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Mediterranean microtonal melismas are not unAmerican: making time for some musical musings

A few things have come out recently to which I’ve been meaning to respond, and I’m finally able to take a moment to do so.

First of all, the issue of AGAIN which just came out, among other things, reprints Fr. John Finley’s essay, “Authentic Church Music”. This was originally a talk given to the the AOCNA Conference on Missions and Evangelism in 2002, and I have seen it in at least two print publications since then — PSALM‘s newsletter, PSALM Notes, and now AGAIN. It is also, as the link shows, posted on the Antiochian website itself, so clearly Fr. John’s piece has found an audience. Give it a read; I’ll come back to this.

Second, there was this short piece which was run on PBS a couple of weeks ago. I’d love to find a way to embed it, but I haven’t yet, so click on the link, watch it, then come back.

Third, RightWingProf has a couple of posts on music with which I tend to agree. The earlier is here, and a more recent one is here. Go read those, too.

Okay. You got all of that?

I’ve met Fr. John Finley a number of times. I met him at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute back in 2004, and again at the PSALM National Conference in 2006. I also love his cookbook. He’s a good man, so far as I can tell he’s a good priest, and we know many of the same people. He’s also one of the people to whom I’ve tried talking about the choir school model (an idea which I just seem to have the darndest time communicating in a form that makes sense to anybody but me).

There’s a reason Fr. John’s article has a continuing audience; it is well-written, it expresses a point of view clearly, and it is a point of view which is popular among many American converts to Orthodox Christianity:

Some may negatively assume that such a proposal must necessarily lead to the development of an American Orthodox music, which will sound like Protestant music or the 70’s rock and roll Christian music of the baby boomer generation’s surfer churches. On the contrary, we are hinting at the development of authentic sacred music for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in North America, a music founded on “that which has been delivered to us”, but which is also the result of our interaction as Orthodox Christians with the surrounding American culture. (emphasis mine)

Fully Orthodox and fully American! Orthodox as the Seven Ecumenical Councils and American as apple pie! Isn’t that what we all want?

The trouble that I have with the article, and what I offer as a critique, is that Fr. John unfortunately buys into what Alexander Lingas refers to as “the narrative of decline” with respect to Byzantine music as part of his argument. Specifically, this paragraph is problematic:

Is the Byzantine music that we sing today really Byzantine, i.e. from the Byzantine era of the 4th through the 15th Centuries? Are we not aware that the Church music of the See of Constantinople was heavily influenced by the demands of the Turks after the fall of the empire in 1453 AD? Are we aware that the authentic music of the Byzantine Church lost its diatonic character and accepted enharmonic and chromatic intervals during this period of the Turkish yoke? Are we aware that the music of today’s churches in the Byzantine tradition throughout the entire Mediterranean region of the world is the result of the codification of these oriental elements by Chrysanthus in the 19th Century and is scarcely 200 years old?

Checking his footnotes, his citations are predictable — Strunk (1977) and Tillyard (1923). It’s an appealing narrative for many folks; hey, you know that stuff in Byzantine music that makes you feel uncomfortable as an American because it sounds, well, Eastern? It’s not actually as Orthodox as the Hellenophiles and Arabicists want you to think! It’s a later development which occurred under the Turkish yoke! It’s a narrative which validates the supposed biases of the “Western ear” (whatever that means) and knocks the practices of various national churches down a peg or two all at the same time — it’s a very economical argument in that regard.

There’s something else it manages to accomplish, too, which is hinted at in the body of the text and made explicit in a footnote:

We should continue the work of transcribing Byzantine notation into modern western linear notation and adopt modern western scale intervals.* We need to simplify the melodies in connection with the texts and encourage congregational participation. We should encourage the harmonization of the melodies. I have heard it said that the great musical contribution of the East is its melodies and the great contribution of the West is its development of harmony. What better place than America to bring these two great traditions together to form something uniquely American in terms of Orthodox Music? This, of course, has already been done in Russia, and will undoubtedly be a powerful influence on what is done in America in this area of musical development.

* This will, given time, effectively conform all Byzantine melodies to a diatonic equal-tempered scale. According to Byzantine Musical theorists, Medieval Byzantine Music was wholly diatonic anyway. So this could be construed as a move back toward a more pure form of Byzantine chant rather than a perversion of it.

So, actually, the more we file the edges and corners off of Byzantine music, the more Byzantine we make it, in fact! Better yet — we also make it more American at the same time. Perfect.

Also present is the fallacy that somehow congregational singing and congregational participation are coterminous. This seems to be one of those assumptions that makes people feel good but for which I have never actually seen any evidence. Don’t take this as me meaning that I’m against congregational singing; I’m not, not at all. What I disagree with is the “everybody sings everything or they’re not participating” model that seems to be the core postulate of many modern liturgists; that makes as much sense to me as saying “everybody paints the icons or they’re not praying with them”.

Now might be a good time to point out that in the last week, thanks to the magic of Inter-Library Loan, I’ve read Towards the Great Council: Introductory Reports of the Inter-Orthodox Commission in Preparation for the Next Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, published in 1971, back when they thought the next Synod would be occurring around 1974 or 1975. I’ll discuss it in more depth later, but Section 2 of this document is called “Fuller participation by the laity in the worship and life of the Church.” It is all of two pages. This section seems relevant to the present discussion:

…the nature of lay participation in the life of the Church is clearly expressed in her dogmatic and canonical teaching; it is not a question causing special concern to the Orthodox Church and, for the time being at any rate, it does not constitute a burning problem for her. In all conscience the Orthodox church believes that there has never been, nor is there now, a spontaneous movement among the laity to acquire greater rights and duties in the Church, different from those which they have had since the Church’s foundation. For they have always participated actively in worship and administration, in the pastoral work and teaching ministry of the Church, according to the rights and duties clearly laid upon them by Holy Tradition and the Canons. Their main rights and duties, as lay people and members of the Church, are to live in the fullness of the gifts and divine grace within our Holy Church and to witness by word and way of life to Christ the Saviour and to His gospel. (p. 23)

Obviously, this being 1971, this need not be the last word on the subject, but let’s keep in mind that this was in the immediate wake of 1970 Roman Missal taking a pair of pinking shears to the Mass in the name of “active participation,” and the Commission which drafted this document appears to be intending to head off any such attempts in the Orthodox world.

I must disagree with Fr. John about Byzantine notation and intervals; on a practical level, I might suggest that we might have an easier time getting the Greeks on board with the mission in America if we would stop treating their music as something we just found on the bottom of our shoe that somehow we have to fix and rescue from itself.

On a technical level, I wholeheartedly disagree about harmonization of Byzantine melodies. They function modally, not tonally; you cannot harmonize them according to conventions of Western functional harmony without eliminating the distinctives of the eight-mode system and reducing it to effectively two modes. This already happens when the well-meaning beginning isocratima thinks that the Second and Fourth Modes are intended to be major in character and mistakenly drones away on ni because it sounds like a tonic. The attempts at harmonizing many of these melodies which I have seen have been well-intentioned but nonetheless unfortunate; part-writing errors abound, to some extent unavoidably because the melodies are simply not conceived in the same way as melodies which follow Western conventions. Unavoidable though they may be, they still look, and sound, like part-writing errors.

On a level of Orthodox spirituality — here’s one idea: how about we immerse ourselves in the received tradition before we start trying to “fix” it? Might not something emerge organically over time if we were to do that? That’s not to say that we can’t try things to see if they work, but my thinking is that we’d be best off doing so in continuity with the tradition, not at variance from. If we want to make Byzantine music conceptually more accessible to Western ears, the first step is recomposing melodies to fit the English texts according to Byzantine conventions, not just sanding off the corners of pre-existing melodies and shoehorning in the English. There are increasingly good models for doing so — we should follow them.

From the standpoint of scholarship — at the very least, I would encourage Fr. John to at least familiarize himself with, and subsequently engage, the scholarship which recasts the narrative into one of continuity rather than decline. A place to start might be Lingas’ essay “Medieval Byzantine chant and the sound of Orthodoxy” in the book Byzantine Orthodoxies, Louth and Casiday, eds.

This brings me to the PBS piece on Emily Lowe at Holy Cross in Linthicum, MD. I am not certain if I’ve met Ms. Lowe; I met several people from Holy Cross at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute back in ’04, and she looks familiar, but I honestly can’t remember. She has a lovely voice; the church is beautiful, and they’ve got her singing one of the signature hymns of Sunday Matins. It’s also kind of fun seeing people like Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green and Terry Mattingly in the choir.

The problem is when things like this are said (which I copy here from the transcript):

During the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Greek chants took on sort of a very Middle Eastern character, and that’s when you hear this sort of dissonant, odd sounding things:  (singing) Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, glory to thee oh God.”  It sounds very foreign to Western ears.

Again, there’s that narrative of decline and cultural captivity with respect to Byzantine music. Granted, there are a lot of people in the Antiochian Archdiocese who teach that, including Fr. John, so it’s not a huge surprise, but my guess is that if the PBS documentarians were to have interviewed somebody like John Michael Boyer, they would have had a different set of quotes.

Ms. Lowe describes herself in one of the comments on the video’s page as “a piano teacher who just loves to sing”. I’m going to guess we have a lot in common; we’re what you might call armchair Byzantine musicologists. We’ve read a lot, we’ve heard a lot of recordings, been to a PSALM event or two and/or the Sacred Music Institute at the Antiochian Village, and we do our best with what we have, which are, as a rule, the Kazan transcriptions. I know I haven’t yet had a chance to actually study with a chant teacher who genuinely knows what they are doing and has direct contact with the received tradition, and my hunch is that neither has Ms. Lowe. The practical reality for me is that there isn’t anybody within a 4-5 hour drive for me to learn from; the closest person about whom I know is protopsaltis at Holy Trinity in Nashville, TN.

All of that is to say, if PBS came knocking on my door, I’d tell them I’m the wrong guy, everything I know I know because I read it in a book or have imitated a recording, I’m not an expert, I’m not an authority, and that they need to go talk to somebody like Boyer or Leonidas Kotsiris in Nashville, who have studied with great teachers (who were themselves students of great teachers and who have been singing these services in this idiom since they were blastocytes), and are themselves teaching it and passing it on. I would tell them they need to talk to people, not who are trying synthesize water from hydrogen and oxygen, but who have actually drunk from the well, if not marinated themselves in it.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m absolutely not attacking Ms. Lowe here. I have bags and bags and bags of admiration for her. She’s clearly wonderful, and a huge asset to Holy Cross. She does what she does very well, loves to do it, and offers it humbly in the service of Christ. That should be the big takeaway from this video, and it should be a model which all of us who use our voices in the service of the Church follow. It would be an honor to sing a service with her, anytime, anywhere. The trouble is the editors of the video presenting the content as authoritative and normative when it isn’t.

Finally, for the most part, all I really have to say about RightWingProf’s posts is — right on, brother. I take issue with a lot of the four-part writing which is out there for English translations for many of the same reasons he does. I don’t think it has to be that way; I think passing 7ths and 2nds can work okay, but they can’t be used as a sentimental harmonic trick.

There are a few little points I wish to engage, however.

I tend to disagree that professional choirs are somehow undesirable. Yes, fine, the Rachmaninoff Vigil is going to be too much for a parish choir as a rule. However, if you’ve got a cathedral choir that can pull it off — defined, as far as I’m concerned, as being able to sing it well and prayerfully — I don’t see a problem using it liturgically. My overall discomfort is that we approach a mindset that says, “You’re too good of a musician to serve the Church with the fullness of your gifts.” I can’t imagine telling an architect or an iconographer that, but we seem really comfortable telling singers that. No, it’s not a concert, but there’s a dichotomy between worship and performance which I think approaches being a false dichotomy at some point. My belief has always been, with respect to that dichotomy, if you sacrifice one for the other, you will do neither well. I completely own that I say that as a former Anglican, however, and that this informs my point of view.

I also fundamentally disagree with the blanket assumption, constantly asserted by many, that Slavic music is “more accessible to American ears”. If sung well, in English, with a melody that actually fits the text in terms of stresses and meter, Byzantine music is plenty accessible to American ears. By contrast, Slavic music sung poorly with stresses and meter distributed in such a way as to do violence to the English text is going to be just as inaccessible to the American ear as people so frequently proclaim Byzantine music as being. This is not a slam against Slavic music or Orthodox music in the Slavic idiom; I’m a big fan of Fr. Sergei Glagolev (who was kind enough to inscribe my volume of his music at PSALM in 2006), and the Kurt Sander settings I’ve sung I’ve really liked. All I’m saying is that I think it is an error to say that somehow one national idiom of Orthodox music is fundamentally more accessible than another and to privilege that idiom based on that assertion. There may very well be reasons to privilege particular idioms in particular contexts, but I don’t think this one holds up at all, and I think recent recordings of Byzantine chant in English bear that out.

Along similar lines, and to repeat a point made earlier, not everything needs to be sung along with by the congregation. Yes, it’s church, not a concert; I might reply by saying it’s church, not a campfire singalong. Melisma serves a particular function in the Byzantine idiom — frankly, that of following the rubrics. ἀργὰ καὶ μελὠς, “slowly and melodically”, is sometimes what the rubrics call for. It is not the aberration many would make it, so I can’t agree that it should be absolutely avoided in the parish.

That said, a parish choir needs to fight its weight. Period. If a choir can’t sing it well and prayerfully, they shouldn’t sing it at all. So, from that standpoint, I agree that there is nothing wrong with “keeping it simple,” insofar as what we mean by that is that the music should be no more complicated than what the choir can sing well and prayerfully. In all likelihood, that’s probably going to mean keeping things a lot simpler than we might otherwise like for the time being — heck, we use the Antiochian Village camp music book as the normative setting at All Saints — but it doesn’t necessarily follow that choirs and congregations can’t ultimately grow into certain kinds of repertoire.

If I were helping to start a mission, what I would be very curious to try, if I had 3-4 other singers who were up for it and who could sing it well and prayerfully, plus an acoustic which would complement it at least somewhat, is using the Thyateira translation with the Boyer/Lingas Byzantine arrangements, as found on The Divine Liturgy in English, as the standard music, and setting it up from the get-go in an antiphonal formation. The idea would be to make a particular traditional practice normative from the get-go so that people are used to it from the start, rather than the mission making it up as they go along. I’ve seen what that can look like, and I can’t quite shake the idea that it is self-defeating and ultimately serves to paint missions into corners.

Perhaps it is good that I am not helping to start a mission.

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13 Responses to “Mediterranean microtonal melismas are not unAmerican: making time for some musical musings”


  1. 1 rwp 28 April 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Well, in my defense, I didn’t object to melisma — after all, that would bar 99% of all available music. I just object to melisma taken to the level of the ridiculous. I figure if a normal human being can’t get to the next syllable without taking two breaths, then it’s too much. The Cherubic Hymn we sing — which I’m not crazy about, mind — isn’t overly melismatic, so we repeat it, which makes it long enough.

    But yes, modal and tonal are two different things, which is why I object to calling SATB harmonizations “chant” at all. Then, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to liturgical music. I even object to moving ison. And I agree that congregational singing isn’t the end-all of “participation,” but I like it. We have this one man with a beautiful, deep, resonant, round basso profondo that shakes the foundations of the church — and he’s completely tone deaf. I don’t mean he’s a little sharp or flat. I mean he’s at least a mile away from where anybody should be. But there’s something wonderful about the fact that he sings with such gusto.

    • 2 Richard Barrett 28 April 2009 at 4:53 pm

      I figure if a normal human being can’t get to the next syllable without taking two breaths, then it’s too much.

      Well, fair enough, except that’s actually idiomatic in Byzantine chant. Listen to recordings of folks like Angelopoulos, and they have absolutely no qualms about taking breaths in the middle of a word. You can either like that or not, but it’s still not ridiculous or wrong in its own context. There are tons of runs on one syllable in Western Baroque and Classical vocal music that are equally impossible in one, if not two breaths; not, mind you, that I’d care to have “Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted” from Handel’s Messiah sung at a Divine Liturgy, but it is still a legitimate compositional choice even in Western music.

      I agree that there is something wonderful about the fact that a man like that would sing with such gusto. On a purely abstract level, however, the part of me that spent thirteen years paying for voice lessons and a musical education wants to say somebody can be sincere and still be sincerely wrong. While singing isn’t the only way that can manifest liturgically, it seems to be the way in which we tend to tolerate it the most.

      Richard

  2. 3 rwp 28 April 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Sure, I love Handel, Gluck, Strauss (Richard), to name just three composers known for long vocal lines. And I suppose if you have the talent and the musicality to sing them (or their equivalent), then go for it. But most of us don’t, and I say that as somebody who attends a parish with a comparatively good choir. I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with simple, or monophony, for that matter, and would rather hear chant in church than SATB polyphonic choral pieces.

    • 4 Richard Barrett 28 April 2009 at 5:23 pm

      Sure — I don’t disagree with you. There’s nothing wrong with simple or monophonic in the least. The situation at my parish improved greatly when we simplified and moved to the Antiochian Village camp book from the hodgepodge of Karam, Bassoline, and the old St. Vlad’s Divine Liturgy book we had been doing. As I said from the get-go, I mostly agree with you.

  3. 5 fatherjamesearly 28 April 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Well spoken, Richard. BTW, I had no idea that Boyer was so young. With his great level of skill and knowledge, I had expected him to be much older. May God bless him and others who seek to preserve traditional Byzantine Chant.

  4. 7 Sbdn. Lucas 29 April 2009 at 8:29 am

    AMEN!

    The core of this post absolutely needs to be in AGAIN & Word, and the various other places where unfortunate scholarship and opinion regarding our Byzantine music has unfortunately reigned. Amen.

  5. 8 Christopher Orr 4 May 2009 at 12:39 pm

    As to how an American sacred music might develop, I would suggest the choir at my GOA parish. They sing the typical spiral bound green book version of the Liturgy. If you ask them what they use for the Liturgy, they would give you this book. The thing is, though, that’s not what the sing. It’s pretty much what they sing, but not really. They have their own versions of the Kyries, they have their own versions of most of the hymns, and the ordering and translation is different in many places.

    Another example is the way my OCA Cathedral parish sings the services – especially the ‘Obikhod’ tones for texts that do not have arranged music. We don’t sing them like the rest of the OCA. I don’t know why. It’s close, and I can usually catch on quick when I visit other parishes, but it isn’t quite right. Same with some of the common settings of hymns. A reason, I have been told, is that our parish was the first in the OCA to begin using English to any large extent, so many of our handwritten arrangements were tried out at the Cathedral before being given a once over and printed for the rest of the OCA – we have the first and second draft, not the final editions. We also seem to have just developed our own ‘accent’ in the tones.

    These are both examples of parishes trying to do what they they are told they should be doing, but not quite doing it. There is so much talk about how we have to change the received traditions to be more relevant or intelligible, etc., or how we have to create a specifically American form. Nonsense, Americans will simply make it sound American by accident (and in a way no one really could have planned) in the same way that every culture makes Orthodoxy its own. Aleutian Orthodox singing sounds different than its counterpart in Moscow, but strangely familiar – Muscovy, with an ‘accent’.

    You are right about intelligibility in Byzantine chant. Part of the reason people don’t find it intelligible is because it is being sung in a language no one (including most parish Greeks) understand. When someone who knows English and chant chants, I find it beautiful and intelligible. In fact, a single voice makes the text more intelligible than when it is sung by a choir of even 4. I hope Papa Ephraim’s and Fr. Seraphim Dede’s arrangements/translations catch on; I also hope psaltis that are native Greek speakers begin chanting in English so that anglophone psaltis can begin to understand how to chant in English, traditionally.

  6. 9 Gordy Thomas 9 November 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post. I was searching for an online photo of my dear friend, Leonidas Kostiris, to add to my android/Gmail contacts when I stumbled upon your discussion.

    Having chanted under the direction of Leon in a Greek mission parish and shared some time with him discussing this very issue, I’ve come to know that we have a common desire to realize two things here in the greater Nashville area:

    1. Authentic Byzantine chant being chanted correctly in divine services

    and

    2. Accessibility to the most beautiful chant traditions from within the Slavic nations.

    I recall when he and I were discussing the Rachmaninoff rendering of The Divine Liturgy, and he expressed sadness that he was not in possession of the recording he’d once owned, I sent him a copy of mine. I believe Leon’s email reply to me was “Exquisite!”

    I agree with you: As scored and recorded, it is a performance, yet I also agree that there is no reason the right congregation could not–with the proper direction–use it for celebration of The Divine Liturgy.

    Without attempting to speak for Leonidas, I know we share a common desire for the experience of authentic AND beautiful Orthodox Christian worship. I do know that for both of us, there is a certain amount of Evangelical fervor tied up in our convictions. We are reminded of the effect on the envoys of Prince Vladimir when they experienced The Divine Liturgy in The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople:

    “We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth…We only know that God dwells there among the people, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.”

    Shouldn’t we desire that for all nations, as a witness of the reality of The Symbol of Faith to the world?

    Thus, discussions of “right or wrong” on this matter are reminiscent of discussions of The Canons which ignore the role of The Bishop in administering Grace.

    For just as The Church is not The Church of The Bible but rather, The Bible is The Bible of The Church, and just as The Church is not The Church of The Canons but rather, The Canons are The Canons of The Church, so too then, The Church is not The Church of Byzantine Chant but rather, Byzantine Chant AS WELL AS pre-schismatic chant of Africa and Rome (including Great Britain) and other Orthodox regions is The Chant of The Church, by The Grace of God.

    I think you have a point of sorts when you say:

    “On a level of Orthodox spirituality — here’s one idea: how about we immerse ourselves in the received tradition before we start trying to “fix” it? Might not something emerge organically over time if we were to do that? That’s not to say that we can’t try things to see if they work, but my thinking is that we’d be best off doing so in continuity with the tradition, not at variance from. If we want to make Byzantine music conceptually more accessible to Western ears, the first step is recomposing melodies to fit the English texts according to Byzantine conventions, not just sanding off the corners of pre-existing melodies and shoehorning in the English. There are increasingly good models for doing so — we should follow them.”

    And although this comment is satirical at best:

    “Fully Orthodox and fully American! Orthodox as the Seven Ecumenical Councils and American as apple pie! Isn’t that what we all want?”

    I respond to the second quote first: Yes, I want that sort of Orthodoxy, just as other peoples such as Serbians and Russians and Finns and Romanians have an Orthodoxy in their mother churches which has developed within the cultural soil in which it was planted.

    So while I am all for that type of immersion in our received traditions here in North America, we received that tradition through our Mother Church of Moscow. Should we skip over that with which She has entrusted us and be like the modern-day Judaizers who believe in the enormity of their pride and egos that they can somehow skip over the centuries of The Christian Church, Her doctrines and Her councils, and determine that Christianity was supposed to have been a perpetual fulfillment of Hebrew worship, tradition and customs?

    The real problem here is the shameful state of Orthodoxy in The Americas, where the one see of Christianity which first actively began evangelical missions here (and Her children ROCOR and OCA) now must negotiate proper Orthodox Christian worship and authority here with jurisdictions which have formed here not as evangelical missions, but rather as extensions of mother churches in support of immigrant Orthodox Christians.

    Because, I don’t think anyone is seriously discussing this chant issue in the mother churches outside the Americas.

    If I’m wrong, correct me, please.

    • 10 Richard Barrett 10 November 2012 at 12:34 am

      Hi Gordy; thanks for commenting and making some good points. Of course the comment you describe as “satirical at best” is intended to be satirical.

      I will say that I don’t know what you mean about “we” having first received the faith through Moscow. I personally have had precious little interaction with MP, ROCOR, or OCA parishes on any kind of a sustained basis, and while ROCOR strikes me as ultimately a more cohesive entity than than OCA, they’re also so small as to be largely inaccessible if you don’t live near a big city. From a musical standpoint, it seems to me that many ostensibly “Russian” parishes have mostly eschewed their own rich musical heritage in favor of simplistic, utilitarian settings.

      I have yet to be given any kind of a meaningful exposition of what “American cultural soil” actually is in a way that shows how it anything compatible with Orthodox Christianity, particularly since – as I think Francis Cardinal George once said – “American culture”, whatever that means, seems to be largely Protestant. I’m less convinced than I used to be about Appalachia being culturally compatible with Orthodoxy, certainly. Also, I’m not sure that Russia, Finland, and Romania necessarily did all of the same self-conscious handwringing over whether something was Russian/Finnish/Romanian enough.

      But ultimately the point here is less that Byzantine chant is the only “real” Orthodox music and more that many of the reasons usually adduced for why Byz chant supposedly “doesn’t work for Western ears/culture” are based on either outdated scholarship or identity issues that have little to do with any substantive *musical* issues. If people want to make a case for something else, fine, but it has to be acknowledged that Byzantine chant has taken root as the musical language in many places other than Greece and languages other than Greek, suggesting that it’s far more universal than some might admit. Plus, it seems to me, a living Orthodox tradition is always going to be preferable, which is why the “chant of the pre-schismatic Church of Rome” is problematic – that hasn’t been a living tradition of Orthodox worship for centuries. Current performance practice of Gregorian chant has nothing to do with what it might have sounded like before 1054, about which we are only ever going to be able to make educated guesses at best.

      Thanks again!


  1. 1 Speaking of defense « Central Pennsylvania Orthodox Trackback on 5 May 2009 at 11:12 am
  2. 2 Towards the Great Council « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 8 May 2009 at 3:11 pm
  3. 3 Byzantine Chant, Authenticity, and Identity: Musicological Historiography Through the Eyes of Folklore « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 3 April 2011 at 10:52 pm

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