Posts Tagged 'terry mattingly'

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. You got all of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tmatt on what converts want

I’d like to call your attention to an essay by Terry Mattingly which also appears in the current issue of AGAIN, entitled “What Do The Converts Want?” The Conciliar Press website, you will notice, still contains no reference to the new issue, but happily the piece has been posted online before — look for it here. It is very much worth reading, and I don’t wish to repost it here. That said, there are a few points I wish to engage — not disagree with, exactly, but which I think are worth further discussion, particularly in light of Fr. John Peck’s article and the spirited discussion surrounding it.

For example:

If you attend the Sunday night service at a typical Baptist church and look around at the 40 people there in comparison to the 200 or 300 in attendance on Sunday morning, you will find that about 80 percent of the church’s giving is accounted for in that group.

[…] The Sunday night experience in a Baptist church is very similar to that in Saturday evening Vespers services in an Orthodox church. As Bishop Antoun told me once, if you look at who attends Great Vespers and comes to confession, you are looking at about 80 percent of the service, the giving, and the energy in most parishes.

Who comes to Vespers? Who comes to confession? Who comes to the feasts, and why do they come?

I understand what Prof. Mattingly is getting at, but All Saints is the counterexample. The people who come to Vespers (both on Saturday night and during the week) represent a chunk of the service and the energy, to be sure, but on the whole, a very small portion of the giving. For the most part, the Vespers crowd, as well as the non-Sunday festal crowd, is made up of people who are some combination of college students, young married couples (some with kids, some without), and inquirers — all of that is to say, people who are on the whole very much willing to serve and are excited to do so, but who aren’t in a position to be substantial donors. There is, in fact, a very small number of parishioners who are long-term-to-permanent residents who come when it isn’t Sunday. Some of that is simple geography; we are the only Orthodox church for at least an hour in any direction (more like four depending on the direction), and we have a number of people who have at least a half hour drive to get to church. These are not folks who are going to make it more than once a week, at least not terribly often. In addition, a plurality of our parishioners are working-class people who work irregular hours; nurses, maintenance workers, restaurant managers, and so on. These are not people who are always going to be able to make it on Sunday, let alone Saturday or Wednesday or any other day. Finally, we’re in unincorporated Monroe county, not in the municipality of Bloomington, meaning we’re at a very inconvenient distance from the city center, and bus service does not come within two miles of us. This makes us hard to get to for a lot of the college students; if you want to come to Vespers but don’t have a ride, you’re out of luck. Again, the realities of what this particular college town are like make the situation at All Saints a significant variance from the model described here. We’ve talked any number of times about how best to solve this problem, but short of petitioning the city to redraw the boundaries so that we get bus service, operating a private bus ourselves, moving the church into city limits, planting new missions, or telling everybody to move closer, all of which carry some kind of a dealbreaker (invariably having to do with money), there’s just not a great solution.

That said —

I believe that most of these converts are coming out of that core 20 percent of their former churches. They are active, highly motivated people. They read, they think, they sing, and they serve.

Yes, indeed. Let me just offer a caveat, however:

That’s the approach of the converts. They are not looking for “Orthodoxy Lite.” They want more.

This is the approach of some converts, yes. Don’t, however, discount the converts who may have converted for basic theological, ecclesiological, or historical reasons who, a few years later, have to admit that they still find the Byzantine rite foreign and strange, or still are having trouble with some of the Marian doctrines or not ordaining women or this or that. These are converts who probably can be fairly described as wanting “Orthodoxy Lite,” because the “more” is ultimately more than they can take. These are generally not people who actively want to be “Eastern Rite Protestants,” but they might have thought that it would be okay, at least at first, if that’s what they were, and they’ve just never quite grown beyond it.

The American converts are not looking for some kind of post-Vatican II, carved-down liturgical experience. They have that all around them. They are not trying to cut the service down another 15 to 20 minutes so that more young people will hang around — as if that would work. […] You see, the people who want to worship, want to worship.

Again, I have to hold up All Saints as the counterexample. Because of the various factors mentioned earlier, our parishioners tend to be very sensitive to the clock. My standing instructions as the cantor for Matins: no matter where you are or how much you have left, at 10am, call it good and start the Great Doxology. Matins just happens to be the service where length is going to be most variable, depending on the length of the Gospel reading or how many stichera we have at Lauds or which canon we’re singing and so on — but I’m told, “If Matins runs to 10:02, we get asked, ‘Does Liturgy start at 10:00 or 10:05?'” Another piece of the puzzle here is that because Sunday is the only day when attendance can be counted on, the time following Liturgy is highly prized by the various ministries — including my own, the choir — and a Liturgy ending at 11:30 rather than 11:20 means that’s either 10 minutes less a particular group will have or 10 minutes later they’ll have to stay. For people who may have to work at 2pm (which used to be the case for me when I first got here), that makes a big difference. Keeping services on the shorter end is the practical reality for this community for right now, for better or for worse.

Many Orthodox churches are having trouble retaining their young people, so they are seeking ways to stop the bleeding. But there’s the rub. If you are not creating new faith, you will not retain the children of those who had the faith in the first place.

Here’s where All Saints is a happier counterexample. We’ve got a lot of kids up through high school and a lot of college students.

I remember something that happened when my family was part of an ethnic parish that had installed pews in the sanctuary. During Great Lent, the number of people who came to church on Wednesday nights — for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts — was small, so we could stand in the front of the church. Freed from the pews, all sorts of Orthodox things started happening again. Prostrations returned. People were bowing, people were worshiping with their whole bodies. It was a very moving experience.

I am fully in agreement with Prof. Mattingly on this point; the first several Orthodox churches I visited had no pews, and the experience was something very different from what I was used to as a Protestant. I’m always overjoyed and heartened to walk into a church and not see chairs or pews littering the floor. How can you even do a metania without bonking your head on the pew in front of you? How do you do prostrations during Lent? How do you even successfully have everybody gather around the priest during the Great Entrance, touching his vestments as he goes by with the Gifts?

The trouble with this particular example, however, is that he connects, intentionally or not, the issue of pews with “ethnic parishes.” It is true that a number of ethnic parishes, particularly Greek and Arab parishes, have pews, and they ain’t goin’ nowhere. Here in the Midwest, however, I’ve seen nice, neat rows of seating being the rule more often than not, even in the parishes where there are mostly converts, and it’s just not up for discussion whether or not they belong there, whether or not they’re actually a part of our tradition, etc. “This is America and Americans expect comfortable seating,” is what even the convert clergy say, some acknowledging in private that yes, it’s a concession, but it would otherwise be a losing battle and that those who prefer an open floor need to forget it. I’m familiar with one case where the priest one day said to his parish, “We’re going to take out the pews. Now. You will get used to it.” They did, and they got used to it — but as another priest pointed out, “He’s a monkpriest. He can do that.”

Americans who visit an Orthodox church will judge the vitality of that congregation based on how many people sing and take part in their worship. That is really unfair to many Orthodox who were raised to stand in quiet holiness, but it’s the truth.

Americans will want to take part in the service. If they have mustered up the courage to walk through the door of an Orthodox church in the first place, they’re not going to want to just sit or stand once they’re in there. They will feel left out, if there is no way for them to sing, if there is no way for them to take part in the service. The church will have just sent them back out the door. Let me repeat: Americans will judge the spiritual vitality of an Orthodox parish on whether or not the congregation is reverently and enthusiastically singing, praying, and participating in worship.

This is a point which is frequently asserted by all kinds of people. “Participation” seems to be defined as “everybody sings everything.” I really struggle with this.

Reality: there are so many moving parts in a Divine Liturgy, let alone most other services, that there is no way to keep everything you might sing in a compact little hymnal which lives in the pew in front of you. Even us cantors and choir directors don’t have everything readily available at any given moment. The refrain of the Second Antiphon, the various troparia and kontakia, the entrance hymn, the possible replacements of the Trisagion, the communion hymns which change throughout the year — it is just not reasonable for everybody to be able to sing everything. Even if you could have everything in a wieldy hymnal, at my parish, for example, just about everybody who could read the notes is in the choir anyway.

I’m familiar with one parish that solved this problem by saying, “Okay, then we don’t change any of the moving parts. We just sing the Liturgy congregationally with the parts we know, week in, week out, regardless of what’s actually appointed for the day.” That’s an extremely comprehensive solution (to say nothing of extremely, well, extreme), but it’s a very real problem, because our various liturgical texts are our theology.

Can we do a better job of coming up with congregational service books which actually correspond, at least by and large, to what a parish actually does? Yes, absolutely, and in this age of Microsoft Word, Sibelius, and cheap laser printers, there’s no reason we shouldn’t — it just takes time and a little know-how. I came up with congregational service books for the Divine Liturgy of St. James which contained every note sung and every word said (at least that wasn’t marked as one of the priest’s private prayers). However, only the readings, and the portions of the service connected to the readings (the prokeimenon and Alleluia), change in a St. James Liturgy, so it’s a lot more feasible. I can also tell you that while the visitors may have been following along with the books, I’m not sure the parishioners were (given instances such as a part clearly being marked as the deacon’s in the service book, and the entire congregation coming in for it because it’s something they’re used to saying on a Sunday Liturgy).

Participation is not necessarily singing along — it might very well be, but there is also the possibility that it might not be. Liturgical singing is a craft, one that has historically been very much valued as such, even as early as the fourth century, when the Council of Laodicea outright forbade singing in church except by those formally appointed to do so. I’m not advocating that by any means, don’t get me wrong, but I guess what I am saying is that we need to be clear on what we mean by “congregational singing” and “participation.” Do we mean “everybody sings everything”? Do we mean people sing the responses at various appropriate points? These are things we have to figure out. We also have to avoid the false dichotomy of “worship” and “performance.” “I’d rather hear the Liturgy sung badly and prayerfully than by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus,” somebody once told me. I’d never want to hear a Divine Liturgy sung by that particular ensemble, I guarantee you, but that doesn’t mean we should hold up some kind of aesthetic minimalism as a good thing. We don’t put up ugly icons, we don’t use bad-smelling incense, and by the same token it shouldn’t be acceptable that liturgical singing be an area where mediocrity is not only okay, it’s preferred, just because it means people are “participating.” To (almost) end this with an extreme example, if my participation is causing the person standing next to me to cover their ears, then I’m not worshipping — I’m calling attention to myself. By the same token, if my participation is causing people to gush and applaud, that’s equally problematic, because it is once again calling attention to itself rather than to the actual intended focus of the worship.

I recognize this is a topic where emotions tend to run hot and everybody’s opinion is strong. As a musician, somebody who has had years of training to do what I do, this is how I see it (which, some might argue, is exactly why we shouldn’t listen to musicians, because they think they know better than everybody else want to keep everything for themselves). My final thought here is that I’m not convinced that we Americans do “reverently and enthusiastically” well, at the very least not at the same time.

As threatening as it sounds, our goal — if there is to be a united Orthodoxy — is to be united in worship and sacramental practice. This unity will blend gifts from across our great ethnic traditions. However, it will be a vital, growing Orthodoxy that at the congregational level can welcome Americans with open arms. It will make them feel strange, but it will be a place they can become a part of and even help change over time. This Orthodoxy will assimilate on the level of culture and language, but it will not assimilate to America at the level of practice, sacrament, and doctrine. It will not compromise on the essentials. It will not compromise on what unites Orthodoxy around the world and through the millennia. It will create a worthy expression of Orthodoxy that will, over time, be unique to this culture.

Once again, I understand what Prof. Mattingly means (I think), but I very much struggle with how he puts it. When he says, “It will not compromise on the essentials,” what are the non-essentials on which he believes we will compromise? What does he mean that American unity “will blend gifts from across our great ethnic traditions”? Does he mean that churches might give out palms and pussy willows on Palm Sunday? Well, okay. Does he mean this liturgically, that we’ll pick and choose from various typika to create some kind of “blended” American typikon? If so, is that really a good idea? I keep coming back to the Greek parish in Krefeld, Germany that I visited last summer — the Liturgy was “of a piece.” It was a unified, centuries old knowledge of Tradition which guided how they celebrated the Liturgy, rather than a hodge-podge of this bit from the Russians and that bit from the Arabs and this other bit from the Greeks, and if you’ve got any special requests please see our liturgical committee. And yes, the Greeks were pretty much standing there in holy silence, and it was no less glorious than if they had all been singing along. Yes, Prof. Mattingly, meaning absolutely no disrespect, but what you say is quite unfair to those who have been raised to be that way. Their way is absolutely no less legitimate than our American tendency to want to have a hand in everything lest we feel excluded, take our ball and go home.

The reality is, all of these bits from various national traditions which developed with particular variations did so for a reason. The way the Russians do, say, the Beatitudes, isn’t meant to follow a Byzantine setting of the Entrance Hymn.

It seems to me that if we’re serious about wanting to be unified in worship and sacramental practice, the first step is to come up with a definitive English language version of the Liturgy and the Offices. I find it to be a terribly distracting problem that I can’t even visit another Antiochian parish, to say nothing of an OCA or GOArch parish, and count on being able to say the Creed with them without needing a cheat sheet. Once we have that, then perhaps we can put our minds to re-setting the hymns using these texts. Then we let a few generations just receive the Tradition and — as I have suggested before — let it change us for awhile before we start trying to change it.

The worship in these churches will be in English, and the people — all the people — will be singing.

Here is this point again. Again, I don’t know that I can completely go there without defining terms more particularly.

Some of these churches will have tight budgets, but they will be tight because they are struggling to cope with growth, not decline.

Amin, amin, lego imin. Here All Saints is the example, not the counterexample. “Strugging to cope with growth” is it exactly.

Yet, at the high point of that service, as a small choir entered the sanctuary singing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,” the members of the congregation stood in silence — watching.

My friend saw this and, trust me, this was not what he was looking for. He wanted Orthodoxy, for himself and for his family. He wanted more, not less. He still does.

I have suggested before that, granted that it is the parish’s joyful responsibility to welcome the stranger, people who are new arrivals to a parish, particularly inquirers, might be well-served by a little humility and try to accept the parish for who they are, rather than judging them against what the inquirer might like them to be. When I first came to All Saints as a young inquirer, having spent a wonderful group of Sundays with a particular Seattle-area parish, I had a checklist of what I thought it should be like based on that other parish. Guess what? All Saints failed on virtually every count, and I wanted absolutely nothing more than to never darken their door again. Guess what? That checklist had a lot more to do with me and my not-inconsiderable baggage than anything All Saints was doing wrong. Each parish has its own ethos, its own set of strengths, and we’re going to be wasting our time — particularly as inquirers — if we take the attitude that somehow we’re getting “less” Orthodoxy because our laundry list isn’t getting ticked off the way we’d like it to be.

While I very much agree with the overall point and tone of Prof. Mattingly’s piece, I feel like I have to bring up the fact that we need not count our American pride as a Christian essential, much less an Orthodox Christian essential. We will ultimately be frustrated if we do so, and we will get, in fact, less Orthodoxy, not more. We’ve also got to be careful that we don’t overgeneralize the experience of the local parish (and Prof. Mattingly’s is an extraordinary and unusual one), or our own individual experience, and call that “what American Orthodoxy will be.” I would count myself among those whom he describes as wanting “more Orthodoxy, not less,” but I’ve seen a wide enough variety of converts and inquirers to know that this isn’t precisely the case with everybody, and certainly not to the same extent. Surely there are those who might see me as being at the “lukewarm” end of the spectrum, for various reasons. (I, of course, see myself as being perfectly in the middle, but I at least am aware that I am deluding myself in thinking that.)

Prof. Mattingly gets a lot of things right in this essay, and there are other things which I believe are worth discussing further. I’m glad he got the conversation going; let’s keep talking about it, by all means. It’s going to be centuries before the last word is had, more than likely.

tmatt on Fr. John Peck

Terry Mattingly has an overview, and something of an update, on the matter of Fr. John Peck and his article. Worth reading. Fr. John evidently has a meeting with his bishop on 16 October; I’m certain that prayers regarding this matter would be appreciated by all concerned parties.


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