Use of Vernacular Music
- Dear List:
A very dear Internet friend of mine sent me this link and thought it
might interest me:
It did. The part I found most interesting was:
...Nikolai never wished to promote Russian tradition, but [to bring]
true Orthodoxy to Japan. There are some examples in his diary to show
he was glad to see Japanized customs; April 6, 1901, he was so happy
to see people taking blossoming cherry twigs for Palm Sunday; on June
4, 1892, when he visited Tokushima, he heard six girls sing in "very
strange melodies in minor tone" and he loved it. He said, "It was
clear unison. I wonder if I should send a singing teacher to correct
their melodies . No! How nice that an original melody has been born!
Why do we try to make all music the same!"...
This is the same dilemma I think about a lot. The Orthodox Church uses
the vernacular language, so why not the vernacular musical language?
This is not to say that they should have used balalaikas in Russia or
electric guitars in America, but in the vocal singing a melodic style
familiar to the language and culture of the people. This did happen in
Russia, I believe, with some of the chant styles there, and it
certainly has happened in most American Greek Orthodox churches.
In America, contrary to Japan, harmonized singing is the standard,
familiar culture. They have a hard time adapting to singing a single
line of melody. Very frequently, and all throughout the country, I
have observed that Americans as a matter of course harmonize intended
unison singing, whether its a church hymn or "Happy Birthday."
(Incidentally, I was wondering, if Russians wave pussy willows at Palm
Sunday, and the Japanese wave cherry blossoms, what would Americans
have waved at Christ as he entered into the city? The only thing I
could think of were those miniature American flags.)
My friend wrote back the opinion that the music that comes naturally
to us Americans is too inseparable from a spirituality that is
musically unsalvagable. I thought about this a lot. I wondered if one
could apply that statement to a particular non-Orthodox spirituality
or to all non-Orthodox spirituality. I've noticed that the
spirituality of some Catholics and Protestants, among others, comes
very close to Orthodox spirituality or actually is Orthodox in nature,
but they don't realize it. And I would not separate all of the music
from these people from the music of their denominations, but that's
I was referring only to harmony when I mentioned the vernacular
musical language of America. I'm not going to bring the rhythmic
element into this discussion right now. Actually, harmony was, and
still is, a part the vernacular music of Europe that was brought to
America. As was mentioned in the article, this music was readily
assumed by the Japanese, which is true of other non-European cultures
as well, and one could argue that the language of musical harmony has
become universal in the modern world of Internet and mass communication.
Kevin Lawrence has shown me in our earlier discussion on this forum,
that the vernacular influences on early Christian music were
monophonic. From the Ancient Greeks to late medieval music, harmony
may have been known, (I contend), but Kevin has convinced me that it
was not considered normal in any way. To hear harmonized music would
have been a disruption to the ears of even the secular Byzantines.
For Americans, the opposite is true. They may know about monophony,
but it is very foreign to their ears. They have to have a piano
accompaniment or a guitar player strumming chords to make it sound
like real music to them. It's just the way they hear and think
musically. I don't think you can tie this aspect of Western music to
their spirituality or lack thereof.
The truth or lack of truth in these ideas, of course, has a great
importance for the music of the Orthodox Church. I was just wondering
if any of you have anything more to say on this idea of the vernacular