The Dynamis Byzantine Ensemble – A New Recording Showcasing the Best of Byzantine Chant in English

By Samuel Herron on March 18, 2019

Byzantine chant is an ever-evolving art form, responding to the advances put forth in both music and hymnography by the great personalities who have shaped it, such as Saint Romanos the Melodist, Saint John of Damascus, Saint John Koukouzelis, and Peter the Peloponnesian. However, all the men mentioned above were active within a wider movement of artistic creativity, a gradual shift of communal artistic production in which these figures were a part of, albeit a key part. English language Byzantine chant in North America is going through a similar explosion of artistic creativity and production. The two artistic aspects that English language Byzantine chant has manifested in the recent decades are translation and composition.

I have been a cantor in the Orthodox Church in both the Antiochian Archdiocese and Greek Archdiocese for 17 years. Along with my experience of chanting in several parishes, I have performed with several Byzantine chant ensembles such as the Greek Byzantine Choir, the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir, Psaltikon, the Holy Cross Seminary St. Romanos Byzantine Choir, and Cappella Romana, as well as lived in several different regions of the United States and so have been exposed to many fellow cantors across the country. I also have been part of a small network of Byzantine chant composers in which we all exchange our work and provide feedback and comments on methodology and application of composition in English. As such, I have been a witness to this explosion of Byzantine chant proficiency and artistic creativity that has taken place in the past twenty years. However, there is a dearth of professional, high-quality recordings provided of the ever-expanding repertoire of English compositions. While there is some excellent work by Cappella Romana in their English Divine Liturgy Project and their Sun of Justice albums, as well as a selection of one-time recorded albums – such as the album from the Chicago-based Panagia Koukouzelissa Choir, The St. Romanos Byzantine Choir recording of Holy Thursday, and The Voice of the Lord album for the Theophany School in Needham, MA – there is not a dedicated project with the sole focus of searching out and presenting the best of English Byzantine chant in a professionally recorded format. In May of 2018, I decided to take on providing an avenue of sustained infrastructure dedicated to professionally recording the best English language cantors in North America chanting selections from the best available English language Byzantine music scores. I have named this initiative the English Hyphos Project.

Why Hyphos?

Hyphos (pronounced ee-fos) translated literally from Greek simply means “style”. However, in the context of Byzantine chant it has taken on a deeper meaning, referring not just to the stylistic choices of a cantor, but many times referring to who they learned from, what chosen stylistic school they have incorporated into their sound, and can even reflect what geographical region or influence they have in their vocal production. It is a term used with great reverence when referring to revered master cantors that in Greece, Asia Minor, and Lebanon have attained a level of notoriety for the excellent way in which they chant. Many factors go into the development of an hyphos, and one of these factors is the chosen language. Arabic chant has a different character than Greek chant or Romanian or even Slavonic Byzantine chant. With the proliferation of English Byzantine chant, different styles unique to English have developed and been refined, so the term “hyphos” has been used to describe the essence of this project.

Forming the Dynamis Byzantine Ensemble

I decided to assemble a small ensemble with the goal of producing a choral-style Byzantine chant album that would resemble some of the albums recorded by the ensembles that have influenced me over the years: the Greek Byzantine choir, Ergasteri Psaltikis, Maistores, Mt. Lebanon Choir (SEM), and several other ensembles from Greece and Lebanon that I have listened to with admiration. I flew in some of the best English language cantors I personally have known over the years, and also recruited from the local area of Phoenix from many of my personal students and fellow cantors. We recorded over July 23rd-24th, 2018 a selection of the hymns that are chanted during the Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy services for St. George on Bright Monday.

The Dynamis Byzantine Ensemble

The Hymns of St. George & Bright Monday

St. George is one of the most revered saints in Eastern Orthodoxy – greatly revered in both the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Antiochian Patriarchate jurisdictions specifically. Because of the reverence for him, his hymns have been recorded in both Greek and Arabic many times over by excellent cantors. This project attempts to provide a recording in English to add to the tapestry of wonderful recorded offerings of St. George’s hymns in other languages. The overlap with Bright Monday reflects the reality that in many years, when St. George falls before Pascha (a more common occurrence on the New Calendar), his feast is moved to Bright Monday, which happens this year in 2019 on the New Calendar. With the coinciding of Bright Monday, the hymns dedicated to St. George are paired with the hymns of Pascha, giving the project a beautiful dual theme of the commemoration of a great martyr saint along with glorifying the life-bestowing Resurrection of Christ. In the assembling of the hymns, we were able to also chant hymns in seven of the eight modes in Byzantine chant, with only Plagal of the Fourth not being represented in our selection of hymns.

The Compositions and Translations Used

While the realization of a hymn – as it is chanted and heard by the congregation – is what hymnography and composition are designed for in Byzantine chant, there are many steps up to the point of realization that are meant to maximize the artistic and spiritual effect of the hymnography. In English, translation is as key of a component to how well hymns are chanted as composition and the cantor’s ability. Poorly translated hymns are harder to render well for a cantor, and even if rendered well, can have little effect upon the listening congregants. With this in mind, we poured great effort and discernment into the translations we selected and even created specifically for the album.

I commissioned the Idiomela of St. George to be translated by George Duvall, an accomplished translator and Protopsaltis of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. He willingly provided them, and the advantage his translations gave us were a dynamic, poetic set of English hymns perfectly designed to be able to set to music. I proceeded to set the idiomela in the short sticheraric style. Assistant Director Gabriel Cremeens, an experienced and prolific composer in English, provided his editorial assistance and feedback, and so over a few weeks we had produced high quality settings for the Idiomela.

For the Paschal Canon, Gabriel and I and three others who also sang in the ensemble – Phillip Carl Phares, Peter George, and Robert Seidel – diligently worked as a committee on translating and editing a metered canon. We metered the Heirmoi (the pattern melodies for each Ode of the Canon) exactly as in the Greek, and in the proceeding troparia we studied the metrical alternatives in the original Greek to observe the metrical license St. John of Damascus took in his work, and then allowed ourselves a similar amount of ‘freedom’ in the troparia of the Canon. After we finalized the text for the 1st, 3rd, and 9th Ode, I set them based on the melodies found in the Heirmologion of Petros Byzantios 1825 AD, the Heirmologion of Ioannis Protopsaltis 1903 AD, and also the oral tradition of how the canon is commonly chanted in the traditional centers of Byzantine chant (such as the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Mount Athos).

For the Eklogarion, I compiled the appropriate English psalmic verses from translations provided by Nicholas Roumas. My source for the appropriate verses was the Eklogarion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate published in 1793 AD. Afterwards, I listened to as many recordings of the Athonite Plagal of the Second “Nenano” style of chanting the Eklogarion, and then studied the composed works of Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis, who has set nearly every Ekloge in the “Nenano” mode. I then attempted to do my own, and Gabriel provided editorial assistance.

The Communion Hymn is Gabriel Cremeens’ adaptation into English of the hymn used for many highly commemorated saints, “In everlasting remembrance shall the righteous be. Alleluia.” This Third Mode setting in Greek was originally done by the renowned seventeenth century composer Petros Bereketis, but had been lost to history, as it had not been transcribed into the Chrysanthine Notation of 1814 AD (the modern Byzantine notation system used today by cantors) and remained only in the old notation in manuscript form for over 200 years. However, Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis, a scholar who is the foremost authority on the old notation, transcribed it a few years ago, and remarkably provided the transcription on the internet for free. Gabriel took his transcription and adapted it to the English text.

The Dogmatic Theotokion is a work by Nicholas Roumas from his book The Musical Ark. I would encourage anyone to please check this book out if they have not, it contains many fantastic settings of hymns in English and Byzantine notation.

The Great Prokeimenon and Doxastikon of Pascha in the short sticheraric style were provided to us by John Michael Boyer, Protopsaltis of the San Francisco Metropolis (GOA). His compositional work is exemplary, and some of it can be seen at Cappella Romana’s website

The Doxastikon of Pascha in the long sticheraric style is an adaptation/composition done by Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis. He provided this hymn back in 2014, and Gabriel Cremeens typeset it. This long sticheraric setting of this hymn is traditionally chanted in Greece and at the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Aposticha of ‘Agape’ Vespers – the Vespers of Bright Monday. Since we had this wonderful work now in English, we chose to record it and attempt to demonstrate its power and meditative beauty.

Our offering is an album I am very proud of. We recorded everything on a shoestring budget, and my fellow cantors came and performed on this project for free as a labor of love. To them I am more than grateful for their sacrifice and enthusiasm in executing this project, as well as to all of those who have supported us so far by purchasing the CD. If you wish to purchase the CD or donate to our efforts or even just listen to a sample from the album, please visit

A sample track of the album can be heard here:

Samuel Herron, Director of Dynamis Byzantine Ensemble & Founder of the English Hyphos Project



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  1. Pauline Costianes on March 18, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    It is wonderful that a project like this has been undertaken. As an American of Greek descent, NOT raised in the GOA and NOT raised on Byzantine music, I find that some of it is quite majestic and beautiful. What I find troublesome and I think other “Americans” might find also, is when the music is overly-ornamented and hyper-melismatic, carrying one syllable on and on and on , etc., over a bunch of notes

    I also wonder about these translations. “In everlasting remembrance shall the righteous be. Alleluia. ” for instance. What is wrong with the current “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not fear evil tidings. Alleluia Alleluia, Alleluia (OCA translation)” It makes so much more sense in English, that the subject is first, the verb, and then the adverb and noun…….. whereas the previous translation seems artificial and stilted. Just my two cents

    • Richard Barrett on March 19, 2019 at 11:12 am

      Can you unpack “troublesome” a bit? There are multiple textures in Byzantine music, some syllabic, some less so, some very melismatic. I frequently hear people claim “this doesn’t work for English”, but I can’t say I particularly understand this criticism; there is plenty of, say, Baroque music in English, and a lot of it is highly ornamented and melismatic — Handel’s Messiah, for example. I think most of it simply a question of the ear adjusting.

      Can you also say more about what you mean by the “current” translation of the Communion verse? There are a lot of current translations. I believe Gabriel tends to prefer setting Holy Transfiguration Monastery’s translations, which are certainly current.

      • Andrew Gould on March 19, 2019 at 12:06 pm

        Perhaps this is a matter of whether the translation is metrical. Byzantine chant generally requires metered texts, and metrical translations inevitably have some unusual syntax. OCA translations are not metrical at all, and though well-suited to Kievan chant, are of little use in Byzantine chant. Metrical texts really must not be judged by how they sound as prose. They can only be judged by how they come across when such to the appropriate metrical tune.

        As for melismatic singing, Richard is right to point out that it’s common in English church music also, and there’s no shortage of it contemporary pop music either. I think the frequent objections to it have to do the quality of the performance. We often hear church music sung poorly. It’s easy to overlook that when it moves along quickly, but a poor singer doing slow melismas will make us tire of the music real fast. As with any art, more ornate music demands a more skilled performance.

        • Richard Barrett on March 19, 2019 at 2:37 pm

          Well, papadic compositions generally aren’t prosomoia, so meter is not the issue in this case.

          My hunch is that it’s probably less of a matter of things not being performed well, at least today, than it might be of not knowing what it sounds like when it’s done well. Byz chant in English has a relatively short recorded history, and in even in Greek the predominance of polyphonic choirs in GOA parishes means that papadic compositions don’t have a ton of exposure in American parishes.

          These issues are complex, to be sure; my friend Amy Hogg and I sort through how Byz chant is taking root in English on our podcast A Sacrifice of Praise. It may be helpful:

          • Anastasios on March 25, 2019 at 3:37 am

            If I understood correctly, the setting we used for this Koinonikon was based on a 17th century composition. As such, we can’t swap the phrases of the original text (maybe if we sang the melody backwards too lol). Of course, the original text comes from the psalms, particularly psalm 112:6, where we have “εις μνημόσυνον αιώνιον έσται δίκαιος” , which directly translated is something like “For memory eternal will be the righteous”. The grammar/word order matches up very well with the translation we used, so we can have the correct words filling in the correct melodic content.

  2. Michael Roeder on March 19, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    I’m sad to say I am finding this conversation almost unintelligible, speaking as a new orthodox believer, with only 4 years experience in liturgy (but another 50 years in a traditional sacred music-loving Protestant church). I can add that we have 15 or 20 CDs obtained via my friend Vlad Morosan.

    I started to look up some of the words such as “papadic” and what I found is only moderately helpful:

    Papadic melodies are melodies in which most syllables are held for many beats. These melodies are more elaborate than sticheraric melodies, in which most syllables are held for only a few beats. The most frequently used hymns set to papadic melodies are cherubic hymns and communion hymns.

    [so far so good, then it goes wild]

    The scales and tonics for all almost modes are the same for both their papadic and sticheraric melodies. There is only one kind of papadic grave mode (which is diatonic), whereas there are two kinds of sticheraric grave mode (enharmonic and diatonic). The papadic fourth mode has a different tonic and more melodic attractions than sticheraric fourth mode.

    Might this be too much “rocket science” for a lay person to understand?

    • Andrew Gould on March 20, 2019 at 10:20 am

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at Michael. These things are surely important for professional Byzantine cantors, composers, and translators to understand. But why should it matter whether ‘lay persons’ understand them? I doubt that very many ‘musical laity’ in the western church understand the rules of counterpoint that undergird western music.

    • Richard Barrett on March 20, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Hi Michael! It’s true that Byzantine music has its own technical terminology, just like any field or musical genre, that can seem a bit bewildering at first. A lot of the terminology applies to Orthodox music more generally, but not all of it.

      To try to offer something of a brief explanation:

      Byzantine music is organized into what we, call eight modes (or “tones” as some call them). Modes 1-4 we refer to as “authentic”; the other four are called the “plagal” modes. In terms of the nomenclature, then, if somebody is saying “mode” then they will call the authentic modes “mode 1”, “mode 2”, “mode 3”, “mode 4”; the plagal modes they will call “plagal of the 1st”, “plagal of the 2nd”, “grave mode”, and “plagal of the 4th”. If somebody uses “tone” they will likely say “tones 1-8”. Incidentally, we say there are eight mostly for reasons of liturgical convenience; there are variants within each numbered mode, so Plagal 1st mode, for example, is a label that refers to two distinct modes in reality, but we still call them both Plagal 1st or Tone 5.

      In other words:

      Mode 1 – Tone 1
      Mode 2 – Tone 2
      Mode 3 – Tone 3
      Mode 4 – Tone 4
      Plagal 1st – Tone 5
      Plagal 2nd – Tone 6
      Grave Mode – Tone 7
      Plagal 4th – Tone 8

      When we say “mode”, we mean roughly the same thing that we mean when we talk about “modes” in Western music. Generally we limit the discussion to two modes in Western music, “major” and “minor”, but both of those are only two of seven; the “major” mode is simply all the white keys from C-C (or “Ionian” mode), and the “minor” mode is all of the white keys from A-A (the “natural” minor, or “Aeolian” mode). You can start on any white key and go up an octave by white keys and get a different mode; D-D is the Dorian mode (the original mode for Greensleeves, with a raised 6th), E-E is Phrygian, F-F is Lydian, G-G is Mixolydian, and B-B is Locrian.

      Byzantine music does the same thing with its modes, with a few more nuances, and also a couple of more scale types (because it doesn’t use an equal-tempered scale with the half-step as the irreducible minimum, but I won’t get into that for now). Each mode has the following:

      – A type of scale: diatonic (similar, but not identical, to a major scale), enharmonic (identical to a major scale), and chromatic (basically a structure of a small interval followed by a big interval). There are variants within those classifications, but never mind that now.

      – A base pitch (or “tonic” as the text you quote says) within the scale where the melody likes to come to rest.

      – “structural pitches” or “mediants” where the melody might come to rest besides the tonic; to over-simplify a bit, the melody will start at the tonic, go to a structural pitch, and then come back to the tonic. In many contexts, neighbor pitches of structural pitches tend to be attracted to the structural pitches; if you think of the movement by step of C-D-E-F-G, imagine a composer treating the G as a point of arrival by making the F an F# so that it’s a leading tone to G. That’s what is meant by melodic attraction — but in Byzantine music, the D would also be made a leading tone to E in some contexts: C-D#-E-F#-G.

      For example: plagal 4th, then, has a diatonic scale (we’ll call it a major scale for now), a base pitch of what we can call C, and E and G are structural pitches.

      None of this is terribly different from Western music theory when you sort through the terminology; in functional harmony, a major key has — by definition — the major triad built on the first pitch of the key (the I chord) as its “tonic”, and then I ultimately likes to go to V in various ways, and then come home to I. Secondary dominants give non-tonic pitches leading tones, or melodic attractions. And so on. Byzantine music does all the same things, it has just elaborated its system of doing so with melodic movement rather than harmonic movement.

      Also, “papadic” and “sticheraric” (and the third category, “irmologic”) refer to — at least in common parlance — the melodic texture a given composition employs. This is more of a practical shorthand then anything, because those terms actually mean something else, but that’s a story for another time. For now we can say that “irmologic” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are *generally* (by no means exclusively) syllabic and fast. “Sticheraric” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are slower, more melismatic, and more drawn out. “Papadic” is commonly used to mean melodic textures that are very melismatic and elaborated. Irmologic melodies generally serve as model melodies for canons and troparia, sticheraric melodies generally are employed for festal compositions in Vespers and Orthros, and the most common papadic compositions these days are the Communion verse and the Cherubic hymn — hymns that accompany a priestly action at the altar. These are usually shorter texts that have to cover perhaps ~5-8 minutes depending on the priest (maybe more if there is a bishop), which is why they are more elaborate and melismatic.

      Does that help at all? Please feel free to ask for clarity on anything. This podcast may also be helpful:

  3. Samuel Herron on March 20, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    I did want to add that I made a grave oversight in the explanation of our work, especially with regard to texts. I focused solely on the texts directly edited by the members of the choir and our role in shaping many of the texts used, but I should add that we also relied upon the work of Fr. Seraphim Dedes for the metered canon to Saint George, and that Fr. Seraphim listened and gave feedback on some of the suggested edits we had to his already existing texts. To him, Richard Barrett, and the AGES Initiatives we owe a large debt of gratitude for his work with us and his work over the years that have helped contribute and shape the very explosion of artistic creativity and production I mention in the opening paragraph.

  4. Rev. John Beal on March 22, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Kudos Samuel, your growth as an artist of Byzantine chant is commendable and we’re all very glad you are dedicating yourself to its continued application in English, demonstrating that our native tongue is just as good for church singing as any other, as Ss. Kyrill and Methodius taught over a thousand years ago in Moravia. This gives me hope for the future of Orthodoxy in America as a faith suitable for whomever comes into church.
    Thank you and your brother for having made our worship in the Tennessee mission so glorious!

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