Posts Tagged 'mount lebanon choir'

The Voice of the Lord: Selected Hymns from the Feast of Theophany

Yesterday I came to home to an unexpected surprise: a complimentary copy of The Voice of the Lord: Selected Hymns from the Feast of Theophany, a new recording of Byzantine chant in English dedicated to the memory of Sonia Belcher. Sonia was a dear friend of my priest and his family, and when she passed last February, Fr. Peter spoke about her quite a bit. This CD is quite the labor of love, to say the least, and proceeds from it will go to support The Theophany School in Boston, an Orthodox Christian school which began largely as a result of Sonia’s effort and perseverance.

The collaborators on the project are impressive, to say the least. Hieromonk Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery (aka “Papa Ephraim”) composed the English-language versions of the hymns specifically for the recording (music found here under the entry for Theophany, 6 January); the protopsaltis is Rassem El Massih, a graduate of the Archdiocese of Tripoli’s School of Byzantine Music, and the choir roster is a who’s who of the new generation of Byzantine cantors in AOCNA — including Gregory Abdalah, Basil Crow, Jamil Samara, and Khalil Samara. Dn. Nicholas, Sonia’s husband, is also a part of the ensemble. As the notes say, the goal was to produce a recording of traditionally chanted Byzantine hymns re-composed for the English music, and specifically in the style idiomatic to the Patriarchate of Antioch.

I’ve only listened to it all the way through a couple of times thus far, but my initial impressions are that the result of their efforts is top-drawer through and through. The ensemble sings together beautifully and is very well-coordinated; the English diction is clear as a bell, and hearing the melodies match the English texts as well as they do is very refreshing. The liner notes do a moving job of telling the reader who Sonia is and just why she inspired both the recording project as a whole as well as this particular repertoire.

One curious thing I’ll note is that, as good as the English diction is — compare, for example, with the Mt. Lebanon Choir — the kind of sound the ensemble produces made my ear expect Arabic when I first popped in the disc. It took about ten seconds for me to be able to “hear” the English; when I listened to it a second time, I couldn’t believe that I’d had a problem in the first place. Go figure.

I’d like to thank Basil Crow and Khalil Samara for sending me the disc, and all involved for contributing a fine example of what traditional Byzantine chant can sound like when sung well in English. I’d like to encourage anybody who knew Sonia, or who might be interested in Byzantine chant or Orthodox Christian education, to buy this CD; it’s a more than worthy effort, and a more than worthy cause.

The poorly-named The Great Doxologies in the Eight Modes

I didn’t notice it until I was having to enter track names manually (Manuel-ly?) in iTunes, but anybody want to look at the track list and tell me why this CD is poorly named?

One new recording and one that’s just new to me

One nice thing about listening to Ancient Faith Music is that it can bring to my attention recordings of international origin of which I would otherwise have had no knowledge. A terrific example is My Soul, Rise Up! put out by a self-described “ensemble of folklore spiritual music” called The Svetilen Ensemble. Last week I turned on AFM and heard this joyful, full-throated, not careful, and stunning singing, and I had to know where it came from. Yesterday the CD arrived, and the whole thing is pretty much exactly like the excerpt I heard. It’s not all liturgical music; some of the pieces are folk part-songs (called kanty, so far as I can tell — somebody can correct me if I’m wrong) on Christian themes but which are paraliturgical. One thing the recording really does right is that it recognizes the link between folk culture and liturgical singing, and it emphasizes that folk culture shares a lot of common elements across national boundaries. Many of the kanty sound like American Sacred Harp hymns which just happen to not be in English, for example. Anyway — time does not permit a full review at this time, but this is a recording well worth a listen. Some excerpts may be found at the link provided above.

A brand-new recording is The Great Doxologies in the Eight Modes by the Mount Lebanon Choir. Now that we have a couple of decent (and up) recordings of the Divine Liturgy in English, the ensembles active in this kind of thing are going to start looking for other things to record, so here we are. The Great Doxologies is good for the reasons the Mt. Lebanon Choir’s The Divine Liturgy of the Holy Orthodox Church of Antioch is good and kinda, er, quirky for the reasons their Divine Liturgy is quirky. You’ve got authentic chants by people who know what they’re doing, with a high level of musicianship all around, to say nothing of Old Country legitimacy. This also has the extra value of being the only recording of its kind in English so far. On the other hand, the English diction, while better than a recording of me chanting in Arabic would be, is clearly not at a native level. This is okay with me, but it will make it a tough sell with some of the folks whom this recording is intended to help win over to Byzantine chant. Additionally, as with The Divine Liturgy, it sounds like an organ is used to shore up the ison (although an organist is not credited in the notes), and that just sounds not quite right. Still, where the matter of good recordings of Byzantine chant in English is concerned, more is more, I think, and hopefully all of these efforts combined will bear good fruit down the road.

If anybody’s taking requests, I’d love to see some festal Vespers or Matins recordings. “O Lord I have cried” in all eight modes, maybe. A recording of Holy Week music, of course, would also be a great thing, as would the Great Supplicatory Canon. Perhaps also examples of how some of the offices like Small Compline, First Hour, etc. can be sung if desired.

Maybe we need a few more ensembles specializing in doing this stuff well, too. More is more where this is concerned, as I said.

The moment you’ve all been waiting for…

At long last, Cappella Romana is releasing their recording of the Divine Liturgy in English:

To be released this July
The Divine Liturgy in English
In Byzantine Chant – A 2-CD set

RELEASE DATE: JULY 14, 2008

The highly anticipated release of Cappella Romana’s groundbreaking recording of the complete Divine Liturgy in English, set to traditional Byzantine chant, will be released on July 14 at the Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Church of America in Washington, DC.

The CD will first be available at the congress, and orders may be placed online beginning July 14. Shipments will begin July 19.

ABOUT THE RECORDING

Employing the official English translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, this 2-disc set presents the complete service (ακολουθία) of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Litanies and prayers pertaining to the entire Eucharistic assembly are rendered in full. The hymns and responses represent the central traditions of Byzantine chanting, including works adapted from Petros Peloponnesios, Nileus Kamarados, and St. John Koukouzelis.

A collection of musical scores for the chants on this recording will be available in Byzantine and Western (staff) notation through our website.

This recording was made possible by major grants from the Virginia H. Farah Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, and the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians.

I realize that there are two of you pumping your fists right now cheering “Right ON!” and the remaining three of you who are wondering what the heck this is and why it’s important. That’s okay. Basically, this recording, has the potential to set the standard for what Byzantine chant should sound like in English. Right now there’s kind of a range of poor to really good — the best example in English of which I can think right now being the Mt. Lebanon Choir’s recording (but which doesn’t quite set the standard, at least for me, because it’s clear it’s being sung by non-native English speakers), and I’d really rather not go into which ones I don’t exactly find optimal, at least not in a public forum.

Let’s put it this way — it’s clear to me that the English recordings of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel Choir over the years have had a huge impact on what people expect to hear. I’m very hopeful that this recording, intentionally a thorough effort to match a good English translation to the traditional settings, sung by a professional choir which counts several faithful Orthodox Christians among its membership and staff (including its artistic and executive directors), can have a similar impact. If the entire recording is as good as excerpts to which I was treated a couple of years ago, it should also settle once and for all the silly question of whether or not Byzantine chant can sound good in English or if it will always sound like “camel-whipping music” (a particular friend’s term).

For my own part, I will say that I believe this recording was announced four years ago, and was completed two years ago or so, and I’ve definitely been one of the people “highly anticipating” its release that whole time. (I think I’ve been posting annoying “When does it come out?” comments on the CR blog for roughly the last year.) I’ll also briefly mention that the friendship of the executive director, Mark Powell, along with his wife Kathleen, to say nothing of the willingness to talk about his faith and to answer questions, was one of the major instruments by means of which Megan and I were initially exposed to Orthodox Christianity, and it’s been an example we’ve tried to follow since — but that’s a story for another time.

I will also note that Cappella Romana also has a sale going on where the Lycourgos Angelopoulos recording of the Divine Liturgy is available for roughly 20% off. This is one of the recordings which really captivated me early on, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was very difficult to find in this country five years ago, and could very well be so again with the way non-pop recordings come in and out of print, so I encourage you to get it while you can!


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