8 Comments

  1. […] updated and annotated — part III, dealing with that strange subspecies called the “musician” https://orthodoxartsjournal.org/notes-from-the-psalterion-updated-and-annotated-part-iii-dealing-…Wednesday, Dec 12th 8:00 amclick to expand…Emergency Response […]

  2. Ross Ritterman

    “we sort of understand the need for composers (who are worth their own post)”.

    Indeed – would love to hear your thoughts on this piont. I would go so far as to challenge the need for “composers”. Perhaps we need at best “arrangers” or “adaptations” (which unfortunately can mean almost anything these days) since we already have musical scores for every hymn in the liturgical repertoire, including volumes of cherubic hymns, many versions of the Anaphora.

    1. Richard Barrett

      Oh, I don’t know — it seems to me composers are one of the indications that you’ve got a living tradition. Speaking specifically of the world of Byzantine chant, I heard a paper recently by Spyridon Antonopoulos, a doctoral student of Alexander Lingas’, in which he talks about Manuel Chrysaphes, the last lampadarios of the Great Church, and how in his compositions and theoretical treatises he goes to great pains to re-articulate the tradition, with his “composer’s voice” coming through very much as a function of that adherence to Tradition. Spiro’s dissertation is all about Chrysaphes’ life and works, and I look forward to reading the whole thing when it’s available.

      Even in our own day, Ioannis Arvanitis (my first teacher, insofar as I get to claim that after having studied with him for a summer) continues to compose, in both Greek and English; so does John Michael Boyer; so does Basil Crow.

      Outside of Byz chant, Kurt Sander does some wonderful work of trying re-articulate a Russian polyphonic choral tradition in an English-language setting; Richard Toensing is a lovely example of what happens when a classically trained Western art music composer tries to make sense of the Orthodox musical tradition with the tools he’s been trained to use. Don’t take my word for it; it’s worth listening to what these guys have to
      say for themselves, too.

      I’d also say that composers are evidence of a living tradition in the sense that, to the extent that the Church continues to produce saints, there will continue to be a need to produce liturgical texts to commemorate those saints, and to compose musical settings for those offices.

      Those are some initial thoughts, anyway. Good question.

  3. Richard Barrett

    I must apologize for a couple of incidents of mangling the English language — “I recently encountered a choral website recently…” Sorry, folks, both for that and a transitive use of “rise”. That’s what I get for sneaking this in between an exam and a research paper.

  4. Ross Ritterman

    Richard – great points and you’re absolutely right. I suppose I really should have qualified my statement to be inclusive of those who compose within the tradition. Ioannis Arvanitis does incredible work. I went to college with John Boyer and am familiar with his talent. I am a personal friend of Basil – who I have a great deal of respect for, whose knowledge of Byzantine music is expansive. Papa Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery has also done extensive compositions, and has done so with the purpose of providing to us more and more of our hymnology in English language settings, for which there is a great need. Fr. Seraphim, does the same (though is composing mostly in Western notation these days) and on a related note, his antiphonal Byzantine choir at his church in North Carolina should be a model for other Churches throughout our country. Stan and Nancy Takis have also worked hard to communicate the tradition of Byzantine Music, as far as can be done using Western notation. What I suppose upsets me is when “church musicians”, instead of looking to our tradition compose, pretty much whatever they want and just roll it out wholesale on some Sunday with elaborate rondo-style point-counterpoint organ laden melodies. In that vein, we seem to get away from this notion we have within Orthodoxy that our music is supposed to be a part of, to your point, a living tradition in which we work closely with those individuals within the Church who have mastered this art. Chanters learned from other chanters, who themselves were part of that tradition. We don’t look to jazz chord progressions, or Lutheran hymns, or the composers of Hollywood soundtracks – but that’s what our “church musicians” are doing.

    If God willing we continue to produce Saints and to commemorate them, then we’ll need to compose music that emphasizes those texts in accordance with that tradition. Generally speaking we’re talking about prosomia here, if not idiomela within the scope of our tradition. Not music that sounds like the Phantom of the Opera. This living tradition has parameters, after all.

    1. Richard Barrett

      I don’t disagree with any of that. Nobody’s talking about Andrew Lloyd Webber when we say “composers”.

      That said, this gets us very close to the question, “What makes Orthodox music Orthodox?” which is rather tricky. Even if you limit it to a particular national repertoire — e.g., what makes Byzantine chant Orthodox? — it’s difficult. Having had conversations on the topic with both of them, I suspect that, say, Stan Takis and John Michael Boyer would answer that question in ways that overlap, yes, but would nonetheless be distinctly different in some key ways that would be hard to reconcile. Some might define Byzantine chant in a way that pretty much throws out major chunks of the received tradition.

      There’s a similar problem with Russian music — is the liturgical music produced by composers who studied with Italian polyphonic masters ultimately “not Orthodox”, whatever that means? Do we view Titov (to give but one example) as in continuity with a living tradition, somehow, even if he’s clearly expanding the parameters, or is he right out?

      I don’t know the answers to these questions, by the way. These are far bigger questions than I think somebody like me, a practical church musician at best (όντως είμαι μονο πρακτικός, ας πούμε), can really answer on a group blog. The IU Symposium (link above) gets to some of the issues, and Vlad Morosan gave a presentation on the matter at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute a couple of summers ago, a lecture I’ve been talking with him about possibly turning into an article for The Saint John of Damascus Society’s journal. We’ll see. If it runs, it will probably run with a response from somebody.

  5. Ross Ritterman

    “Some might define Byzantine chant in a way that pretty much throws out major chunks of the received tradition.”

    What did you have in mind specifically here?

    “Nobody’s talking about Andrew Lloyd Webber when we say “composers”.

    Well that’s the thing – I’m not so sure. Maybe Weber is an extreme example (although feedback from parishioners at my church is that when they hear our choir it reminds them of Phantom, which is the origin of the remark) but when Zes composes, I don’t think he’s thinking about what’s going on at the Patriarchate, or how his composition of a certain hymn compares to the compositions within the Classical Anthologies (i.e. the Pandekte, Kypsele, etc.). There’s no way he’s going back any further than Desby and Sakellarides not to mention that his musical training can be attributed to a German-born composer of Hollywood Soundtracks from USC.

    When I read this I cringe (taken from liner notes from Cappella Romana’s Lingas): “Cardiasmenos takes a popular chant by Sakellarides and replaces the Athenian’s rudimentary tonal harmonies with the sophisticated chord progressions of Jazz.”

    Forgive me but I refuse to allow what Steve Cardiasmenos composes to become the standard for Orthodox Liturgical music, not to mention that what Sakellarides has done is deplorable. No one can reasonably argue that jazz chord progressions are Orthodox music. The only explanation I have for this that it’s a result of the composer’s personal take on what music “sounds good” and their attempt to, out of pride, incorporate it into liturgical music without respect for the received tradition. If not, what other explanation is there?

    So the question becomes – where does it stop and where does a line get drawn? There are those who would completely strip Byzantine Chant out of our churches and replace it with music that is more reminiscent of what the protestants do out of some desire to bring about some hodgepodge known as “The American Orthodox Church”. But we’re not protestant, we’re Orthodox.

    Here’s what I do know:

    1) Byzantine Chant melodies are short and easy to sing along with. This includes things like the antiphons, the troparia, the concluding hymns in the liturgy etc. We can teach these melodies to our youth and educate them about their faith. This is in contrast to elaborate compositions that are distracting and difficult to follow. Byzantine Chant inherently emphasizes the text, which at the end of it all is what we pray and communicates our theology in worship.

    2) The more ornate and confusing our music becomes, the more and more liturgy becomes concert performance and non-participatory. This risks disconnecting the laity from the worship and watering down our faith. The simple melodies of chant can provide the empowering effect of participation in the worship. (I don’t expect the laity to sing along with Papadic hymns, but these too have a function at certain parts of the liturgy).
    The Holy Spirit will guide us ultimately and that I believe, but if we continue down this path, who will be leading the liturgy in 20 years, not to mention Orthros or Vespers?

    I hope to have a conversation with my Metropolitan that addresses these very points.

    Since you mentioned him, I’ve actually met Vlad Morosan (who I chanted Orthros with at St. Anthony’s Antiochian in San Diego) and while I know he’s not a big fan of Byzantine Chant, he has done an amazing job getting young people involved in the choir there.

    1. Richard Barrett

      Regarding Byzantine chant — depending on to whom one speaks, it seems to me there can be a very real discomfort with and embarrassment about some of the more detailed compositions, and certainly with the modern performance practice of some of those compositions.

      Your other comments get us one again to the question of “What makes Orthodox music Orthodox?” which, again, I don’t think I’m going to be able to answer here, and isn’t really one of the points I’m trying to address. On the question of composers, suffice it to say I’m not talking about Andrew Lloyd Weber.

      Who will be the protopsaltes and choir directors in 20 years? I don’t know. I’ve got my ideas about what we should be doing to that end, and I can’t say that nobody’s given me the opportunity to say what I think about exactly that matter, but neither can I say that anybody’s really helped run with any of them. Which, I should say, is part of the point of The Saint John of Damascus Society.

      Vlad is a good man and a good colleague. He’s talked me back from the ledge (as it were) at a couple of key points, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

Comments are closed.