan, If you think it would help any adherents of the green book change their mind, please feel free to share with them my new article Concerning
            Message 5 of 5 , Jul 30, 2006
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              Dear Stan,
              If you think it would help any adherents of the green book change their mind, please feel free to share with them my new article "Concerning Adaptation" at: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/Adaptation.htm
              +Fr. Ephraim

               
              On 7/30/06, Stan Takis <takistan@...> wrote:
              In my last post I answered the following question...

              > >1) What if the priest is completely ignorant of the musical tradition
              > of the Church?  In other words, what if he wants trumpets and guitars
              > in the Liturgy, and insists on "re-arranging" the Sunday service to
              > the point that it borders on becoming unrecognizable?  It may be my
              > duty to be a servant of the Church and agent of the priest, but not at
              > the expense of our Faith.  A resignation letter would have been in the
              > works.

              ...in the following way.

              > *****This actually happened to me in my first job as a choir director,
              > only I didn't quit. I was fired. I didn't want to rehearse an English
              > arrangement of a hymn by my priest, because it was full of errors. My
              > priest took that as disobedience (which it wasn't, because I was
              > trying to propose that we work together to correct the errors, but I
              > was kicked out the door before I knew it.) Actually, that was a part
              > of a situation that was very complicated, but it was one of the things
              > that happened.

              I realized after I posted this that I made it sound like my former
              priest was ignorant of musical tradition. I should have mentioned that
              this priest was NOT ignorant of chant and tradition, (he was actually
              pretty good at it), but he felt that if you used English, you could
              break the all the rules you wanted to because the Greek melodies were
              the most important thing. He had no problem with the English in the
              Green Book, for example.

              When I said this happened to me, I meant that I had to leave my
              position over errors, but not because of ignorance.

              I HAVE met a few priests who, if they were not ignorant of the musical
              tradition, ignored it to the point where they may have seemed
              ignorant. These priests favor polyphony and organs because they feel
              it helps bring people into the Church. Many favor the Green Book
              because people already "know it." In my experience, no matter how many
              times they have heard it, people still have trouble singing the
              English in the Green Book because of misplaced accented syllables and
              strange repetitions of phrases.

              Stan







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