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A response from a commenter

Well, that didn’t take long. I got a fairly lengthy response to the previous post via private e-mail. I present it here in full, save for the respondent’s name, which I leave out because it seems to me the issues are already personal enough for some people, and while this individual’s thoughts are worth airing, they did not express them publicly.

In response to your thoughts, perhaps there is something that the proponents of the Karas Theory refuse to address. That the Theory is based on false premises, that it is largely not in line with any historical or musicological facts, that manuscript and oral tradition debunk it and the fact that its founder, Simon Karas never had any measurable or documented training as a chanter.

The musicological arguments against the Karas Method can be summarised as follows:

1) Are the tonal intervals proposed for the genera in line with the intervals of oral tradition?

2) Simon Karas introduced (rather, re-introduced at his discretion and quite arbitrarily) Old Paleographic symbols to denote (in a stenographic manner) oral ornamentation. How faithful are those ornamentations to anything in oral tradition at the times of Karas and anytime between the 1940s-1970s?

3) Simon Karas proposes that the Patriarchal oral interpretations of music (and indeed the reformation of the musicall notation) are not in line with what, in his mind, were the interpretations of the old psaltae. Yet, given that he had no formal teachers and given that at least a century had passed between the reformation and the time he engaged in his studies, just how credible is this assertion?

4) The two chantors/scholars widely accepted by the Constantinopolitan musical circles as the most learned regarding the old paleography in the late 1800s were Nileas Kamarados and Konstantinos Psachos. In none of their works does one find the arbitrary and quite incredible proposals of Karas.

5) Angelopoulos took the Karas interpretations and further embellished them. Others have gone even further to vocal acrobatics that are short of ridiculous in the context of the history of Byzantine musical interpretation.

This is a very simplified summary of a subject that was discussed and considered by three conferences at the request of the Church of Greece on the matter. The Karas proponents were well-represented. Their arguments (historical/musical/musicological) were detailed, comprehensive and with lots of data. At the end, and in consideration of the overwhelming volume of contrary evidence along with the oral tradition, their arguments were unconvincing. The Church of Greece thus issued two edicts sensitising the musical community that there is no reason to consider anything else than the accepted tradition (Chrysanthine notation, consensus interpretations).

The debate should have ended there and then. However, the Karas proponents maintained their militancy. They continued, in very provocative terms, largely through positions in Greek academia and music conservatories some of them had obtained in the meantime, to question quite disingeniously the obvious. One can speculate that since the money was being thrown around liberally in Greece in the 90s, and many academic experts found easy sources of funding, the Karas “legacy” became a source of government money. Evidence for this comes from sizable sums of grants allotted to the choir of Angelopoulos, as well as block grants to various scholars. So, there was also a financial and professional incentive to carry on with the Karas “legacy”.

I could go on, but you may consider this wordy response as militancy. Mr. Barrett, people like myself have been on the DEFENSIVE for years facing an onslaught of a musically-untenable fabrication and every time we rebut with SCIENCE, HISTORY and FACTS, the Karas “proponents” resort to avoidance of directly addressing our points. If they are scholars, then they should be respectful and answer scholarly comments.

The Patriarchate’s role is to protect its legacy from arbitrary and unauthoritative alterations. The Patriarchate has followed this debate for years and indeed has also requested and received scholarly considerations. You may not know, but Mr. Angelopoulos was called to Istanbul recently and over a period of many hours he was asked to explain the entire matter.

The Holy Synod took his views into consideration, but in light of the overwhelming facts against the Karas “Theory and Method”, the Patriarchate ultimately did not agree with his reasoning.

It also sensitised Mr. Angelopoulos to work in Greece and abroad to find a way that would return peace among the family of chantors.

That Mr. Angelopoulos, continued his provocations after this, left the Patriarchate with no choice but to protect its legacy in the most direct manner possible short of something more serious reserved for ecclesiastic heresy.

The argument that the Patriarchate is clueless on musicology, has no “experts” at its disposal and thus does not understand the Karas “legacy” is completely bunk. It is being disingeniously thrown around currently by those who have a lot to lose by the Patriarchal decision. The fact is, as I noted above, that the Patriarchate for over a period of years, consulted with renowned musicologists, including those of the Karas camp.

In the end, the pro-Karas arguments were unconvincing.

Until the time the Karas movement accepts that the Theory has (at the very least) some serious flaws, or accepts (as do the overwhelming majority of chantors and musicologists) that it is largely an arbitrary fabrication of a person who had no serious background in Byzantine music, questions like those you raise in your thoughts will remain.

The Patriarchate has issued, through this decision, a very clear direction to church musicians. Whether one chooses to follow them or not is largely a personal matter which reflects one’s real character in terms of “respecting the church”.

As for enforcement, I cannot know. In the past, the Patriarchate has been known to be lenient or to be very strict in enforcement. Time will tell, as regards this matter.

Let me ask you this question Mr. Barrett:

Is it formally possible that what you hold so dear may be factually and historically incorrect?

Thank you for your consideration.

I would like to express my gratitude to the person who sent this to me; it is quite detailed and informative, and I expect that there will be those who will have things to say in response. I ask that any comments veer as far away from personal attacks as might be humanly possible; I don’t need my blog to become a boxing ring.

My main comment is this. If Patriarchal Style is such a clear-cut entity that is what anybody who learns Byzantine chant needs to know, then I would expect no end of easily-accessible learning resources to be made available to any and all Orthodox communities where the EP has jurisdiction, including America. Such would seem to me to be the necessity of ensuring proper training in Patriarchal Style. If conservative mimicry is how one needs to learn this stuff, then there needs to be real-time in-person access to somebody whom one can mimic.

This is, I’m afraid, not the case. From Bloomington, Indiana, I had to go to Greece to have any access at all to a teacher, and Ioannis Arvanitis was the one who was willing to teach me. That was ultimately far easier to do than travel to New York or Pittsburgh or wherever that which is considered Patriarchal Style is taught.

If this matter is as black and white as the commenter would suggest, than it seems to me that the burden is on him and those like him to see that it’s actually possible to have realistic access to the right teachers, and with all due respect to those who produced them, the YouTube videos that certain entities have put out are not adequate substitutes. It strikes me that there are productive and constructive solutions that are not happening; what there has been, rather, is a lot of sword-sharpening and saber-rattling while people Iike me are left to their own devices.

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14 Responses to “A response from a commenter”


  1. 1 Jim John Marks 4 June 2012 at 4:40 pm

    It seems to me that “someone” ought to be providing these kinds of in-person, real time resources _regardless_ of the situation around these, for most of us extremely esoteric, details of preservation, notation and realizing.

    Many of us in the USA will have little to no opportunity to learn Byzantine notation, and even if we did, quality translations of hymnography into English with the Byzantine notation are “thin on the ground” at best and utterly non-existent most of the time.

    In a highly mobilized society like the USA, is it even reasonable to expect parishes to “invest” in the training of cantors who may — perhaps for very good reasons beyond their control — end up moving away within a handful of years?

    Add to that mix that there is rampant debate about who the “right” teacher would even be and it starts to feel like we’re actually _better off_ simply muddling along as we do with Kazan and Nassar and not even worry about such things — few of our parishioners notice the differences anyway!

    If we can’t even understand the argument, aren’t we much better off leaving that argument _in Greece_? If you have to go to Greece to become educated enough to even understand the argument, how much value is there in going to Greece for that education only to come home with _less_ certainty than before you left?

    I’m currently so far from needing to know the “correct” way to realize a klasma that debates about such things border on the absurd to me. As things stand right now I can’t even get a straight answer from someone about how to realize the “ornament” itself, let alone get any information on when it should and should not be there.

    I think at some point one has to ask the far more relevant question of whether or not preservation efforts in Greece to retain a Greek tradition of the Greek church is really something that should be getting exported to the USA in the first place?

    • 2 Richard Barrett 4 June 2012 at 10:21 pm

      There are some good points here. The first thing I might mention is that Byzantine chant in general is in fact a multi-cultural musical system — it is not just a “Greek thing” but is also sung in the local liturgical language in Arabic-speaking countries, Romania, and even in parts of Russia. I would be very curious indeed to see an ethnomusicological study comparing, say, what we might broadly call the differing “patriarchal styles” — what the best exemplars in, say, Greece and Lebanon et al. do the same and what they do differently. My guess is that while there may be differences, they will tend to be more alike than different. Anyway, the point is, I really don’t think this boils down to a matter that only impacts Greeks in a Greek tradition.

      The other thing I might say is that quality compositions using quality translations are getting more abundant all the time. The real problem is that they are not all in one spot, and while self-publishing via the web has done great things in terms of making things available, it’s also tended to obscure the lines of supply. I had a conversation with the new protopsaltis at the Washington, DC cathedral (who is a lovely guy, I have to say — very kind and welcoming), and he’s scrambling to figure out where to find things in English. It all exists, you just have to know where to look. It’s not that the people who produce them don’t make them accessible; it’s just, by nature, a bit more decentralized than might be nice.

      But, the other problem is that depending on what translation you want — or more importantly, your priest wants — to use, you may be out of luck. My priest really doesn’t like HTM’s psalter translation for liturgical purposes — one time when I used St. Anthony’s materials for “O Lord I have cried”, he said to me afterward, “Excited about the Yoda translation I am not.” If he doesn’t hear the translation Kazan set for that, then he finds it distracting to be having to “catch up” to an unfamiliar translation. But nobody’s setting Nassar’s texts right now to traditionally-composed melodies. God knows I don’t have time to do it, and it wouldn’t turn out very well even if I did. So, I’m stuck with Kazan for the bigger parts of Vespers and Matins.

      (This is, incidentally, one of the ways that the Antiochian Archdiocese needs to catch up on a very “meta” level, but it is what it is. There Are People Who Are Working On It, and I suppose in one way or another I’m one of them, but I’m just a church singer rather than one of the technical masterminds like Basil Crow or Rassem El-Massih (to name people active in this matter in AOCANA), so I’m doing what conceptual cheerleading I can.)

      Notation, I should also add, would be far less of an issue if it were simply presented, more or less anxiety-free, in a matter-of-fact manner. At the end of the day, there really aren’t very many signs at all to get used to, and when one becomes accustomed to the “look and feel” you realize that the notation conveys to you very much how to sing in an elegant way that staff notation can’t really replicate. We would do better to de-mystify the notation and stop treating chant scores like they’re mysterious, arcane books of spells; they’re not. The scores themselves are meant to be practical, not mystical.

      • 3 Jim John Marks 5 June 2012 at 8:24 am

        Why this controversy seems like “just a Greek thing” to me, is that if you’re going to debate precisely how to realize each and every symbol at such a detailed level, and you’re going to insist that there is precisely one way to realize a given page of notation for a hymn, you have an underlying assumption that there is _one_ way to chant and that everyone around the world is doing it.

        Forget the chaos in the USA for a moment. Byzantine chant has been taken to many parts of the world where it has been, near as I can tell, seamlessly integrated into the musical traditions of that place (find recordings of Koreans doing chant sometime if you haven’t heard it before). But even the simple examples of Greek vs. Antiochian make the case. The Antiochian, near as I can tell, ornament _everything_ so they would never debate about whether or not a klasma ought to have ornament or not.

        So, it seems, at least to me, that these preservation efforts _are_ particularly Greek. Which is a good thing! Having that effort in place, to the extent it doesn’t create ill will and chaos, and seeking to preserve the oldest known manner of realizing a hymn is a fantastic piece of life’s work.

        But I do have to wonder how much value there is in trying to “export” that preservation effort to other places. Do chanters in the USA need to be trying to realize the oldest known manner for a hymn? Or do we need to be realizing what works best in an American parish?

        _Especially_ given that the preservation effort is fraught with controversy, ill will and the like, it seems all the more problematic to impose it onto English speaking people who simply want to learn “enough” to chant in their parish in an edifying fashion.

        I think what I’m trying to drive at is the question of whether or not the preservation effort is just that and nothing more, or whether what is being preserved is something which then must be distributed throughout the church to the exclusion of anything else. I think the latter assumption is what “raises the stakes” and maybe drives a lot of the ill will in the dialog. Whereas, if it were treated more as the former, an ancient tradition that can be preserved in some of the ancient monasteries, but distinct from what goes on in your local parish, that takes a lot of the heat out of the debate.

        After all, there isn’t any actual _doctrine_ involved in the discussion about whether or not to ornament a klasma. It is tradition with a “small t” and we need to treat it as such.

      • 4 Richard Barrett 5 June 2012 at 5:37 pm

        To me, the important question is less “what works best in an American parish”, because that privileges the “American parish” in a way I don’t think is called for, and I think you can wind up with materials like Kazan being the final resting place. The better question is, what are the best exemplars for this repertoire from which American cantors may learn?

        Also, the trouble with viewing this as strictly a local “preservation effort” is that the repertoire then becomes a ecclesial museum piece rather than the vehicle for a living faith that it is intended to be. A living repertoire always has various historical forces pulling on it, and sometimes it’s not pretty to watch, but if people didn’t care enough to have the argument in the first place, then I almost think it would be worse.

        “Authenticity” is always something that has to be constructed — not “constructed” in the sense of “made up”, but rather it has to be analyzed, synthesized, and re-articulated, either intentionally or not. The body of Western art music that is often performed self-consciously as “early music” is subject to some of the same debates, and there are very similar questions and problems that are dealt with — tunings, ornaments, notation, vocal style, and so on. What is typically trotted out as “authentic” Gregorian chant is itself rooted in 19th century musicological assumptions and aesthetic ideals.

        I do maintain that a good Lebanese cantor and a good Greek cantor will have far more in common than not and will be able to respect what differences may exist because they’ll be able to recognize the commonality of the tradition. I don’t believe that materials like Kazan, on their own, produce a similar level of mutually intelligible fidelity to the shared tradition, which I think in the end is the best way to put what we should be striving for where Byzantine chant is concerned.

      • 5 Jim John Marks 8 June 2012 at 9:14 am

        I’ve been trying to be as terse as possible to avoid enormously long replies and it is working against me because we’ve devolved largely into a series of semantic clarifications instead of an actual conversation.

        “I do maintain that a good Lebanese cantor and a good Greek cantor will have far more in common than not and will be able to respect what differences may exist because they’ll be able to recognize the commonality of the tradition.”

        I agree.

        But the “debate” that you describe in terms of establishing a “correct” school for realizing Byzantine notation does not even allow for what few differences may exist between them. When you’re down to the level of whether or not a klasma can or cannot have ornamentation, there’s simply no room for deviation whatsoever. Within the context of this debate, the Lebanese cantor (most likely) is wrong, and the Greek (most likely) is right.

        Never mind the _Korean_ cantor who has to some extent normalized the scales to align with Korean musical traditions!

        Insofar as the debate is trying to normalize as completely as possible the way in which a piece of notation is realized, that makes it an inherently Greek project because the Greek tradition is the least deviated, not because no one else cares or because it only has value as a museum piece, but simply because the debate itself renders any organic development “in the field” to be an unwelcome innovation.

        I don’t believe Kazan works very well at all in American parishes, so I see very little risk of it becoming the default if the goal is what works best. It can become the default if the goal is what requires the least effort, but that’s a long way from what’s best. Those are two very different mind sets.

        What concerns me about the entire discussion is that it in some ways makes the music of the Church different from everything else. One of the core tenants of Orthodox evangelism is that we don’t replace cultures, we complete them. The living out of the faith in the Aleutian Islands is not the same as living out the faith on Patmos or Crete. And there’s no “debate” going on about how to “fix” that.

        But there is a debate about how to make “correct” chanting as normalized as possible. So… we’re going to go into a culture and say “we’d like to talk to you about some things we have experienced that it seems dovetail very nicely with your experiences — but oh by the way if you want to participate in this, here’s an utterly foreign musical tradition we need you to adopt and if you change it at all, that’s going to create problems” ?

        If that’s _not_ the intention, and I both hope and assume it isn’t, then it does render the preservation effort _essentially_ a museum project or “a Greek thing”.

        Or there’s some huge slice of it I’m not understanding.

      • 6 Richard Barrett 9 June 2012 at 12:15 am

        But the “debate” that you describe in terms of establishing a “correct” school for realizing Byzantine notation does not even allow for what few differences may exist between them. When you’re down to the level of whether or not a klasma can or cannot have ornamentation, there’s simply no room for deviation whatsoever. Within the context of this debate, the Lebanese cantor (most likely) is wrong, and the Greek (most likely) is right.

        No, I don’t think so. The argument here is not about whether or not Lebanese cantors do it “right”; it’s not about which “national style” is better as such. Even within Greece (at least according to a conversation I had today with somebody knowledgeable about the matter who is also decidedly not pro-Karas) there are acceptable variations — there is Thessaloniki style, there is Athonite style, there is “Patriarchal” style, etc. The argument here is very much about the person of Karas and those he influenced and trying to contain that influence. Whether or not there are acceptable variations between a Greek language cantor from Athens and an Arabic language cantor from Lebanon isn’t the issue; the issue is that (so the argument seems to go) Karas got it absolutely wrong, and it’s at least partially because Karas’ influence is being felt outside of Greece thanks to the international group of people (such as Alexander Lingas, John Michael Boyer, etc.) who have been exposed to his influence via people like Angelopoulos and Arvanitis that the anti-Karas party feels so strongly that he must be condemned in the strongest language possible.

        One of the core tenets of Orthodox evangelism may well be that we don’t replace cultures, but there is nonetheless an inherent concept of orthopraxy that arguably includes music. Generally there are established patterns that the evangelized are expected to follow. Perhaps one uses what one can if it’s “close enough”, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s a vigorous (at least) debate right now about whether or not there is any such beast in America when it comes to music. From where I sit, the problem is exactly the opposite — Anglophone Orthodox want Byzantine-looking churches, icons, vestments, and liturgical furnishings, but God forbid we not have an “American” music, whatever that might actually mean (and nobody seems to agree on what it means).

  2. 7 Nick Giannoukakis 4 June 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Well, if one really wants to reduce the argument to the very basic level, then only one answer is possible:

    Obtain audio recordings of every possible service where the credentials and “traditionality” of the chantor is widely accepted.

    Put enough empty space between the responses (i.e. remove the priest’s/bishop’s/deacon’s sections)

    Record this well-timed audio into a new mp3 file.

    Have the priest conduct the service with the mp3.

    For example, on Christmas, the priest can use the mp3 of Karamanis. On Epiphany, he can use Priggos. During Holy Week he can use Stanitsas exclusively or mix Stanitsas with Taliadoros and Naypliotis.

    That way, everything is satisfied.

    On a more serious level, you raise excellent questions. The most important begins with : “Does a 21st century Orthodox Church even need music”? The time limitations of the faithful, the need to condense services, the language issue (Greek vs. everything else), naturally lead to this question.

    Then, if one considers music indispensable, what type of music? Multipart harmony exists to serve the Liturgy and one day may serve the other offices. It is Western and does not sound “oriental”.

    However, if one wants to invest in a fully-trained chantor, then a very important question arises which you allude to. Who will pay for the training? Who will pay for the living expenses? Considering that the paid chantors in the USA (the overwhelming majority anyway) chant more as a passion and less as a musical career, and the amounts are symbolic, does one seriously believe that a cash-strapped Orthodox Church (every year it gets worse) will dole out a respectable sum (at levels enjoyed by clergy) for a chantor?

    As far as the training goes, it can be conducted in the USA (assuming financial support is available for the candidate to travel and live at least 3 years alongside a reputable teacher-one who has the recognition and acclaim by the older psaltae widely accepted as “traditional”. There is such a group that enjoys wide, if not universal acclaim) in a regional manner as well as continuing education through the internet (e.g. http://www.asbmh.pitt.edu/HHronoglou/). There is also a parallel version where the explanations are in English, but the order of the lessons are somewhat haphazard currently. The fundamental hymnology of Holy Week has also been provided (www.asbmh.pitt.edu/Educational/Videos/Live/ACLive.html). It’s obviously a start and a work in progress…..

    Last, egos, politics and interest-for-money get in the way of allowing progress and genuine diakonia by selfless people to help others. There are interests at all levels, from those running organised entities to some individuals who cannot accept that there are people in the world who just may know a thing or two more than they do…..

    • 8 Richard Barrett 4 June 2012 at 10:29 pm

      …assuming financial support is available for the candidate to travel and live at least 3 years alongside a reputable teacher…

      As lovely as that sounds, good luck with that one. Some are lucky to get gas money to sing and direct far more music in more services per week than the paid section leader at a Protestant church who sings four hymns, an anthem, and an offertory at one service per week. And, frankly, some people (not necessarily the cantors themselves) would be scandalized to have it be any other way. I would have loved to be at the ASMBH course in Pittsburgh two years ago, but that’s the kind of thing that somebody like me would have to write a grant for probably a year ahead of time. Just coming up with a month’s (or however long it was) worth of housing and travel expenses isn’t going to happen on a dime, nor is it realistic to expect that parish like mine would be able to support such an effort.

    • 9 Jim John Marks 8 June 2012 at 9:00 am

      There is a “need” to condense services?

      • 10 Nick Giannoukakis 8 June 2012 at 1:12 pm

        Dear Jim,

        in the GOA, many faithful activate a stopwatch as soon as they cross the threshold of the narthex…..Priests and Metropolitans are frequent recipients of “need to condense” service demands….

      • 11 Richard Barrett 9 June 2012 at 9:07 am

        I have encountered this in the Antiochian Archdiocese as well, unfortunately (along with people who insist on keeping other strange metrics in an attempt to keep a choke chain on things they don’t like).

    • 12 Jim John Marks 8 June 2012 at 1:25 pm

      It is a shame that kind of behavior is not only taken seriously, but validated.

      It hardly seems like a point from which to begin a conversation about the need for music within worship and what form that music should take.


  1. 1 Orthodox Collective Trackback on 4 June 2012 at 3:56 pm

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