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  2. Ross Ritterman


    Another great post with lots of food for thought. With respect to there being a jurisdiction with a prescribed musical idiom, this again goes back to the notion of standards and guidelines and, at least from what I understand, the Hierarchy has been unfortunately vague or in many cases silent.

    Not all music is created equally, and within the Orthodox Church this is especially true. Why? Again, because we’re Orthodox and by our nature take a stand on there being a right and a wrong way to do things. That being said, what is “right” is not narrowly confined necessarily, but nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that even in my jurisdiction, the GOA, there’s huge variability among what individual parishes do, much of which is done at the whim of the choir director.

    I have an idea that I think may warrant some consideration. Regardless of a choir’s musical abilities and its ability to execute a specific piece of music, parishes (and Metropolises, for that matter) should be having on-going conversations about music and the worship experience. The way parish councils have regular meetings to talk about finances, events, etc. the experience of worship (from which which liturgical music is inseparable) needs to also be the subject of continuous review.

    With something of that nature in place, the complete creative license and final say doesn’t solely rest with the choir director and his/her whim and ensures that the needs of the parish are being met.

    I wonder to what extent something like this exists in any parishes you’re familiar with.



    1. In the jurisdiction which I presently serve, there is a lot of talk about unity of liturgical experience, but it is unclear to me how much practical enforcement of that there actually is. Our own printed liturgical books frequently disagree with the directives printed in the annual liturgical guidebook; there are things that our service books explicitly tell us to do that then in the liturgical guide are represented as “thou shalt nots” — singing the Typika instead of the stational antiphons on Sunday, for example, is a “thou shalt not” in the liturgical guide, even though the Liturgikon (which just came out in a new second edition) and Five Pounder tell us to do it. (Singing the Typika is “Slavic practice”, we’re told.) There are things the liturgical guide and service books tell us to do that then we’re told at the deanery level, “Don’t do that under any circumstances whatsoever, nobody ever does that”, like chant instead of read Psalm 50 at Matins on a Resurrectional Sunday. Theoretically, we’re not supposed to use any text not provided by the archdiocese department of liturgics, but many rubrics appear to assume that we have an HTM Menaion handy (and I’ve been told that there’s something of a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where having a Menaion is concerned). We’re also theoretically not supposed to use any music that isn’t posted on the archdiocese’s sacred music website, but I’ve been privately told that the issue there is not, say, regulating which Byzantine chant setting one might use for something, but rather trying to make sure that people aren’t just randomly inserting Protestant music. I’m told that our metropolitan is insistent on congregational singing, but then he’s also apparently starting to push Byzantine chant being done well and traditionally with some movement towards taking psaltic notation seriously in the archdiocese.

      So, I really don’t know, at an archdiocesan level. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t one set of rules for “Anglo” parishes and another set of rules for “cradle” parishes.

      What I also find is that it is only useful to have regular conversations with leadership about what’s going on in the liturgy if the leadership actually knows what’s supposed to be going on liturgically in the first place. That may or may not actually be the case; not every priest or bishop has a mind for liturgical detail, for better or for worse.

  3. One other thing — I was singing in a festival choir for something within the last few years, and during a break I was looking at a piece of Byz chant. The guy sitting next to me said, “You know, I used to be the choir director at [big cradle Orthodox church] in [big Midwestern city].” Oh? I said. Were you Orthodox at the time? “No,” he said, “I was just a hired gun.” This apparently back in the ’60s, and he would have been there at a time that the primate for one of the major jurisdictions was the priest. This person told me that he used to routinely insert Protestant hymns on major feasts, and that this was pretty standard. It was an interesting conversation.

  4. Ross Ritterman

    “This person told me that he used to routinely insert Protestant hymns on major feasts, and that this was pretty standard. It was an interesting conversation.”

    Lord, Have Mercy.

  5. Ross Ritterman


    Giving your last post the attention it deserves, I’m unfortunately also referring to doing things in the service that are flat our incorrect.

    Examples: Singing Agios O Theos…during the Doxology and at the Trisagion following the Small Entrance only twice before “Glory to…” singing Prostasia ton Christianon in a mode other than 2nd. “Save us oh Son of God” only twice before Glory…Both Now…”

    Forgive me, but the thrice Holy hymn needs to be sung three times. When the priest says “Dynamis” the choir does not respond with “Dynamis” – this needs to happen. These are the kinds of things that I take issue with, and need fixing(before we even address any issues of style).

    In the GOA, we receive an Hmerologion – it’s a thick red book that has the rubrics for all days in the given liturgical year for the parish level – the material is identical to what the Patriarchate has online here: http://www.ec-patr.org/gr/typikon/2012/
    We should be all able to read (or have someone help us read) what’s in this book – there’s, frankly, no need for “liturgical guidebooks” which are a crutch and don’t help people to understand why we sing what we sing in the service – it’s just spoon fed to choir directors.

    There aren’t many “thou shalt nots” – though i will tell you I’ve never been to a parish where the Typica is sung, or even the verses of the antiphons, though technically speaking they are not “out of bounds”.

    What’s the most frustrating is the lack of respect for the tradition, and the lack of desire for education. “I’m just doing what’s in Desby…” is an excuse for laziness.

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