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New release: Byzantine Music: Theory and Practice Guide, Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music (GOA)

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has released for purchase by the general public the textbook used by the Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music. My copy arrived in the mail today, and while I haven’t had a chance to sing through the whole thing or thoroughly read through its contents, at first glance it looks wonderful and quite handsomely put together. It’s very similar in a lot of respects to the Margaziotis exercise book that’s floating around out there, except that it’s written in English and includes both an overview of some of the theory and an essay outlining the history and key figures relevant to the Byzantine musical tradition. There’s also a CD, and while the Margaziotis pdf has musical examples embedded, the CD introduces all of the exercises in English as well.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Acknowledgments: Archdeacon Pantaleimon Papadopoulos, ASBM Director
  • Foreword: Dr. Demetrios Kehagis, ASBM Instructor
  • Introduction: A Brief Overview of the Psaltic Art, by Grammenos Karanos, Ph.D. in Byzantine Musicology, Assistant Professor of Byzantine Music, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
  • Byzantine music theory and practice
  • Chanting with melos
  • Definition of terms
  • A synoptic theory chart & reference
  • Index of Byzantine music characters

Here is the book opened and compared with the full-size photocopy of the Margaziotis book that I was given:

And, mostly for size purposes, here it is compared with a standard Anastasimatarion:

The CD of musical exercises is nicely and clearly sung, and among other things, I think it will be of help to people who are trying to figure out where the intervals are in their own throats.

Anyway, I’m really impressed with the care that’s gone into presenting this material to an English-speaking audience, and on the whole the exercises seem very consistent with the method used in the Margaziotis. If somebody has worked through Fr. David Barr’s materials and figured out how to understand the version of Byzantine chant that’s filtered through Western music theory well enough that they want a new challenge, this book seems like a worthy next step.

The one potential downside is that the musical examples from actual chants are all in Greek, so you need to either be able to read the Greek characters or have access to somebody who can teach the hymn texts to you phonetically. The next step after this book is going to be a Byzantine music theory and exercise book that’s not just written in English, but also uses English music examples. Factoring that out, this publication looks to be the state of the art in terms of educational materials that make learning Byzantine chant (including notation) accessible in English. I’m quite tempted to order five copies to have on hand for people in my choir.

I would very much like to think that the Antiochian Archdiocese, particularly given some things said recently by higher-ups about wanting a renewed emphasis on the Byzantine chant traditions of the Patriarchate of Antioch, would take some cues from what the Greeks are doing with the Archdiocesan School. Right now there are scattered efforts to do things, but nothing systematic so far as I can tell.

You can order Byzantine Music: Theory and Practice Guide from the link above.

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