Posts Tagged 'medieval byzantine chant'

A word about Cappella Romana’s Tikey Zes: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom before I review it

“Although there now exist polyphonic choral settings of the Divine Liturgy by composers representing nearly the full cultural spectrum of Eastern Orthodoxy,” writes Cappella Romana‘s Artistic Director Alexander Lingas in the liner notes of their new recording, Tikey Zes: The Divine Liturgy of St. Chrysostom,

those produced by Greek American composers remain little known. Indeed, Orthodox Christians from Europe or the Middle East visiting Greek Orthodox churches of the United States are frequently surprised or even scandalized to hear the Sunday Divine Liturgy sung not by cantors employing Byzantine chant, but by a mixed choir singing harmonized or polyphonic music that is often accompanied by an organ. Viewed from such an outside perspective, Greek American liturgical choral music would seem to be little more than a peculiar — or, as some critics of polyphony would maintain, an ill-judged and extreme — instance of inculturation. While there can be little doubt that ideologies promoting cultural adaptation (or even assimilation) to prevailing cultural norms have influenced the development of liturgical singing in Greek America, emphasis on these aspects of its history can all to easily lead to facile dismissals that ignore its many complexities of provenance and expression.

Wow, that’s a mouthful for a CD booklet, isn’t it? And yet, there it is. As one tasked with reviewing this particular disc, I feel that I must unpack this a bit to give the recording proper context for people who may not be familiar with the issues to which Lingas refers. This is going to be rather subjective and impressionistic, but I think it all has to be said before I can write my review.

Who gets the final say of what constitutes what something “should” sound like? What is “authenticity”? What’s “authentically” American? What’s “authentically” Orthodox? What’s “authentically” “authentic tradition” or, more specifically, “authentic sacred music”? Can something be “authentic” to the “lived experience” of some Orthodox but not others? How do you work out the question of the authority to resolve such questions? We can appeal to Tradition — but interpreted by whom? Is it up to bishops? Bishops can be wrong. Is it up to musicians? Musicians can be wrong. Is it up to “the people”, whatever we mean by that? “The people” can be wrong. How do you deal with change within a rubric of Tradition so that you are neither unnecessarily reactionary nor unnecessarily innovative?

These questions are vexing for Orthodox Christians in this country. I didn’t really understand just how vexing when I first started attending services; I had initially thought that Orthodox musical issues were largely free of strife. (Stop laughing. Seriously.) I came from a high church, or at least sacramental and liturgical, Protestant setting where the jockeying was over pride of place in the  schedule between the spoken service, the “contemporary” service, and the organ-and-choir service. The church where I was going had had the music-free service at 8:30am, the praise band service at 10am, and then the organ-and-choir service at 11:15, and the demographics basically amounted to the blue-hairs (and the Barretts) going to the 11:15 service and all the young/youngish middle/upper-class families going to the 10am service. (All of the really old people went to the quiet service.) The priest really favored the 10am service, and the musicians who played for that service were the ones who had his ear; the organist and the choir were rather treated as a necessary evil at best by most of the 10am crowd (I remember that the guy who led the praise band wouldn’t even say “hi” to people in the choir if our paths were to cross), and in all fairness, the organist tended to act like the praise band people were in the way. (Which, again in all fairness, from her perspective, they kind of were, with amplifiers and instruments obstructing traffic patterns for the choir if they were left out.) It really meant that there were two different church communities, and you were defined by which service you attended. (Ironically, as much as the 10am people thought the 11:15am people were snooty dinosaurs, the 11:15am service was really pretty “contemporary”-feeling in retrospect, or at least pretty low-church. As somebody who had been confirmed in more of a high-church context, my Anglo-Catholic instincts tended to be smiled at but ignored.)

In 2004, my second year in the School of Music at IU, I was asked to write a set of program notes for a choral performance I was singing in of Gretchianinoff’s setting of the All-Night Vigil, outlining the liturgical context of the service. I did the best I could with what I thought I knew at the time, and I included the following discussion of the a cappella tradition within Orthodoxy:

Historically, instruments have no place in Orthodox worship; organs are a recent development in some Greek parish churches in the United States, but those are generally examples of communities that have moved into pre-existing buildings that already had organs, and then simply adapted to what was there.

My first glimpse into just what disagreements there could be over Orthodox church music was when Vicki Pappas, the then-National Chair of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, came to the Gretchianinoff concert. She talked to me about the notes afterward and said, “Very good on the whole, Richard, but that’s just not true about organs. Greeks love their organs, and have built many churches with the intent of having them.” That seemed quite contrary to what I had been told up to that point about a cappella singing being normative, and I wasn’t clear on where the disconnect was. Little did I know.

Last year, the Saint John of Damascus Society was asked to write a script for an hourlong special on Orthodox Christmas music that would have been aired on NPR. I wrote the script, but for various reasons the full program shrunk down to a segment on Harmonia instead. Anyway, as I was writing the segment and assembling the program for it, one of the people I was consulting with objected to Cappella Romana‘s recordings being used for some of the contemporary Greek-American polyphonic composers like Tikey Zes. “They sing Tikey’s music like it’s Palestrina,” this person told me. “Real Greek Orthodox choirs don’t sound like that. Let me get you some more representative recordings.” The problem, though, was that the recordings this person preferred weren’t really up to broadcast quality. They were more “authentic” to this person’s experience of how the music is used in church, but they were problematic to use in a setting where one needed to put the best foot forward.

Coming from an Anglican background, this struck me as an odd criticism, and it still does. My church choir in Bellevue didn’t sound anything like the Choir of King’s College at Cambridge, but I would certainly rather give somebody a King’s CD if I wanted them to get an idea of what Anglican music sounds like rather than get an ambient recording of a service of my old choir. Is it representative of what it “really” sounds like? Is it representative of what it should sound like? I can’t definitively answer either question, but it’s the ideal of sound I have in my ear for that repertoire. Whether or not the average parish choir sounds like that isn’t really the point. Still, that’s an argument that doesn’t satisfy the “lived experience” criterion.

At the same time, the presence of robed choirs and organs means that there’s some jostling that happens with people for whom the Orthodox Church’s traditional repertoire is chant, period, with opinions strongly held on both sides. There’s the issue that the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued an edict in 1846 forbidding the liturgical use of polyphonic music, and I don’t think that anybody denies that this exists, but it seems to me that there’s a good deal of disagreement about just what it means for American congregations in 2013. In any event, the fact that Orthodoxy still usually follows the one-Eucharist-per-altar-per-day canon means that you can’t split a church community along musical lines exactly, but nonetheless the solution in a lot of places is to institute aesthetic fault lines between services. Generally, what this looks like is that that Matins/Orthros is the domain of a lone cantor (or two or three) up until perhaps the Great Doxology, at which point it’s taken over by the choir. This interrupts the intrinsic unity of the services as they are intended to be served according to present-day service books, but it’s a solution. Speaking personally, I have put a good deal of time and effort over the last several years trying to become at least a competent cantor, and I’ve experienced the glory that is Orthros and Divine Liturgy being treated as a seamless garment sung in one musical idiom by the same people throughout, but I’m also not fundamentally thrown off by the presence of a polyphonic choir singing polyphonic repertoire.

While I’m thinking about it — I was surprised to discover that there is not, exactly, agreement over what exactly constitutes “Byzantine chant”. As I was taught, “Byzantine chant” indicates a particular process of composition of monophonic melodies for Orthodox liturgical text, employing a particular musical idiom with its own relationship to the text, theoretical characteristics, notational system, vocal style, and practice of ornamentation, informed by oral tradition (or, to use words perhaps more familiar to Western musicians, “performance practice”). In other words, it is not a fixed, bounded repertoire, but rather a living tradition; you can compose “Byzantine chant” for English texts by following the compositional process and sing the result with the proper style and performance practice. For English, this perspective probably prefers the work of Ioannis Arvanitis, Basil Crow, Papa Ephraim at St. Anthony’s Monastery, John Michael Boyer, and the like. This is also essentially the point of view presently taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology by Dr. Grammenos Karanos (more about them here).

At the same time, I’ve encountered the point of view — from both cradles and converts, people who are theoretically knowledgeable and people who aren’t — that that’s not Byzantine chant at all. Byzantine chant, according to some, actually is a fixed, bounded repertoire for Greek and Arabic; for one reason or another, so this point of view goes, a fresh setting for an English text might be a number of things, but it isn’t Byzantine chant anymore. (Either because the compositional process is imperfect for English, doesn’t work at all for English, or is irrelevant in the first place, depending on to whom one speaks.) The whole idea of formulaic composition here is set aside; it’s the melody that already exists that’s important, not the relationship of the melody to the text by way of those melodic formulae, and that melody needs to be preserved for it to still be “Byzantine chant”, even at the expense of proper formulae or orthography. This perspective would find, for example, Fr. Charles Baz’s transcriptions of the Basil Kazan Byzantine Project into Byzantine notation not just acceptable, but preferable to the work of the composers mentioned above.

And then there are still other “sides” within what I’ve outlined above. The bottom line is, there is more than plenty to argue about where music is concerned. For my own part, I try to be a specialist but not a partisan, and I think context matters. I don’t think that means “anything goes”, but to the extent that traditions of liturgical crafts have historical contexts (even Byzantine chant!), I’m not sure how much it accomplishes to pick fights. Part of the problem, as I’ve experienced myself, is that there aren’t a lot of people who are sufficiently well-trained Western musicians and Byzantine cantors, such that they can adequately participate in, or even comprehend or relate to, both contexts. There are some, but not many, and there’s generally not a lot of interest on the part of one “side” in learning about how the other “side” does things. I am able to go back and forth between the psalterion and the choir loft to some extent — I suppose I’d say I’m equally clumsy in both contexts — and I’m interested in what goes on in both, but I have my own opinions that I bring with me, certainly. (You don’t say, you’re both thinking.) I don’t like the hodgepodge of whatever random music might be thrown together that it seems to me that the choir loft can become. I don’t like a structure of liturgical responsibility that effectively tells a cantor, “We want you to cover all of the services that nobody comes to” (let’s be honest here). At the same time, if “Byzantine chant” is understood principally as “what the old guy whose voice is nasal and can’t stabilize on a single pitch, and who should have stepped down 25 years ago but didn’t because there wasn’t anybody to take his place, does before Divine Liturgy”, then that’s its own problem, one that we cantors need to be proactive about fixing. In general, we church musicians, cantors and choristers alike, need to be a lot more proactive about, shall we say, reaching across the nave and educating ourselves about our own musical heritage and where the stuff we might individually prefer actually fits in.

Okay, so then there’s the question of how an ensemble like Cappella Romana fits into this picture. As a professional choral ensemble that specializes in a particular kind of repertoire — Orthodox liturgical music in all of its variety — but one that is also led by a Greek Orthodox Christian and that has a substantial, though not exclusive, Orthodox membership on its roster, what is their role? Do they have a responsibility to follow a particular ecclesiastical agenda, even though they’re not an ecclesiastical organization? To put it one way, is their job descriptive or prescriptive? Are they a de facto liturgical choir that is only to record and perform in concerts the music that “should” be done in churches? Or, as a performing ensemble first and foremost, are they perhaps the kind of ensemble that should be exploring repertoire like Peter Michaelides, medieval Byzantine chant, Fr. Ivan Moody, and so on? Maybe they get to be the King’s College Choir, as it were, that records and performs things that would likely never be used liturgically, nor be appropriate to be used liturgically. But then, just as the Choir of King’s still sings daily services, Cappella has its “pastoral” projects, like The Divine Liturgy in English, where they are most definitely trying to disseminate an ideal of sound for churches to emulate. Alas, in some circles this argument of a two-sphere approach generates the the rather grumpy insistence that “Orthodoxy doesn’t do art”, or at the very least that art is a luxury that Orthodoxy cannot afford in in its current context in the New World. To me, that’s absurd, but as I have my own Orthodox artistic music project in the works, perhaps I’m not the most objective of critics where that point of view is concerned. At the very least, even if one is to ultimately dismiss liturgical use of the repertoire, I might suggest that Greek-American choral repertoire, not unlike the Greek idiom of vernacular music known as rebetiko, is worth understanding on its own terms at a musical and sociological level. (If you’re wondering what I mean by that, a full discussion is perhaps beyond our present scope, but I might submit that Greek American choral music, like what I understand is the case with rebetiko, can be seen as essentially a folk repertoire born in a context of emigration.) At any rate, thank God that it’s an ensemble like Cappella Romana taking it on, where the leadership and at least some of the membership have an intimate understanding themselves of the various elements at play.

And finally to the CD itself, which, because of the reasons mentioned by Lingas in the essay and what I discuss above, is in the unenviable position of not being able simply to be a recording of sacred music, but rather a recording that must be interpreted as a statement of something by people who don’t want the music contained therein legitimized, AND by people for whom this is the right music, but the wrong way to sing it. Jeffers Engelhardt, can you help me out here?

Well, to give you a capsule review (full review will be in the next post, now that I’ve got all of this stuff off my chest), if you come to the disc without needing it to be a statement of anything in particular, you will find that it is a beautifully-sung recording of some gorgeous music. The essay in the booklet about the music’s historical context is fascinating, both for what it says as well as what it doesn’t say. And yes, Cappella sings Tikey’s music like it’s Palestrina, and you know what? It sounds glorious. So, “authentic” or not, works for me.

Be right back.

Follow up on Angelic Light

I mentioned in my review of Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals that the copy I had provided no information other than track names, and I was left to guess names of composers based on my own familiarity with the recordings. Mark Powell, Cappella Romana’s executive director, was kind enough to pass along the complete track listing:

1. As many of you as have been baptised (I) 3:07
Composer: Frank Desby (died 1992)
CD: When Augustus Reigned
Taken from Dr. Desby’s 1951 “Divine Liturgy”…is an arrangement of Sakellarides’ simplified version of the traditional chant. (Sakellarides: 1853–1938)

2. O Great and most sacred Pascha 1:38
Composer: Hieronymos Tragodistes of Cyprus (fl. 1550–60)
CD: Music of Byzantium

3. Cherubic Hymn, Mode Plagal IV 3:56
Composer: Tikey Zes (Born 1927)
CD: Tikey Zes Choral Works
A setting for mixed chorus of one of Sakellarides’ simplified melodies for the Byzantine Eucharist’s ordinary offertory chant. (Sakellarides: 1853–1938)

4. Communion Verse for Sundays 3:59
Composer: Peter Michaelides (born 1930)
CD: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom

5. Cherubic Hymn (Opening section) 3:49
Composer: Peter Michaelides (born 1930)
CD: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom

6. Offertory and Communion Hymn for Holy Thursday, Mode Plagal IV 2:58
Composer: Tikey Zes (Born 1927)
CD: Tikey Zes Choral Works
English setting of a melody by Sakellarides (Sakellarides: 1853–1938)

7. Communion Verse for Sundays, Mode Plagal I
Composer: Tikey Zes (Born 1927) 4:24
CD: Tikey Zes Choral Works
An intricate arrangement of a chant by Sakellarides (Sakellarides: 1853–1938)

8. Now the Powers of heaven 3:43
Composer: Father Sergei Glagolev (born 1927)
CD: Lay Aside All Earthly Cares – Orthodox Choral Works in English

9. Cherubic Hymn – Special Melody, The thief beheld 4:25
Composer: Father Sergei Glagolev (born 1927)
CD: Lay Aside All Earthly Cares – Orthodox Choral Works in English

10. Let all mortal flesh 3:20
Composer: Father Sergei Glagolev (born 1927)
CD: Lay Aside All Earthly Cares – Orthodox Choral Works in English

11. Megalynarion for Nativity (from Three Christmas Hymns) 1:47
Composer: Peter Michaelides (born 1930)
CD: When Augustus Reigned
“Megalynarion” is a Marian hymn from the Ninth Ode of the Christmas Kanon by St. Kosmas the Melodist

12. Ikos Six 2:18 (new piece–replaces “Kontakion for Mother of God”, since KMG duplicates “Hierarchichal Entrance”)
Composer: Ivan Moody (born 1964)
CD: The Akathistos Hymn
COPYRIGHTS: The Akathistos Hymn, O Tebe raduetsya
c Vanderbeek and Imrie Ltd,1999,1990

13. Hierarchical Entrance Rite for a Byzantine Divine Liturgy: V. Kontakion of the Mother of God, Mode Plagal 4 4:06
Composer: Anonymous (c. 1450)
CD: The Fall of Constantinople
Musical edition from medieval Byzantine sources c. Alexander Lingas

14. O Tebe raduetsya 4:02
Composer: Ivan Moody (born 1964)
CD: The Akathistos Hymn
COPYRIGHTS: The Akathistos Hymn, O Tebe raduetsya
c Vanderbeek and Imrie Ltd,1999,1990

15. What Shall We Call You Full of Grace 2:04
Composer: Richard Toensing (born 1940)
CD: Kontakion for the Nativity of Christ, New Orthodox Christmas Carols

16. Cherubic Hymn, Mode Plagal IV 5:52
Composer: Tikey Zes (Born 1927)
CD: When Augustus Reigned
A setting for mixed chorus of one of Sakellarides’ simplified melodies for the Byzantine Eucharist’s ordinary offertory chant. (Sakellarides: 1853–1938)

The comment was also made that, pace my remarks, the subtitle “Music from Eastern Cathedrals” is accurate because much of this music was composed for GOA cathedrals (and one Antiochian cathedral) in this country. Yes, fine, I get that the idea is that they’re “Eastern Cathedrals” because of communion, not because of geography (and I wonder if the booklet makes that explicit — the copy I was sent came with an temporary insert  that consisted of a listing of track names and the cover rather than the booklet I was assured accompanies the final product). As I said, I know I’m taking the title too literally, and it’s a minor point — I just wonder if the average person who doesn’t know anything about this repertoire who just sees the title of the album will understand what’s actually intended. If I were picking the title, it would have been something like “Eastern Cathedrals in the New World” or something like that (and I’m sure somebody would have instantly shot it down as being too wordy). For my part, I can think of instances where somebody has bought a CD based on my recommendation, then come back to me and been upset because they didn’t realize the recording was in English. “I don’t want to understand it!” they tell me. “If I can actually understand the words, I feel wrong somehow if I’m listening to it while doing the dishes!” Anyway, it still seems to me to be a point worth bringing up; I could be wrong.

As a side note, recordings seem to have a curious impact on musical practice in the American Orthodox world; my own impression, at least from my informal survey of parishes in the Midwest over the last several years, is that the most influential recording to have been released for English-speakers is the St. Vladimir’s Divine Liturgy disc, in terms of repertoire chosen and how that repertoire is sung. And, I have to say, it is a middle-of-the-road disc at best in terms of recording quality, repertoire, and performance, even taking into account the fact that it’s live and an actual service. Maybe the problem is one of expectation; the SVS folks picked repertoire that seems attainable and sang it in a way that doesn’t represent the material so perfectly that the average listener assumes that their choir couldn’t do it. By contrast, I can think of times when I’ve played more polished recordings with better repertoire for people and gotten the response, “Well, that sounds great, but who’s ever going to actually be able to sing it?”

Review: Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals, aka Cappella Romana Greatest Hits Volume II (1453-2012)

I joke, but Volume I has in fact been out for a few years now. (And Music of Byzantium is a compilation that could be considered along the same lines, except that it has a lot of otherwise-unreleased stuff on it.)

A point I made in the talks I gave at St. Paul’s in Emmaus is that harmonizing Byzantine chant makes it something other than Byzantine chant. If you are exceptionally skilled, you can use melodic material to compose really gorgeous-sounding Western music that calls to mind Byzantine chant, but it won’t be Byzantine chant. If you are, well, not exceptionally skilled, and you just sit down and try to harmonize a Byzantine melody the way you’d harmonize anything in a first-year music theory class, you will come up with something that not only isn’t Byzantine chant, but it isn’t very good Western music, either.

The compilation Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals is partially a demonstration of the first part of this principle, but also partially a demonstration that you actually can just write gorgeous-sounding Western music for Orthodox texts and not worry about the Byzantine chant part of the equation. The disc principally represents contemporary composers; alas, the copy I have only has track names and does not credit specific individuals for the settings, but I recognized the music of Fr. Sergei Glagolev, Rev. Dr. Ivan Moody, Richard Toensing (another member of the St. John of Damascus Society Advisory Board), and Peter Michaelides; the press release also mentions Tikey Zes. There’s really only one chant selection here, the medieval version of the Proemium of the Akathistos Hymn (aka the “Kontakion” of the Akathist or the Kontakion of the Five Sundays of Great Lent), Τῇ ὑπερμάχῳ στρατηγῷ/”To you, champion leader”.

There’s an awful lot to like about this recording; it’s a great sampling of Cappella Romana‘s polyphonic efforts, as well as of contemporary Orthodox composers in the Western world. I’ve heard some really overblown polyphonic Orthodox music; much of what’s present here is quite lush while still being reasonably restrained. Standouts include track 1, a setting of the Greek text of the anti-Trisagion “As many as have been baptized” — I think perhaps by Zes — as well as Glagolev’s Cherubic Hymn (sounding considerably more cleaned-up  than it did on its original disc — I assume it was remastered?), Moody’s “O Tébe Ráduyetsia” from the The Akathistos Hymn release, and Toensing’s carol “What shall we call you, Mary?” (very nice to see his vastly-underappreciated “Orthodox Christmas carols” included among such other works). Fr. Ivan Moody’s work I particularly appreciate because I think it does a nice job of showing how incorporating Byzantine melodic material can be an intentional compositional choice in the context of a broader work — that said, it seems highly unlikely to me that his Akathistos will get much use in an actual liturgical setting, and more’s the pity; as a result it’s harder to make the case that it’s representative of what can be done with English-language liturgical music.

And, I suppose, that gets to the one real criticism I have of the disc, which is that the title is misleading. With the possible exception of the medieval Kontakion, this isn’t music from “Eastern Cathedrals”. Most of this is by composers who are living and working in the United States; I think Peter Michaelides was born in Greece and Fr. Ivan Moody is English (and lives in Portugal!), but Richard Toensing, Tikey Zes, and Fr. Sergei Glagolev were all born in the States. Besides that, I seriously doubt any “old country” parish, let alone cathedral, would ever use this music liturgically, and at least here in the Midwest, I know of precious few American parishes that would even give this music a second look. Whether or not they should or could is a different question — I would dearly love to be a member of any parish choir that could handle this music in a liturgical context — but ultimately this recording is more representative of what Cappella Romana’s musical objectives are and what it tries to champion than what one is actually likely to hear in an Orthodox church. It’s the double-edged sword of works like the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil — there was a community chorus that performed that piece here in Bloomington a few years ago; Fr. Peter and I gave a brief presentation to the group to talk about the liturgical context, and then Fr. Peter also talked to a group of audience members before the concert. Good opportunity for outreach, but then there were a couple of people who showed up at All Saints thinking that they were going to get to hear Rachmaninoff. Nope, sorry. Thank God that an ensemble like Cappella does what it does to try to get these ideals of sound into actual ears, but let’s make sure we’re not over-representing what’s going on.

Arguably, I’m taking the title too literally; I know that, and it frankly amounts to a seriously minor criticism, but it seems to me to be something worth discussing. The contents of the disc itself are excellent, and one hopes that hearing music like this sung at this level will inspire Orthodox church musicians and members of the congregation to wonder to themselves, “What if…?” rather than just shaking their heads and saying “If only…”

Review: Cappella Romana, Mt. Sinai: Frontier of Byzantium

Cappella Romana is an ensemble that’s hard to pin down. Are they an early music ensemble? Yes, sort of, but they don’t generally do Bach or Monteverdi. Are they a sacred music ensemble? Yes, but they’re not affiliated with a specific church institution (i. e., a cathedral or parish). Are they a world music ensemble? Sort of, since much of the music they sing originates in the Mediterranean, but not exactly. Are they a contemporary music ensemble? Yes, sort of, but much of the contemporary music they do is decidedly in an older tradition. Are they a pastoral, confessional affair? Of sorts, I suppose, although their membership is by no means entirely composed of Orthodox Christians. Are they a scholarly project? Well, yes, they’re kind of that too, given that the booklets tend to be article-length affairs with footnotes and bibliography. I suppose you could say that they’re an early world contemporary sacred music vocal ensemble that’s run by a musicologist.

They’ve been extraordinarily productive in terms of recorded output in the last eight years; since 2004 they’ve put out some eight discs (ten if you include the compilation for the Royal Academy’s Byzantium exhibit and their contribution to the Choral Settings of Kassiani project) that have run the gamut — medieval Byzantine chant, Russian-American liturgical settings, a long-form concert work by an American master, Western polyphony, Greek-American polyphonic liturgical music, and Christmas carols (of a sort). Their recordings also continue to get better and better; I picked up their discography in 2004 starting with the Music of Byzantium compilation of various live and recorded excerpts, followed by Lay Aside All Earthly Cares, their collection of Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s music, and then 2006’s The Fall of Constantinople, a program I had heard them perform here in Bloomington. Comparing just those three discs to each other, there’s a noticeable jump in quality, and then comparing them to recent releases such as the Peter Michaelides Divine Liturgy, it’s clear that they’ve found a groove in the studio (as well as perhaps in the editing booth) and they’re riding it now. They’re recording music nobody else is really doing, and while that means it’s hard to know what an applicable comparandum for any particular recording might be, it’s clear listening to it that they’re doing it at a very high level regardless, and the good news about the lack of comparable recordings is that it reveals the sheer richness of the Orthodox musical heritage. Arvo Pärt and Rachmaninoff are great, but there’s much, much more that you can do.

Mt. Sinai: The Frontier of Byzantium fits into this scheme by presenting music from late medieval Byzantine chant manuscripts from St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai, one of the key crossroads for Eastern Christianity. A Chalcedonian monastic outpost dating as far back as the days of Justinian in the middle of non-Chalcedonian Egypt, it is a treasure house of some of our earliest witnesses to the Christian iconographic tradition (since it was a place of refuge from the iconclasts), and its library of manuscripts in virtually every language of the Roman oikoumene is a witness to the catholicity of the Empire that produced them. The musical selections include portions of a Vespers for the monastery’s patronal feast, as well as the Service of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace, a quasi-liturgical drama that would have been served between Matins and Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before Christmas.

The Vespers material is interesting, particularly how Psalm 103 is treated. It is something of a mix of reconstructed Palestinian practice and present-day Greek tradition, where the first three verses are sung antiphonally, and then Koukouzelis et al.‘s setting of the Anoixantaria (the section of Ps. 103 that starts with, “Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good…”) is interpolated with Triadika, short refrains glorifying the Trinity. It’s an approach to psalmody (in the literal sense of the word) that is generally eschewed in modern American parish practice; we tend to treat whole psalms as something to get through as quickly and as plainly as possible. Of course, just singing the Anoixantaria can take as long as 20 minutes depending on whose setting one is doing, so when parishes want to get Vespers done in half an hour or less, that’s the way it is. Elements like this emphasize how, ideally, our worship needs to be unhurried; we’re on God’s time, he’s not on our time.

The Service of the Furnace portion is lovely. It’s a real curiosity, liturgically speaking; the notes refer to it having been part of the practice of Constantinople and Thessaloniki (and subsequently Crete), and something that developed during the so-called “Byzantine ars nova“, where an artistic and spiritual flourishing was paradoxically occurring in the East at the same time as the political collapse. I’m left wanting to know more about how exactly how it developed, and why, and why it didn’t catch on elsewhere in the Orthodox world.

There are several musical textures in the Furnace section, solo to choral, syllabic to highly melismatic, and they’re all handled with beautiful musicianship and and some of the best male ensemble singing you’re ever likely to hear on a CD. One thing I’d point out is that this actually is something that has been commercially recorded before and is more or less available, even if you have to know where to look for it. Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir (EBX) recorded parts of it for a Polish release called “Byzantine Hymns”, and while I have yet to actually find this for purchase anywhere, you can find their rendering of the Service of the Furnace hymnody on YouTube.   Obviously there’s a bit of a difference in approach; EBX tends to have a different vocal quality all around that I would describe as a little more suntanned and weatherbeaten, and they’re singing the material the way they sing at church every Sunday. EBX also employs a children’s choir for the Three Youths themselves, which is apparently the historical practice and sounds fantastic, but I can see several reasons why that might be an undesirable layer of complexity for Cappella’s presentation.

One other thought — something that a recording like this might help to give a glimpse of is the vitality of the Christian tradition in the Middle East. St. Catherine’s Monastery is an Egyptian witness to a faithful, diverse, cosmopolitan Christianity in the Roman world, and that Christianity is still there, alive, and hanging on. Projects like this show that it is a witness that has much still to teach us.

Lenten retreat at St. Paul Orthodox Church, Emmaus, PA

As I mentioned, Fr. Andrew Damick has been kind enough to invite me to disseminate some of my crazy ideas about Orthodox church music at his parish. I’ll be talking on Saturday, 3 March at St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Fr. Andrew just posted a schedule for the day on the church website, and he has created a Facebook event. I should note that the flyer marks the first public mention of the St. John of Damascus Society, which hopefully means I’ll be able to talk more about what that is shortly. Anyway, if you’re anywhere close to that neck of the woods, by all means please come!

An itinerary and a couple of labors of love

I’ve got three things to pass along, and I suppose I should relate them in order of interest from least to greatest. Otherwise, you’ll just read the first item and skip the rest.

First — I’m going to be mildly peripatetic in the coming months. 9-12 February I will be in New Jersey to participate in the Georges Florovsky Patristic Symposium, and then 12-15 February I will be in Boston to spend a few days at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. 2-4 March I will be in Emmaus, PA to give a presentation on church music as part of a Lenten retreat at St. Paul Orthodox Church. Then, looking ahead a bit farther, 24-26 May I will be participating in the North American Patristics Society (NAPS) annual meeting in Chicago. I realize that maybe I’m up to three regular readers (counting my parakeet), but if you happen to be anywhere near any of those places when I’m there, by all means let me know. I had the odd experience at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute last summer of meeting a couple of people who said upon meeting me, “Oh! I read your blog,” and then I also met this gentleman at the Byzantine Studies conference this last October (although neither of us realized whom the other was until after we were both back home). Anyway, I won’t look at you funny or hiss at you if you introduce yourself, promise.

Second — my first peer-reviewed article, “Sensory Experience and the Women Martyrs of Najran”, has been accepted by The Journal of Early Christian Studies. It’s been an interesting road with this project; five years ago, during my initial year of being a non-matriculated continuing student, I took my first graduate seminar, a course on the Middle East in late antiquity, taught by the professor who would later become my advisor. It was my first exposure to scholars like Peter Brown and Susan Ashbrook Harvey and so on, and was a significant broadening of my horizons. The student makeup of the class was very telling; it was a History course that had no History students in it but rather three Religious Studies kids and me.

Anyway, among other things, we read Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey’s translation of the section of the Second Letter of Simeon of Beth-Arsham that deals with the martyrdoms of the women during the Himyarites’ sack of Najran, and the in-class discussion sparked something for me. Other students were focused on the gory nature of the martyrdom details for their own sake — I specifically remember one person commenting, “I never understood the connection people draw between martyrdom and sadomasochism before now” — but it was clear to me that there was something else governing how those details were conveyed, namely shared liturgical experience. I raised this point, and I still remember the look that I got as clear as day. Needless to say, it didn’t get a lot of traction in class, but when paper topics had to be proposed, I mentioned it to the professor as a possibility. “I can almost guarantee you I won’t buy your argument,” he said. “You’ll have to go a long way for me to see it as at all legitimate.” Well, that’s a challenge, now isn’t it? I wrote the paper, making what I saw as explicit as I could and relating it to known liturgical practices as clearly as I was able. I presented an overview in class, and the professor was quiet for a moment. “You know,” he said, “not only am I convinced, but now I can’t see it any other way. Good for you.”

Later, as I was applying for IU’s Religious Studies graduate program, the paper was used as my writing sample. At the same time, I was alerted to one of the big religious studies journals doing a themed issue on religious violence; I figured, hey, what the heck, if it gets in it can only help the application, and I sent them the paper. I also submitted it to Dorushe, a graduate conference on Syriac studies that was being held at Notre Dame. Well, the outcome of the Religious Studies application was detailed, if somewhat obscurely, here; as far as the paper went, it got into Dorushe, but the response from the journal was a little more ambivalent. The answer was ultimately no, but they included the reviewers’ comments, and said that if I were to revise it they would be willing to look at it again (while making it clear that this was not a “revise and resubmit”). Since at that point I didn’t think I was going to have the chance to go to grad school, publication didn’t really matter anymore, and I shoved the paper and the comments sheet in a drawer. The Dorushe experience was a little weird in some ways (maybe due more to some heightened self-consciousness on my part than anything), but I met some interesting people, and Sidney Griffith, at least, liked the paper, saying, “The way you lay it out, it’s obvious.”

After actually getting in to grad school, I thought to myself a number of times, I should go back and look at those reviewers’ comments, and finally last June I spent a few days thoroughly reworking the paper. I transferred it from Word to Scrivener, I restructured it following the reviewers’ suggestions, and did what was nearly a page one-rewrite so that it reflected better what my scholarly voice (to the extent that I might pretentiously assert the existence of such a thing) actually sounds like these days. Part of this involved reducing block quotes of secondary literature (a bad habit of which I was cured by the wonderful Prof. Sarah Bassett over in Art History, who in the three years that she’s been here has really proven herself to be one of the great, if somewhat unsung, reasons to study Late Antiquity at Indiana University) down to footnotes and paraphrases, and it also involved an overall refinement of the writing style. Don’t worry, I’m still wordy as hell, but I’ve tried to make the wordiness a little more elegant. Also, there’s some additional literature on the Najran incident that’s come out in the intervening five years, and I had to make sure that all got referenced properly. Anyway, once it was done, I opted to not go back to the original publication, instead sending it off to The Journal of Early Christian Studies. In September, I got a note back from the editor telling me that the reviewers’ recommendation was “revise and resubmit”, saying that this was good news and if I took the feedback seriously, there was no reason I couldn’t have a publishable article. By November the revision was re-submitted, and I got word back this last Tuesday that it was in. Now, I have some style adjustments to make before it’s totally done, but at this stage of the game it looks like it will be appearing in the Spring 2013 issue.

So, that first seminar five years ago got me my advisor, my overall area of interest (the interaction of liturgy and history), and my first published article. (Although, while the Najran paper is related conceptually and methodologically to where I think my dissertation is going, it looks like a paper I wrote for a class I took the previous semester, fall of 2006, served as a first stab at the actual dissertation topic. I’ll have more to say after NAPS, I think.) It’s been the gift that’s kept on giving, to say the least.

Okay, on to the final, and most interesting, bit of news.

Third — on or around 26 June 2012, assuming all goes well and without incident, there will be another Barrett on the earth. Yes, be afraid, my genes are propagating, insanity, puns, tendencies towards a prolix approach of oversharing, and all. Thankfully, this child will also be carrying the genes of Flesh of My Flesh, and those characteristics involve practicality, common sense, order, and normality. (To say nothing of great beauty and brilliance.)

We had intended for the last couple of years that we would start trying once Megan got back from Germany, and we were told to prepare for it taking awhile. Well, apparently not. By the beginning of November we at least knew informally, and then our first OB appointment was Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which confirmed matters and indicated we were nine weeks along. We spent most of the drive to our Thanksgiving destination on the phone with my mother and then Megan’s mother and stepmother; my mom got the first call, since she’s the one parent who doesn’t have any grandchildren already, and she burst into tears immediately.

We’ve been telling friends and family ever since, but a couple of things made it desirable that we wait a bit before making it “Facebook public”, as it were. Anyway, here we are, and I suppose it will be a source of reflection in the coming months/years/etc. If you’re on Facebook and want to be kept more or less up-to-date, you can join the group “Fans of Baby Barrett“; there’s not a lot to tell at this point except that we’re choosing to not find out whether it’s a boy or a girl. We’ve got some name ideas, yes, but it’s hardly practical to openly discuss those when you don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, so I’m not going to go there except to say that there are some “legacy names”, as it were, that might make sense, and you know that we’re going to be getting one of these. We’ll see.

By the way, if you happen to be having a baby in or around Bloomington, Indiana, I really can’t recommend Bloomington Area Birth Services (AKA “BABS”) enough. We’re doing their eight-week birthing class (cue Bill Cosby: “Natural childbirth… intellectuals go to class to study how to do this”), and while, I must admit, it’s a little more of the NPR-listening “educated class” culture than I really expected, it’s a lot of excellent information that’s provided very sensitively and accessibly. I kind of surprise myself with my own reactions to some things; it should really be no surprise that “birth culture” a) exists b) is hyper-feminized, but I find a certain kind of stereotypical “maleness” emerging in how I’m processing some of the information, and it is very much out of character for me. It’s probably mostly a reflexive reaction to the explicit hyper-feminization of what’s being presented, which probably has everything to do with me and nothing to do with them, because they really are terrific at what they do. I’m just really not used to what they do. Anyway, I’ll have more to say about this as time goes on, I think.

So, there’s the news. Two different kinds of babies, I guess. There’s a third kind of baby on the way that I hope to be able to talk about more in depth soon, but it’s an outgrowth of some of the musical efforts I’ve had going here the last couple of years. For now, follow this, and I’ll be able to tell all in the next month or so, I think.

Prayers for all of these babies, please, and prayers most of all for Flesh of My Flesh. She’s got to carry our child in her womb and write a dissertation.

Help Cappella Romana record their concert in Greece!

So, Cappella Romana is singing not one, but two concerts in Greece in September — one at the 11th Annual Sacred Music Festival of Patmos, Greece, and at the 6th-century Church of 100 Doors, Paros. They are hoping to record the Paros concert, and they have set up a Kickstarter project to try to raise the funds quickly. They are a good chunk of the way there, but I encourage you to support them — this is a really exciting opportunity for them, and it would be a fantastic addition to their recorded library.

Another gift idea

As always, I know that the two of you of who look in on my blog on a regular basis are dying for gift ideas for me — I mean, did I really need 225 copies of Fr. John Behr’s book? Er, wait… Anyway, in case you think that’s too impersonal and/or obvious, there’s always this one: Diane H. Touliatos-Miles’ Descriptive Catalog of the Musical Manuscript Collection of the National Library of Greece. Nur sage, wenn du verstehst was ich meine.

Giorgos Kyriakakis: 30 Years Since the Founding of the Greek Byzantine Choir

My recent translation of Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ talk on Simon Karas got the attention of one Mr. Tom Nassis of Chicago, who asked if I wouldn’t mind translating a 2007 article by Giorgos Kyriakais on the 30 year anniversary of Angelopoulos’ Greek Byzantine Choir. I was happy to do so; Tom provided a few suggestions, and then ran it by Mr. Kyriakakis himself, who gave it his own stamp of approval. So, here it is. As always, I’m more than open to questions and comments.

Update, 27 July 2011: By request, the text with which I was provided may be found here.

One of the longest-lived, and in all likelihood the most internationally recognized, Greek musical ensembles, which Lycourgos Angelopoulos established and directs up to today, completed three decades of activity. The history of the choir in reality coincides with that of its founder, who has devoted himself to applying his world-renowned authentic talent and immense artistic experience to the promotion and achievement of the goals of the choir. The present writer was honored to study with him, so for this, please forgive any sentimentalities detected in the text which follows.

The Greek Byzantine Choir (EL.BY.X. [Ελληνική Βυζαντινή Χορωδία]) was founded with its objective being the study and performance of Byzantine music as it reached our time by means of written and oral tradition. The choir made its first official appearance on 12 December 1977 at Beethovenhalle in Bonn, having been invited by the West German Republic, at a concert with a mixed program. In the first part of the concert, the EL.BY.X. chanted a selection of hymns for the Nativity of Christ, while in the second part featured the world premiere of the work of Dimitri Terzaki, “Leitourgeia Profana” with Lycourgos Angelopoulos as the soloist. But the relationship of the choir and its director with contemporary (and beyond) music will be mentioned in the next article. The debuting choir, then, met with an immediate and enthusiastic reception from a difficult audience. Enthusiams which up to today it causes everywhere where it gives concerts or participates in liturgical events, in Greece and abroad. There are not a few time when it was necessary either to repeat one of its concerts, to go on in a bigger venue than originally planned to enable all of the interested audience to attend, which had surpassed in size the expectations of each of the organizers. The next great international appearance of the EL.BY.X.is scheduled in New York next January, where for a second time it will give a concert at the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The EL.BY.X., in the 30 years of its activity, has put on more than 1,500 concerts, liturgical and other events in Greece, it has done so in more than 30 countries throughout the world. Among them are the historical several hours-long vigils at the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai (1983), in Cologne (1985), at the Holy Monastery of the Great Cave (1987), at the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, at the Church of St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki (1993), at the Holy Monastery of Arkadi (2000) and at Krakow (2000), which, in spite of their length, were broadcast on the radio. The chief highlight was the participation in 2000 at the Pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, while also especially historical and meaningful was the choir’s participation in June 2002 in the Divine Liturgy which the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated for the first time after many centuries in the ancient basilica of St. Apollinarius in Classe (6th century) in Ravenna.

The choir has recorded at Europe’s greatest radio and television stations, it has presented selections of ancient Greek music and Old Roman melodies, while it presented for the first time in modern years the ancient service of the “Three Children in the Fiery Furnace”, from the few preserved examples of Orthodox liturgical drama (c. 15th century), in a transcription and reconstruction of the composer and researcher Michael Adami. From 1990 it began the recording of all of the works of the most important Greek medieval composer John Koukouzelis the Master (perhaps 13th century). The choir has participated in the festivals of Athens and Epidauros in 1987, while from 1989 to 1991 it gave an annual concert at the ancient theatre of Epidauros. The choir appeared at the Megaro Mousiki Concert Hall in Athens for the first time in 1991 and several times from 1995 up to today. In March of 1997 it gave three concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the context of the exhibit “The Glory of Byzantium” and, in January of 1998, it participated in the events “Greece of Britain” with a concert at Queen Elisabeth Hall of London. In May of 2001 it sang at the initiative of Professor Alexander Lingas, also for the first time in recent years, the service of Asmatic (Sung) Vespers, at Oxford, from a transcription and reconstruction of Alexander Lingas’ and Ioannis Arvanitis’, while in August of the same year it gave for the fifth consecutive year the official concert of the International Conference of Studies in Paris together with Ensemble Organum. The above appearances constitute only a small sample of the exhaustive activity which characterizes the EL.BY.X. from its establishment up to today.

Since 1993 they have released in France and in Greece approximately 10 CDs as well as more than 30 cassettes under the name of the choir, eliciting ever-flattering reviews from the international music press. In many cases, notable music magazines have awarded their greatest distinction to the choir (e. g. fff, the magazine Diapason).

The specific and main reason, largely, that the EL.BY.X succeeded at being established internationally to a degree that should constitute worldwide an ensemble of note in the fields of religious, ancient, and Eastern music, is the fact that the choir “restores” Byzantine music, namely the medieval and more recent “art” music of the former Eastern Roman Empire, as a craft. It can be considered as self-evident that a musical ensemble serves music as a craft or an art, but for those who have inside knowledge of the world of Byzantine chant, it is an open, unacknowledged secret that this almost never occurs. The most customary response, which constitutes even substantial contempt of it from the same institutions, is that Byzantine music is a simple accompaniment, up to the point of a necessary evil, of the activity of Orthodox liturgical practice. The cantors (with or without preparation) are sometimes rendered as simple conduits of an action that often is manipulated and ultimately undermined even by the clergy when he, the priest, behaves as though he is a boss and the “psaltai” as functionaries of the church. Not to open up the Pandora’s Box where most of the “scientists” of “our national-religious-and-such music” live…

The EL.BY.X., under the adept direction of Lycourgos Angelopoulos, places this music on the pedestal that it deserves. Along with the choir’s regular, devotional or festive, but always majestic liturgical activities, its extra-ecclesiastical activity has helped greatly to clarify that Byzantine music exists as an independent musical significance, that constantly provokes the interest of an ever-wider public, but also of musicians and composers, as well as even actual scholarly researchers, in religious music and beyond. The EL.BΥ.X. does not seek to innovate. It remains faithful to the tradition, while also never resorting to complacent, loud-voiced trills that do injustice to the music for the benefit of the personal visibility of its performers, a natural consequence of the fact that it did not treat the high art which it offers to its audience in an opportunistic manner, and it continues to not do so, whether the audience is ecclesiastical or not. A simple hearing of small samples of the choir’s work not only demonstrates the things discussed so far but also guides with certainty even to the conclusions that follow; because the present article does not claim to constitute a musicological study, those conclusions ultimately will be given succinctly: the choir showcases and maintains the form of the compositions that it performs. It is the large world of music lovers that used to believe that Byzantine music is nothing other than a convoluted, boring improvisation overlaid onto orientalizing musical formulas, and it is the same large world of music lovers that changed its mind about the music itself when they heard it performed correctly. In the field of expression, the EL.BY.X. is a genuine heir apparent and practitioner of the pedagogy of the great Simon Karas. It provides a clear image of the totality and the melismas of the compositions without confusing one with the other. In general a virtually erroneous view concerning “heterophony” prevails, which wants all the members of a choir to sing on the same melodic skeleton, with individual variations in the ornamentation of melodies, with the result that a static sound, something “approximate”, reaches ears of the listener. The EL.BY.X. shows in a practical manner that the complete synchronization and coordination of all of the members of the choir is feasible, provided, of course, that proper training and preparation has preceded it… An absolutely unique characteristic of this specific choir, in our opinion, is that it chants stylistically. The choir approaches the texts differently, which results from the research and other recent developments. Nowhere in the world, excepting our small para-ecclesiastical way of doing things, is it understood that one applies the same approach of interpreting a composition of the 14th century with a composition from the 18th century, for example. The EL.BY.X. puts things in their proper place, and does not treat its repertoire as an indiscriminate hodgepodge of materials old and new, traditional and custom, trashy and expensive. Pages upon pages could be written about the importance of the work of the EL.BY.X. and its director regarding period treatment, quality and accuracy of intervals, dynamics, the rotations through both choral and solo phases, stage presence, and many other things which due to space considerations are not mentioned here, the things which all the same succeeded in convincing even an entirely “lay” audience that the EL.BY.X. practices something “religious” on the one hand, but which is still “art” above all on the other hand.

But alongside with the choir’s purely artistic activity, it also constitutes a great school. The present writer acknowledges that before he came into contact with the choir, being learned in secretive and pompous practices, used to believe that the world of Byzantine music is a closed club to which access for the one not initiated is rather impossible. The reality which he experienced contradicted him. I will not dwell on that; I will say only that for the duration of my trials with the EL.BY.X., I understood what Byzantine music actually is and how instructive it is merely to watch the choir’s members, well-trained to say the least, conversing on the matter at hand: the music. This was also the only time when I heard the “teacher” urge his “students”: Study! If somebody asks you tomorrow, “Why do you say this?”, how will you answer this person? “Because my teacher says so”? And if he should tell you, “It could be, but your teacher speaks wrongly,” then what? Study, so that you learn why you’re saying what you’re saying, and not because I myself have told you so!

And he always referred and guided us to the sources, many times even with he himself assuming the cost of any copies we needed. Finally.

Certainly, the thirty years of the choir did not pass rosily and into unalloyed glories without needing “to open the nose.” Only fruitless trees are not stoned. Our exegetical view, we believe, does not require that we live in the country where, together with chiefly historical matters, plausibility holds the title of metropolitan intolerance. And as regards the area of art… from ancient times (and this one). The Greek Byzantine Choir could not in a third of a century inconvenience the spider-filled psaltic establishment doing a decent job of the obvious thing without receiving its share of intolerance, sometimes collectively, and quite often in the form of personal attacks against its founder. Beginning already from its inception, St. Irene Church on Aiolos Street was the first testing ground. And when the EL.BY.X. was daring to not follow the stupid and distorted line, except for politically correct seasonal things, of the ridiculous three-part “harmonization” of Sakellarides style, it found the church locked at the time of the scheduled rehearsal — something which proved often to be a benefit for passersby, who had the opportunity to watch live the rehearsal that they inevitably held… on the steps of the church. But the worst came when the choir began to have prestige and to develop an international career. Then all the “trustees of tradition and style”, asleep since birth, and the only thing that bothered them was that they selling, boutique-style, their services to national-religious opportunistic merchants, and they identified the “enemy” whose existence gave them the opportunity to “intervene” critically, an opportunity which their ability to intervene musically did not particularly facilitate. Even up to the time during which these lines are written, all of these “border guards” and “zealots”, as they are fond of calling themselves, instead of seeking to be educated at least a little bit, they simply attack… Karagiozis’ Wedding… Personally, I have one question to offer: but is it well that you do not listen?

In the holy war against Angelopoulos and “Little Angelopoulites”, many funny episodes have transpired, episodes which rarely deviate from the music. There, even, many things are not able to be told. A great number of libels have been published from time to time, enough to make any embittered person laugh. Accusations of spying (what happens and what the choir does in Israel and every such thing, so that the Patriarch asking the choir to chant at the Holy Sepulchre is not enough), of heretical views (so many travels and consorting with the heterodox, the “unbaptized”, as they cannot do) and other things which, if they were all written down, anybody would believe that evil, provocative devils encourage them. Suitable for the snuff-box, but less by far for the music. Something is mumbled about contempt towards “the Patriarchal style” the identity of which, as an aside, is being researched, something about an alteration of Athonite style… ridiculous? In the ’70s, the accusation was that “they are going to bring the monastic ways to Athens,” while in the ’90s and beyond it was, “This group attacked, and then the systematic siege certainly being sustained, they laid waste to Vatopedi and having this as a base they plot against the remaining monasteries as it succeeds in imposing its style upon them.” Sometimes even some unsubstantiated speculations are heard concerning the systems of attraction and of intervals, but these hold little sway, obviously because the arguments do not persuade, and neither do those who make those arguments. Thus, henceforth the EL.BY.X. “with the assistance of the mass media, have also imposed such things, systematically altering the content of our national music,” and other humorous stories… The aforementioned matters concerning form, rhythmic training, study and correct result, research into the sources and so on, remain the fine print for a large proportion of the field, and they do not fall loudly on the table. And the sympathetic chief clergy do not make a noise but they are aware of such things. To repeat what I said earlier, a metropolis of intolerance. This time even with a Metropolitan. But all these things aside, the EL.BY.X. continues to produce work, and it does not rest on the international recognition which it already enjoys, and we pray that it continues much longer. As for the “Spartans guarding Thermopylae”, armed with the broomstick of excommunication, even they are members of the ecosystem. It is well that there are those, just as the one “having ears to hear”, able to hear these things on the one hand and able to judge on the other hand able to judge the musical interpretations and scholarly evidence.

Who is so naive as to argue that the subject of research, interpretation, and presentation of any musical movement, are the result of only a few individuals? The only certainty is that history is not rolling back; the Greek Byzantine Choir and Lycourgous Angelopoulos, here and for many years, are writing their own chapter.

– George Kyriakakis, http://www.kyriakakis.de/

Lycourgos Angelopoulos: Simon Karas and Byzantine music in Greece during the 20th century

Simon Karas

I found this on the Analogion website, and it seemed worth translating. Corrections, comments, and feedback welcome, particularly where some technical terms are concerned. This makes mention of a number of what I assume to be the terms of art of Greek music theory, and I wasn’t always sure I was right. Words where I wasn’t certain there even was an English equivalent are left in Greek and in italics. To the extent that anybody’s concerned about such things, we can call this a draft until all such feedback is in.

Simon Karas and Byzantine music in Greece during the 20th century

Lycourgos Angelopoulos, Archon Protopsaltis of the Most-Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople, Professor of Byzantine Music at Philippos Nakas Conservatory

Opening remarks at the Symposium for Byzantine Music, Romania, December 2002

The subject of my introduction touches upon, in essence, the problem today of the pedagogical method of Byzantine music — theory and practice — a problem which surely concerns all of us, I think.

It is the chief problem which we face so much in research, as much as even in teaching, because the oral tradition which necessarily interprets the written tradition, in some places has almost vanished (where the political situation over the decades contributed to it), in other places been weakened or altered (where it was influenced by the teaching of a European pedagogy — that is to say a foreign system — and the use of a mixed means).

Lycourgos Angelopoulos

Simon Karas studied and confronted this problem, together with many other things noted. The great length of days of life which the Lord granted him (he was born in 1903 in Strovitsi of Olympia and he fell asleep in January of 1999 in Athens) helped him so that a project, an inquiry — but also a practice of life — might be published in large part in the last twenty years his life and might constitute the work of infrastructure for a systematic pedagogy which respects the written tradition and interprets it with the oral tradition. The respect for the written tradition and the the interpretation of the written tradition by the oral tradition is the basic prerequisite of service and offering for everybody who serves the current method of our ecclesiastical music.

As of this year it has been twenty years since the publication of Simon Karas’ two-volume Theoretical Treatise of Greek Music. Before we analyze the importance of its publication, which is accompanied by a practical pedagogical method of many volumes, let us give, very briefly, the situation of Byzantine music in Greece in the twentieth century.

Σince the nineteenth century the new method of the system has spread and been taught, the so-called method of the Three Teachers, which was supported by the publication of the great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos (Trieste, 1832) and some subsequent theoretical publications of other authors who are emultating it.

In parallel, from 1820 and beyond, subsequent publications of music books are produced, the peak being the circulation from the Patriarchate in the middle of the nineteenth century of the four-volume publication “Pandekti,” which until today constitutes a basic pedagogical text, together with the Anastasimatarion, the Irmologion, and Mousiki Kypseli (Sticherarion).

In the modern Greek state, they are teaching students of the Three Teachers such as the Protopsaltis of Athens, Zafeirios Zafeiropoulos, or the archdeacon Anthimos the Efesiomagnis (from Asia Minor) the who founded the School in Messolonghi, with many students and successors of his work.

The support from the state but then even from the Church (between the third and fifth decades of the century) produces the poor parenthesis of the system of Giorgios Lesvos, the system which finally was rejected by the Holy Great Church of Christ in the time of Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimos VI. Most correctly, too, because the dominance of another system would have eliminated automatically the notation and would cut off every connection with the older methods of the Byzantine system and the tradition.

In the 19th century however it has her roots and another cause which troubled our ecclesiastical music: the introduction of polyphony in the central churches of Athens, initially according to the model of the Greek community of Vienna (Chaviara-Nikolaidi harmonizations) and, later, of Russian polyphonic music.

This imposition of polyphony created reactions among the people who followed the tradition. Polyphony in the Church was certainly conforming to the age with the secular music that had been introduced also from Europe (an age in which opera, operetta, and European music in general flourished, the condition in which the idea was cultivated that those genres are superior in comparison to monophonic Byzantine music). As the restoration of Byzaintine music (having been purified, supposedly cleansed from Turkish elements) presents at the end of the 19th century the musically naive system of Ioannis Sakellarides, which produced great confusion among even still-traditional cantors. Chiefly because he used traditional notation lines in many cases and some uses of signs — subordinating the whole to a rhythmic scheme of four-beat feet, impairing the modal character and adjusting their essence to the European system.

Opposite to this situation which is spreading from the capital, Athens, influencing even the other urban centers by word and the educational activity of Sakellarides (pedagogy in ecclesiastical and even secular schools), there are the traditional cantors who are trying to keep the monophonic ecclesiastical music with the teaching but also even with practice (services, vigils, etc.).

Already the Ecumenical Patriarch has convened a musical committee in 1881-3 for the completion and correction of the Great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos.

The committee redefines intervals, describes the characteristic elements of the modes and chiefly defines precisely the intervalic subdivisions of flats and sharps, in other words of the function of attractions according to mode, which even then had not been determined with exactness.

In the practical field — in the printed books which individual cantors are printing at the 19th century, already a process of most analytical notation of oral tradition has begun, a process which eventually arrives at excess with the improper use of certain signs of subdivision of the beat and the use of qualitative signs without calculation of their value.

This trend, which would continue  during the entire 20th century, would find the its chief spokesman in the face and work of the Archon Protopsaltis of the Most-Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople, Athanasius Karamani, who documents — as he himself calls it — the “living tradition”. For all practical purposes, these documents are meaningful witnesses for research and for the relationship with the value of the signs.

But let us come back to the beginnings of the 20th century. An important station is the decision of the Musical and Dramatic Assocation, that by 1871 has established the Conservatory of Athens, to advance even to the establishment of the School of Byzantine Music in 1903. The Director of the Conservatory, G. Naxos, goes to Constantinople and submits a request to Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III for the sending of an appropriate teacher for the service of the School. Finally, Constantinos Psachos is sent and the service of the School begins in September of 1904. Constantinos Psachos will teach some fifteen years at the Conservatory of Athens, and after he will leave and will continue the teaching at other school. At the same time, in the years which follow, Byzantine music schools are established in the conservatories and in this way the teaching of Byzantine music spreads to schools which primarily teach European music.

This cohabitation [with Western music] is further one of the core reasons that the teaching of Byzantine music in the conservatories loses its particular character with regard to musical expression (the values of the signs) and microtones. The final sign of decline is the teaching with piano. Only a part of the repertoire is taught and dry singing prevails. This manner is characterized as “conservatory style”. The years which the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) will bring enough cantors from Asia Minor and Constantinople, just as even in the years of the decade of the 1960s, with the collective expulsion of those of Greek heritage from Constantinople, culminating in that [expulsion] of the Archon Protopsaltis of the Holy and Great Church of Christ, Thrasyboulos Stanitsas (1964).

Polyphony, confusion of Byzantine music with European music, along with Sakellarides, dry singing in the conservatories on the one hand, traditional cantors on the other hand, which, nevertheless, increasingly rely on one leg of the tradition — the oral tradition in other words — here is a picture in broad strokes of the situation which prevails when Simon Karas begins his activity with the establishment of the Association for the Dissemination of National Music (1929). The school of the Association has already been created and its creation has already engaged in study and research, work which will hold up for more than seventy years. From the beginning the subject of agreement of agreement of the theoretical and practical parts employs him. HE studies and he solves the problems thus in depth so that the theoretical pedagogy and the practical implementation, which he proposes for the formulation of his pedagogy, should be in agreement.

His pedagogy considers all of the old theoretical texts in conjunction with the oral tradition which he heard during the extent of his long life, and chiefly in the first decades of the 20th century.

The two-volume “Theoretical Treatise of Greek Music” which is published in 1982 is densely written on the hand with respect to his writing, exhaustive on the other hand with respect to the organization of its chapters.

The systematic ordering of the modes and of the classes of modes happens with deep knowledge of the practice. In the same way, the theoretical formulation is not stale, but always results from the practical implementation which he researches and justifies.

For example, I will relate the vivid documentation of the classes of the authentic modes (mesoi, paramesoi, plagioi, paraplagioi) and the plagal modes (difonoi, trifonoi, tetrafonoi, pentafonoi, eptafonoi) just as they result from the musical texts in use.

In this way the relationship between the modes is methodically presented, but primarily the means of generating the octave is emphasized. One consequence of this logic is the treatment of the series of pitches as a whole musical phrase of a certain mode and not separately (not as each separate pitch, in other words), this latter approach being the one which unfortunately  prevailed in conservatory-style pedagogy and not only there. The treatment of the series of pitches as a musical phrase facilitates even the determination of the ison which, just as all of us recognize, is not always noted in the text. The mingling, nevertheless, with the polyphony that I talked about earlier, in the combination with the conservatory-style pedagogy produced a freakishly irregular ison based on vertical harmonic consonance, outside the logic of the system of modes, which wants for the ison the tonic of the tetrachord or the pentachord in which the musical phrase belongs.

In the chapter on the modes, the symbol of Simon Karas is important as for the intervals. With the cooperation of Constantinpolitan mathematician and physicist Stavros Vrachamis — authorized in writing by the Ecumenical Patriarch to research the subject of musical intervals according to genre and timbre (as Karas himself mentions) — the intervalic study of the modes even completes or corrects, always justifiably, the earlier opinions on the intervals. As a representative example I will mention that which highlights for the enharmonic genre, in the Great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos, who, while he clearly defines which ones are the intervals of the enharmonic genre, nevertheless in another paragraph he classifies the Third and the Grave mode in the enharmonic genre with intervals of the hard diatonic (whole steps and half-steps). The contradiction is obvious. Another example is the reconstruction of the intervals which the Patriarchal Commission of 1881-3 gives as for the chromatic modes, so that the large and small chromatic thirds of the soft and hard chromatic coincide.

Nevertheless the example of Simon Karas is decisive in the chapter “Musical Expression”, which in detail negotiates the matters of actions and of voices but also of the hand-signs used in directing (“texts only through hand-signs”): the action of these signs, although it is there in the vocal tradition of traditional cantors, has suffered a blow from the conservatory-style pedagogy (and not only from that), which just as we showed, does not welcome it, resulting in the desiccation of the melodic line and deterioration (if not disappearance) of microtonal intervals.

Already this chapter resulted in the motivation for extensive research. Beyond the announcement of the signing at the conference of Delphi in 1986, two doctoral dissertations, of Professor Demetri Giannelos and of Professor Yiannis Zannos, contribute seriously to the documentation of the subject, while a third, that of Dr. Georgios Konstantinos, gives a full picture of the function of the signs in the written tradition.

The proposal of Simon Karas for the reinstatement of certain hand-signs used in directing which correspond to vocal — that is to say, oral — tradition, I think, contributes decisively to the preservation of Chrysanthine notation and the avoidance of the distortion of its nature, with the predominant analyses already changing the use of the signs and, I fear, leading ultimately to the replacement of the signs with European notation.

From the achievements of the “Theory” of Simon Karas is a complete musical terminology, which responds in theory but also in practice, the consistent documentation of attractions in agreement with the Patriarchal Commission of 1881-3, the citation of examples in every chapter from folk music (hundreds of songs, documentation of the same), the through reference to the use of instruments. The multi-volume method for practical training accompanies and fulfills the “Theory” of Simon Karas, and completes the pedagogical framework.

In the years which the work of Simon Karas begins to be published, the final 20 years in other words of the twentieth century, also begins the service of the music departments of universities in Athena, in Thessaloniki, in Corfu. The work of these music departments towards Byzantine music is chiefly theoretical, of musicological, historical, literary, or theological interest. Of a more practical direction is the department of Musical Knowledge and Art of Macedonia University in Thessaloniki. In parallel, the Institute of Byzantine Musicology of the Church of Greece is active with publishing, the creation of a choir and a discography of Byzantine and post-Byzantine musical compositions.

The University Byzantine Chorus of Thessaloniki, which was established in 1972 by Professor Antonios Alygizakis, also has a similar discography.

(Today, I will add also the postgraduate department of the Conservatory of Athens under the supervision of Doctor Georgios Konstantinos, where specialized researchers give to conservatory graduates comprehensive and knowledgeable insights for the balanced development of theoretical training and practical research.)

A seminal contribution in the history of ecclesiastical music from the sources according to the period of Turkish rule is the book of Manolis K. Chatzigiakoumis, “Manuscripts of Ecclesiastical Music, 1453-1832”, as well as the recordings of cantors which were made in the last twenty years and began to be released recently under the title “Monuments of Ecclesiastical Music”.

Finally, we mention the establishment of the Greek Byzantine Choir in 1977, which in 25 years of activity has participated in more than 900 events in 30 countries, with a similar discography in Greece and in France.

We return to Simon Karas.

We have before us, then, an important project which actually dominates the musical scene of the 20th century, a project which prepares tomorrow while at the same time it constitutes a solid link between today and yesterday. For this reason exactly it deserves to be studied more broadly, to be translated and to be useful for all researchers who will find a most important aid for study and contrast, and for teachers and performers who will discover a valuable guide for systematic pedagogy and research.

I should say here that I consider it especially a privilege that our common tradition in Byzantine music originates entirely from our common Mother the Church, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, our Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Great Church maintained over the ages and preserved in her womb our system of music, with the pedagogy of methods over time in the Patriarchal school, and it will continue even in the future to guarantee its unhindered continuation.

This unity across of the years of the system endorses the research and the systematic pedagogy of Simon Karas — pedagogy which supports, substantiates, completes, corrects, and clarifies the later method in use of the Three Teachers.

At base, we consider the existing written tradition which necessarily is completed by the oral tradition. This means preservation of the notation of the elaborations of Gregorios and of Hourmouzios, with the simultaneous accounting of all the information which the elaborations of their students give us (Petros Ephesios, or Matthias Vatopaidinos of Mount Athos, Nikolaos Diocheiaritos, Ioasaph Dionysiatos, et al.)

The comparative study of the elaborations with each other and with the oral tradition confirms scientifically but, I would say, also solemnly, the comprehensive thesis of Simon Karas for reinstatement of certain hand-signs used in directing but also of the oxeia, already in use in the publications of Petros Ephesios.

This method of research and its practical implementation protects, on the one hand, the unity across time and the functionality of the notation and prevents its mutation in the dry notes of the European system (and thus prevents its being rendered unusable), while on the other hand, it gurantees and strengthens the absolutely necessary oral tradition (with the attractions, the microtones, the phrases et al.) without which the interpretation lacks the richness of varieties which are described theoretically as operations of the signs and are performed practically by the traditional cantors.

With these observations, in conclusion, I would pray to be given to all of those who are interested in our ecclesiastical music for current practical and theoretical study, a continuation which will have the character of the standing scientific but also artistic collaboration and exchange in the frameworks of current reality, with reference always and in relation to the older methods, from those which we will be able to derive important details for knowledge and development.


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