Advertisements

Posts Tagged 'thyateira'

In which the author laments the state of English language liturgical books

Last Saturday, it being Great Vespers for the Feast of St. Luke, there were Old Testament readings appointed for the service. I normally leave those to other people so as to save my voice, but I got asked to do one of them anyway since we were short some people we might otherwise have had. “Just read off of the printout of the liturgical guide?” I asked. Yes, I was told, since the parish doesn’t own a Prophetologion.

Well, long story short, nobody owns an English-language Prophetologion, because it doesn’t exist. There’s Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s draft version online, and I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that if I were to be involved in starting a mission I would argue passionately for the use of his translations, but obviously an electronic version just isn’t quite the same thing as actually having a printed liturgical book. Besides which, Fr. Ephrem has done the exactly right thing of translating liturgical texts as a self-referential whole, being aware of biblical references, internal references to other liturgical texts, and so on and so forth — and while this is exactly right, it also renders his liturgical texts somewhat difficult to use unless you’re using them exclusively.

Which gets us to the broader question of English language liturgical books, and the practical situation in various parishes.

The situation at All Saints is interesting, and I expect reasonably common — we use Nassar as the spine, but not everything is in there, and there has been cobbling together of things from various sources over the years. This effort has been by necessity a real “do it yourself” matter by many people, for reasons I won’t go into here but I’m going to assume can be guessed by a sufficient number of people in similar situations. As a result, we use one translation for the proper texts for weekday services, a different translation for Great Vespers, Sunday Matins and Sunday Divine Liturgy, and still another translation for some of our Lenten texts. Sometimes we use the HTM Psalter; sometimes we use the KJV/NKJV variants that are used in the Antiochian service books. For the epistle reading, we have the Holy Cross Apostolos, which we bring out during services, but we insert a sheet with the NKJV text into the book so that the reader is actually reading from that and the book itself is really for show. In other words, we have a fundamental disunity of English translations, thereby achieving a fundamental disunity in the texts themselves. It used to be worse; our Divine Liturgy music used to be a patchwork of things from all over the place, so that there was no textual consistency whatsoever within the service — “Thee/thou” in one section and “You who” in the next. I am also told that for awhile we were trying to use the Orthodox Study Bible liturgically, but since it’s not arranged as a liturgical book (i. e., no prokeimena etc.), that was a non-starter from a practical standpoint.

These are the moments when I see an excellent argument for sticking with ecclesiastical Greek or Church Slavonic.

(On the matter of the HTM Psalter — HTM obviously publishes liturgical books that a lot of people use. I will note for the record that I find the use of liturgical materials by schismatic groups problematic, but I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me.)

I’m not sure what the solution is; what I’d hate to see is the worst kind of “by committee” translation, where all of these texts which were composed by saints and monks are rendered into bland, inoffensive, artless English. There are good “by committee” translations, like the Thyateira translation of the Divine Liturgy, but on the other hand, their committee includes Fr. Ephrem as well as Metropolitan Kallistos.

Maybe if any of our seminaries start offering doctorates, the problem of establishing a fundamental unity of English language liturgical books, and doing it right, can be taken on as a dissertation — or rather, several dissertations, more than likely. Best of all would be if modern-day Ss. Cyrils and Methodiuses would make themselves known for the English-speaking world. I understand that a hundred years ago for the most part the books didn’t just exist, and thus we’re better off than we used to be, but I’d like to think that we’re at a point where we can respect the efforts that have been made, re-assess where we’re at and try to move forward from here nonetheless.

Is a unified English translation of all the liturgical books a realistic goal? Or is the hodgepodge one of those things where we need to accept that it’s not going to happen because Things Are Different In America?

Advertisements

AGAIN, again, and again

The latest issue of AGAIN was in my mailbox when I stumbled up my steps at 2:00 Tuesday morning. Fr. Michael Gillis was once again kind enough to include a couple of pieces from me, both an edited-down version of my review of Cappella Romana’s recording of Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ, as well as my choir schools essay, somewhat revised and updated. Plus, the letter to the editor regarding the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion was run, as well as a slightly edited version of my response.

This has been a nice, fruitful run of luck, and while I don’t have anything further for Fr. Michael to try to make readable at the moment, perhaps I will after my trip to Greece. At any rate, I very much appreciate his being willing to work with a writer like me. It has been a blessing, and perhaps his willingness to run my trifles will open some doors down the road — time will tell.

AGAIN, again — postcript

My Divine Liturgy in English review generated a letter to the AGAIN editor over a not-unexpected issue — that of the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion. Here are the highlights:

I’m uneasy with regards to the language [Cappella Romana] would institute. Changing the music is one thing; changing the language it’s written in is another thing entirely.

It’s important we don’t discard and/or replace the words that stir mind and soul, just to smooth some inconvenient bumps that have come about with the coupling of the Byzantine chants to English. If the truth be told, there’s a strong benefit inherent in the older English words. Simply because it takes an act of self will to use them, just like enter our church buildings leaving the physical world for the spiritual. The uncommon older words in our worship allow for the erecting of a similar barrier for the mind allowing separation from the offal baggage of our degenerate common day to day language. It’s a mistake to replace the word mighty with the word strong; to do so is to lose the Divine Authority inspired by the first in exchange for the wrongly elevated physical insinuation of the second.

Whatever the history regarding these two words, as well [as] the translations that have brought us to this point, the fact is the word strong is no longer capable of instilling the divine contemplation needed to lift the mind from the physical to reflect on the mystery of the spiritual. Our modern English speaking society throughout the world has mitigated this awe inspiring word by making an idol of strength.

Mighty, another word that carries much the same thoughts as the word strong once did, is currently used in the Liturgy. It has been for the most part spared the jaded attention of our society. Retaining its potency it bears well its burden, conveying the authority, the astonishment, the respect required of us. It commands us to humility, and as much as our puny minds can attempt, to contemplate and reverence the trenchant* power of our triune God.

If people don’t understand the meaning of such words, we should follow the example of our early church fathers that developed though God given inspiration the Divine Liturgy and a system of enlightening the ignorant, and educate them.

So when we think of our risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, do we want to glimpse him in the Divine Authority of his Majesty, or as…a glorified strongman?

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal; have mercy on us.

Phillip, your brother in Christ

* Keen, Sharp, vigorous, intensely perceptive, Penetrating, clear-cut, Distinct

My response:

Dear Phillip,

Thank you for your reflections on the translation of the Trisagion as sung by Cappella Romana. I am agreed wholeheartedly that it is a mistake to replace or discard words capriciously. What might help clarify things for you is that Cappella Romana followed the official translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira; that is to say, Dr. Lingas and co. did not write their own translation or change words as they saw fit. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, neither an amateur nor a shrinking violet when it comes to the matter of rendering biblical or liturgical  texts into English, was the chief architect of the Thyateira translation, and he has a detailed essay regarding the proper translation of the Trisagion, found here: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/THE%20TRISAGION02.pdf

In any event, the two most salient points might be:

  1. The Greek word “ischyros” is translated as “strong” virtually every other place it is used, and in other liturgical languages (such as Slavonic) the equivalent of “strong” is employed rather than “mighty”; “krataios” is the word which better corresponds to “mighty,” as in “Pantokrator” – “All-Mighty” being how that is often rendered in English.
  2. Translating “ischyros” as “mighty” in the translation of the Trisagion, ironically enough, appears to date back to the 1772 translation of Dr. John King, a Protestant. The earliest known English translation, that of Dr. John Covel in 1722, uses “strong.”

I hope this helps!

In Christ,

Richard Barrett

No denying it’s a sensitive matter; this is a tricky instance where a translation of a prayer, regardless of its relative merits, has taken on a life of its own beyond that of its source. The 20th century certainly demonstrated that you mess with the language in which people pray at your own risk. On the other hand, Phillip makes the excellent point that in such cases an effort should be made to educate the people, and I think Fr. Ephrem’s essay does that quite well. The other side of that bargain is just that the people need to be willing to not refuse the instruction out of hand.

For my own part, I’ll note that I don’t consider myself my own authority on Greek, particularly not where these kinds of issues are concerned. I’ve been there for Fr. Ephrem Lash sight-translating a Gospel reading from Greek during a Liturgy without realizing he wasn’t reading from an English version until I was told later, so if he says “Holy Strong” is what the prayer actually says and means, I don’t think I have too much of a basis to disagree with him.

The Divine Liturgy in English by Cappella Romana: the review and other thoughts

As someone who has sung in church at a more-or-less professional level for many years and who always had a deep love and appreciation for, shall we say, more historic forms of liturgical music, when I first became aware of Orthodox Christianity it was a very natural instinct for me to seek out this aspect of the faith. The trick here, of course, is that when you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s a bit difficult to find it, but eventually what I found was the Boston Byzantine Choir‘s recording of the Divine Liturgy, called Mystical Supper: Byzantine Chant in English. I was quite struck at how similar the approach on this recording sounded to something like Shapenote/Sacred Harp singing, to say nothing just how much of the service was sung rather than spoken. When I told my friend Mark Powell about this, he said simply, “Listen to the Greek Byzantine Choir’s recording of the Divine Liturgy in Greek. Then we’ll talk.” It was not an easy recording to find in the States in 2003; I wound up having to order it from a Canada-based Hellenic specialist, as I recall. (It’s much easier to find these days, at least for the moment. Amazon seems to no longer sell it directly — which has changed from a month ago — which suggests to me that the current pressing is gone, the distributor is out of stock, and whoever has it, has it, whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.) This recording really blew the lid off of my nice, safe, clean world of church singing, and redefined a lot of my expectations. Between that and getting to hear Cappella Romana‘s Fall of Constantinople program in the summer of 2004, I began to develop a strong affinity for the Byzantine repertoire.

What I didn’t learn, and what I wouldn’t fully appreciate until I was leading an Orthodox parish choir myself for the first time, from these exposures to Byzantine music — which are, admittedly, highly-idealized “best case scenario” presentations; as one musicologist told me, “Field recordings made at monasteries in Greece don’t sound anywhere close to the Greek Byzantine Choir” — is how divisive the repertoire can be for some people. It is clear that for certain ears, the otherworldly musical characteristics are, to say the least, less transcendent than foreign — “music to whip camels by” and “the nasal-sounding stuff the old man sings before the Divine Liturgy” being among the characterizations I’ve heard. I’ve even heard somebody say that Byzantine music “sounds more like the Muslim call to prayer than Christian singing.” The common assertion appears to be that there’s no way to make Byzantine music sound “friendly” to Western ears — it’s always going to sound like an ethnic import, “too Arabic” or “too Greek” or too something. A related concern is that it’s unison singing (save for the ison, the drone underneath), and Western ears expect four-part harmony as a non-negotiable given, period. It is certainly fair to say that Byzantine music is not appropriate for harmonization; this is for the simple reason that the conventions of four-part harmony are based on a tonal system, and Byzantine music is modal. You can’t harmonize a modal melody according to tonal conventions (i. e., “What Would Bach Do?”) without largely eliminating the distinctives of the given mode (as can be made clear when a new cantor instinctively, but erroneously, assumes that the ison for Byzantine Modes 2 and 4 is supposed to be C/Ne instead of G/Dhi and E/Vou, respectively).

There’s also the more specific complaint that Byzantine music doesn’t play well with English. This is a view shared by some rather visible and influential people; for example, the Preface of Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)’s edition of The Festal Menaion (St. Tikhon’s Press, 1969) says the following:

In course of time English-speaking Orthodox will doubtless evolve a musical tradition of their own, which will takes its place alongside those of Greece, Russia, and the other Orthodox nations. As yet, no such tradition has had time to develop: and Orthodox of English language must therefore draw for the present upon some existing musical heritage within Orthodoxy. The best adapted for this purpose seems to be that of Russia. Byzantine chant is too intricate: if it is to be used, then the stress and rhythm of the Greek original must be preserved almost exactly in English translation, and this raises insuperable difficulties. But Russian music is far more flexible; and in particular the simpler Russian monastic chants can easily be adapted to an English text. (p. 13, emphasis mine)

I have to be honest and say that I find this to be an odd claim (and yet one which seems to have influenced the assumptions and thinking of many people since its publication); it seems to me that Byzantine music is far more extensible and expressive when it comes to being adapted to English texts, where many forms of Russian chant, at least as presently used in English adaptation, tend to utterly disrespect the needs and conventions of English. It’s true that in many of the attempts to adapt the Byzantine repertoire to English — Kazan’s Byzantine Project, for example, being the one I use week in, week out — it seems like one winds up with melismas on odd words or emphases on the wrong syllables and so on, but I’d argue only that this means we haven’t perfected the system of adaptation yet (or perfected the English version of the text, for that matter), not that it fundamentally can’t work or that somehow we need to “file the corners off” of Byzantine chant, or in general make it something it isn’t, in order to make it work for English-speakers.

But nonetheless, the assumption is held by many that Byzantine chant fundamentally won’t work for English-language, Western Orthodox folks. The lengths to which some marginalize Byzantine music as being merely one of those pesky, overly ethnic, “little-t traditions” which drive away people who are culturally Western is demonstrated by a recent discussion on the PSALM Yahoo! group which involved speculation as to whether or not use of Byzantine chant might contribute to a decline in attendance in parishes.

Which brings me, at last, to Cappella Romana’s masterful, ground-breaking new release, The Divine Liturgy in English, which serves as the definitive response to all of these concerns, providing a fantastic model to emulate, transparency enough in the process to make it replicable, and, for the foreseeable future, the standard to meet for liturgical singing.

This is the recording of Byzantine chant in English which says, “Yes, we can.” This is the CD which you will see wearing black body armor and fighting off Rottweilers on an IMAX screen and telling Michael Caine, “Byzantine chant in English has no limits.”

Several years in the making and part of Cappella Romana’s “Excellence in Orthodox Liturgical Music in English” project — which includes the delightful Lay Aside All Earthly Cares, a collection of the liturgical music of Fr. Sergei Glagolev, which I’ll say more about shortly, and a future release of a Divine Liturgy setting by Peter Michaelides — this 2-disc set represents the monumental effort of adapting the traditional Byzantine repertoire so that it fits the English language idiomatically, often recomposing melodies from scratch in order to match the text. Conducted by Artistic Director Alexander Lingas, these settings are presented in a natural church acoustic, using native English speakers, and in their proper liturgical context, with Archimandrite Meletios (Webber) and Dn. John Chryssavgis serving as the clergy. The result is at once prayerful and phenomenally well-sung, full, rich, and in tune, and entirely Byzantine in character while never straying from understandable, natural-sounding English. It is ecclesiastical ensemble singing of the highest order, easily ranking with the recordings of Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir, as well as with the best of English-language recordings of liturgical music such as those by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Because it is a Divine Liturgy entirely sung in one musical idiom, and therefore comes across as a seamless garment of whole cloth as it were, it is difficult, if not inappropriate, to make critiques of particular sections, so I’m not going to do that. I would say that the best way to get a sense of exactly what has been accomplished with this recording is to become familiar with a recording of the traditional Greek repertoire such as Angelopoulos’, getting a sense for the function and aesthetic which govern hymns such as the Trisagion or the Cherubikon, and then to listen to this recording and hear how those principles are maintained in the English language adaptation. The exact notes of the Greek versions are not preserved because they’ve applied the Byzantine compositional process to the English text, not simply slapped the existing Byzantine melody over the English text and then figured out how to make the syllables fit. The result is a new melody which is completely faithful to the spirit of the model and the conventions of Byzantine music, and fits the English text like a glove at the same time. These adaptations — which Cappella Romana are publishing on their website in both Byzantine and Western notation — range from simple and syllabic (such as the troparia and the Anaphora) to florid and melismatic (the Dynamis of the Trisagion, the Cherubic Hymn), according to the rubrics and intended liturgical function. The booklet credits John Boyer, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, with much of the work of adapting of the chants, and his sensitivity to the English text while maintaining the Byzantine ethos is to be highly commended.

Let’s be clear — The Divine Liturgy in English is not intended as a musicological curiosity for specialists, but rather as a practical liturgical model for the wider Church. In other words, this is meant to be a clear demonstration of how we can do things now, not an obscure example of how some people used to do it. As such, the set presents a complete Divine Liturgy as would be found on a typical, non-festal Sunday after Pentecost (a “vanilla Sunday” as some choir directors jokingly call it). This includes the celebrant’s spoken prayers, the Epistle and the Gospel, as well as the full Alleluia and Prokeimenon with verses — only a homily is omitted. (An argument can be made that the way they’ve harmonized the various Typika, they’ve in fact left some things out such as the Beatitudes, but this is addressed in the liner notes.)

Among the many delights of this recording is the text. The official translation of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain is used, the product of a panel involving scholars and clergy such as Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), Metropolitan Kallistos, and Fr. Andrew Louth. Certain renderings are initially unfamiliar — in particular, the use of “Mother of God” instead of Theotokos, and “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion — but It is nonetheless a wonderful translation which adheres quite closely to the Greek text. The booklet includes a helpful essay by Archimandrite Ephrem about the methodology and pastoral principles guiding the Thyateira translation. “Holy Strong” is arguably closer to the actual meaning of the Greek text than “Holy Mighty,” despite the English tradition of the text; see this paper for a thorough look at translating the hymn. I would have liked the “Mother of God” usage to have been addressed in the liner notes; as it is, it is unclear why the Greek word Theotokos, surely standard usage for English-speaking Orthodox by now, is not retained when Greek words such as Dynamis are. Such questions aside, the Thyateira text is an incredible effort which would ideally influence future undertakings of the translation of liturgical texts. 

I will admit to being somewhat puzzled as to why, given the clearly considerable vocal resources Cappella Romana has at its disposal, antiphonal choirs were not used; the liner notes say that “some elements of of the traditional interchange between two choirs are preserved through the use of alternating soloists”, but this strikes me as an unnecessary reduction given everything else they go out of their way to achieve on the recording.

Another major plus of this recording is something which actually isn’t sung — it includes the entire ensemble speaking the Creed and Lord’s Prayer with conviction. This is sadly lacking on the Mount Lebanon Choir recording, where one guy limply reading the prayers into a microphone is too-obviously spliced in after the fact.

Can the musical level achieved on this set, and/or the acoustic in which it was recorded, truly be seen as practical or normative? To be sure, the kind of training needed to meet this standard is not yet widely available in the United States, and many parishes do not have the resources to either provide such musical instruction or to give attention to proper acoustics in their building design. Nonetheless, The Divine Liturgy in English should be understood as a presentation of the “best-case scenario” to which liturgical singers may aspire. As well, Lingas opts for an all-male ensemble — the traditional arrangement, certainly, but unlikely to be the pastoral reality in most places.

The Divine Liturgy in English also shows the way for future adaptations of other Orthodox liturgical music into English, not just Byzantine. To slavishly preserve music written for a different language when adapting it to English is to miss the point of adaptation; that approach does violence to the language and, eventually, the music as well. Rather, those who would adapt the chants for use in a different language must understand the principles which guided the composition in the first place, and then apply those to the new text, while preserving the spirit of the original as much as possible. The music on the previously-mentioned disc of Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s liturgical settings — I said I’d get back to him, didn’t I? — demonstrates his own mastery of how this works for music in a Russian idiom; it is identifiably Slavic in terms of musical character, while still being sung, and sung well, in natural-sounding English in a way which does not obscure the meaning of the text. Perhaps with both the Glagolev settings as well these Byzantine adaptations, one inevitably runs into the objection, “Nobody knows them!” That will simply take time to overcome.

Cappella Romana’s recording is no less than a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox world which will inspire and instruct. Thyateira’s Archbishop Gregorios writes in the liner notes that The Divine Liturgy in English is intended to “increase the understanding and appreciation of both the spirituality of Orthodox worship and the heights of musical expression to which its chanting aspires”; this it does stunningly well. Highly recommended (in case that wasn’t clear by now).


Advertisements

Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 227,736 hits

Flickr Photos

Advertisements