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Re: [greekorthodoxmusic] Re: Why do we have choirs?

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  • Alexandros Andreou
    ... **** Gardner has a wonderfully eloquent way of justifying the Russians break from tradition. It s as if he is saying that no matter how unorthodox a
    Message 1 of 46 , May 14, 2007
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      On Mon, 14 May 2007 18:05:16 EDT, kjlawrence@... said:
      > Dear Stan and Alexandros,
      > Here's a quote from Gardner which I think speaks to some assumptions
      > I believe we do well to examine:
      > From Russian Church Singing, Vol. 1, chapter 4
      > <<...Church singing in Russia was influenced by a variety of forces from
      > outside Russia...
      > "Influence" consists in the partial action of certain foreign elements
      > upon
      > an already existing cultural heritage or tradition of a given people,
      > without
      > changing that heritage in its totality or essence, or pushing it aside
      > and
      > replacing
      > it with something altogether new. "Borrowing," on the other hand,
      > represents
      > a
      > more or less complete adoption or transplantation of a foreign cultural
      > heritage--
      > the product of a foreign and differently directed spiritual orientation.
      > At
      > first
      > borrowing brings with it and establishes totally foreign forms; but with
      > the
      > passage of time, that which was borrowed becomes transformed according
      > to the spirit and technical aptitudes of the borrowing nation, and begins
      > to
      > be
      > viewed as part of the indigenous cultural heritage....Borrowing and
      > assimilation
      > in no way reduce the value of the indigenous cultural heritage. Contact
      > with
      > other nations and their spiritual cultures frequently occurs
      > imperceptibly
      > and
      > is assimilated unconsciously. A nation absorbs from a foreign culture
      > only
      > those things that answer to its spiritual needs at the time.>>

      **** Gardner has a wonderfully eloquent way of justifying the Russians'
      break from tradition. It's as if he is saying that no matter how
      unorthodox a foreign influence may be, even if it is borrowed and
      incorporated wholesale, somehow the Orthodox Church will automatically
      christen and sanctify it. This theory of his clearly contradicts the
      opinions of numerous saints (in various countries and centuries) who
      were very strongly opposed to borrowing heterodox liturgical customs,
      whether they were matters of music or iconography. But even Gardner
      admits on the page following your quote that: "The second epoch, from
      the mid-seventeenth century to the present day, may be called the epoch
      of polyphonic choral singing, during which Russian liturgical singing
      took on essentially the same stylistic features found in the mainstream
      of Western European choral polyphony." So he basically admits that this
      heterodox polyphony essentially did not do what his theory predicted,
      i.e., "with the passage of time, that which was borrowed becomes
      transformed according to the spirit and technical aptitudes of the
      borrowing nation."

      > To apply these ideas to the topics at hand--
      > 1.
      > We in the US may well be influenced by the music of the Western European
      > music
      > tradition, even if was do not know or admit this.

      **** Good point. But it is one thing for us to have involuntary,
      imperceptible influences in Byzantine music (such as using intervals
      that are almost equal-tempered or using an ison that is too mobile) and
      an entirely different thing for us to voluntarily try to imitate the
      Catholics by sticking organs in our churches.

      > 2.
      > In the same way the Russians of the 17th century were influenced by this
      > Western
      > European musical tradition; once they were exposed to it their church
      > music
      > changed.
      > (Alexandros, please be aware that this change did not "put a sudden end
      > to
      > their 700
      > year long tradition of monophonic chant," as they had already been
      > singing an
      > indigenous
      > style of harmony for around 100 years.)

      **** Kevin, the great Russian musicologists Gardner, Razumovskii and
      Metallov disagree with you. Gardner writes on p. 143 of that book:
      "Whether this early Russian polyphony was originally invented and
      developed on Russian soil by Russian singing-masters, or was imported
      from elsewhere at a much earlier time is of secondary significance at
      this point. What is important is that it was entirely different from the
      polyphony that suddenly burst into Russian liturgical singing from the
      West in the middle of the seventeenth century." On the previous page,
      Gardner says that Razumovskii and Metallov observed the essential
      differences between the two epochs to be "so stark".

      Similarly, Sakellarides and
      > Roubanis
      > show the
      > influence of Western European common musical practice, which had
      > penetrated
      > the
      > cultural life of Greece during their time.
      > 3.
      > Borrowings or influence may be transformed "according to the spirit of
      > the
      > borrowing
      > nation," thus this influence will not necessarily be spiritually harmful
      > to
      > us. (I think the
      > bigger spiritual danger here is allowing ourselves to sit in judgment of
      > the
      > music of an
      > entire Local Orthodox Church, and a rather huge one at that--as if the
      > Russian faithful,
      > not to mention the Russian saints or martyrs, cares whether we approve of
      > their music.)

      **** It is one thing to judge people and another thing to objectively
      judge their actions. Sort of like the saying "hate the sin, love the
      sinner". We all know from church history that there were times when the
      majority of people in the church were led astray on issues much more
      serious than liturgical music. But even so, the Holy Fathers of those
      days ran the "spiritual danger of allowing themselves to sit in judgment
      of an entire Local Orthodox Church, and a rather huge one at that." You
      say that musical issues are not serious matters of dogma, and I agree.
      They do, however, have a direct spiritual effect on people, so they are
      not to be dismissed as insignificant.

      > Like "the Russians and other non-Greek churches" we too must "struggle"
      > with
      > some
      > questions. We must begin by acknowledging the reality that there is a
      > great
      > variety of
      > truly Orthodox church singing throughout the world. We must also
      > acknowledge
      > that all
      > forms of Orthodox church singing have changed considerably over time,
      > even
      > Byzantine
      > chant. We must then make nuanced judgments about our own situation based
      > on
      > liturgical
      > criteria first of all, then on pastoral considerations. Since church
      > singing
      > is not an end in
      > itself, the idea that the only acceptable music will so remote from the
      > musical life of the
      > faithful that it can only be sung by a tiny group of chanters "due to its
      > complexity and
      > the requirement for years of formal training," would be unprecedented in
      > church history.
      > In any case such an idea is unworkable no matter how fervently a few
      > people
      > may dream
      > about it.

      **** This is like saying, "Byzantine iconography is so hard to get right
      and so foreign to American culture that we ought to stop dreaming about
      having it and settle for some art form much more American". But the
      point is that Byzantine music is something that appeals to very many
      Americans, as does Byzantine iconography. We don't all need to become
      great iconographers or accomplished chanters to appreciate the spiritual
      value of these forms of liturgical art.

      > Each of the "sensual elements of the Church" ("iconography, vestments,
      > material objects,
      > incense, poetry, singing) has a different degree of engagement with the
      > everyday culture.
      > Each also requires a different degree of involvement from the faithful of
      > a
      > given community.
      > It is perfectly possible to have a vibrant parish without a single
      > iconographer or vestment
      > maker. It is impossible for services to be held if no one in the parish
      > can
      > read the liturgical
      > language. Even if someone does try to demand a style of liturgical
      > singing
      > which is out of
      > parishioners' range of experience/ability, people will simply have to
      > sing
      > something different,
      > closer to their experience, if they are to sing at all. This has been the
      > case in every age and
      > place, and I think, accounts for the variety of styles of Orthodox Church
      > singing that have
      > developed up to our day.

      **** Of course, if it goes without saying that when talented chanters
      (or iconographers or church architects) are not to be found, a parish
      will make do with whomever they can find. But it's not as if Byzantine
      chant has to be done perfectly or it can't be done at all. People seem
      to use this as an excuse to introduce organs and polyphonic music.

      > I think the real questions which should occupy our energy, as opposed to
      > questions which are
      > more a dead end, would be along the lines of: how can we help our people
      > to
      > appreciate and
      > assimilate the great inheritance of Byzantine chant, and what music can
      > we
      > provide, truly in
      > keeping with the larger Orthodox tradition, to those who lack the skills
      > and
      > resources to sing
      > the Byzantine chant we may regard as ideal.

      **** Yes, that makes sense. But if you think we should be helping people
      "to appreciate and assimilate the great inheritance of Byzantine chant",
      I don't understand why you have composed harmonized versions of
      Byzantine chant, since harmonization essentially blurs and destroys the
      modes of Byzantine chant, which are one of its key attributes.

      > Yours in Christ,
      > Kevin

      in Christ,
      Alexandros Andreou

      http://www.fastmail.fm - A fast, anti-spam email service.
    • dananetherton
      ... (Responding late, sorry) Still assimilating ... could be, could be. At the same time, of course, Nia Vardolos fought off Hollywood attempts to change My
      Message 46 of 46 , Jun 1, 2007
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        --- In greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com, "Stan Takis" <takistan@...>
        > --- In greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com, "dananetherton" <dana@>
        > wrote:
        > > One practical benefit has to do with the shortage of skilled
        > > cantors.
        > >
        > > Another is (let's be frank) the opportunity it affords our devoted
        > > ladies to take an active role in the worship of the Church.
        > Dear Dana:
        > True. And let's not forget the assimilation issue. We are still
        > assimilating. The US is overwhelmingly Protestant and Catholic, and
        > there are many in our Orthodox Church who do not see why we cannot
        > be more like them.

        (Responding late, sorry)

        "Still assimilating" ... could be, could be. At the same time, of
        course, Nia Vardolos fought off Hollywood attempts to change "My Big
        Fat Greek Wedding" into something Jewish, or Italian -- because by gum
        she *didn't* want the distinctively *Greek-American* elements in her
        story to be assimilated into the generic "Mediterranean immigrant" story.

        And thanks to the clout that Rita Wilson (producer, and Tom Hanks's
        Greek-American wife -- on whose behalf *he* became Orthodox) had built
        up in Hollywood, she didn't have to.

        And Michael Constantine (for one) could finally *play* a Big Fat Role
        that is in his own ethnic background -- perhaps his 5th "Greek"
        character in a 35+ year career with 164 appearances (according to
        IMDB, <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0176073/>).

        This is consistent with what's happening with other ethnic groups in
        America: the byword is no longer "melting pot", getting melted into
        "Americans"; the byword is "diversity" and "heritage".

        So the assimilation process no longer has to go on to the point where
        visible Greek-ness (and visible Orthodoxy) disappears. The "Greek"
        part of "Greek-American" (and by extension the "Orthodox" part of
        "Greek Orthodox") no longer has to disappear in favor of the
        "American" part.

        Perhaps it's the younger generation (like Nia Vardolos and Rita
        Wilson) that recognizes this, and the older generation that still
        clings to the old model of assimilation?

        But it's true that assimilation has been part of the history. Back
        when I was regularly on Usenet, a cynical Greek-American who also
        regularly posted there asserted that the GOA would be gone in another
        generation or two -- as the young bail out to join the Protestant
        churches, while the old insist on using Greek-and-only-Greek.

        That mindset *can* cripple a parish -- I know an OCA parish in my
        metro area that nearly perished because of it (different ethnic, same

        Perhaps the younger generation -- those members who stick with the
        Church despite these frustrations -- will be the ones to break free of
        the "assimilation" approach to Orthodoxy. That's certainly the age
        range where I see interest in learning Chant. And it's certainly the
        age range where (in my own little parochial patch) I see zero interest
        in joining the choir.

        -- Dana Netherton
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