From my perspective I think a huge part of the problem is that many of those who have acquired positions of prominence see the Carpatho-Rusyn spiritual musical tradition as one that, while having some value, is very shallow and even superficial. And so they are very willing to try to create new things where they feel the existing tradition is lacking. In a sense, I agree with what you have said (that part I quoted above). Unfortunately, I feel that the "faithfulness" that they have proclaimed their own work to have is so myopic as to render the entire tradition, and those who have practiced it in community in this country for several generations, a grave disservice and have wrought destruction. Their new creations, I feel, are of dubious value and were these "authorities" more open to the original tradition in its breadth and depth, would never have been necessary. The end result is alienating people from their own church and will, over time, destroy what remained of the tradition in this country.
I've been challenged by a friend to explain some of my comments above. And since through no doing of mine they have gained an audience elsewhere, I hope the visitor who chose to share them with another forum might add these thoughts there as well.
I'm going to paraphrase my friend's commentary. I trust he won't mind me sharing some of his thoughts in that format to push this discussion a bit further along.
To start, let me clarify that my comments above conflate several phenomena and may inaccurately suggest that responsibility for some of what I am reacting to rests entirely on the Pittsburgh Metropolia's cantor institute. For example, the cantor institute did not direct us to stop using the Christmas greeting and stop singing carols once we reach vespers on December 31 (i.e., the liturgical leave-taking of the Nativity). But officially we have been instructed to cease these parts of our traditional Christmas practice (which in some places would continue until Feb. 2! but at the very least until the eve of Theophany), and so our carols are effectively heard by most of our regular churchgoers only at most on two occasions: Nativity Eve/Nativity and the Sunday After the Nativity. Assuming most people don't sing in their families at home anymore, and don't go out in caroling groups in the days that follow, you can pretty much kiss our traditional Carpatho-Rusyn carols goodbye in the next 10 years unless we do more to cultivate them.
There have been complaints posted online about a newly-composed Theophany hymn that some parishes sang this year, which is essentially "O Come All Ye Faithful" with a few lyrical changes. It is certainly within the realm of tradition to borrow popular melodies. Is there a taboo against this now? I don't see the problem.
In principle, I didn't have a problem with what they did there. I thought what they came up with was silly and ill-advised, but I likewise recognize that "To Jordan's Water" (a paraliturgical hymn for Theophany sung in many parishes that was "canonized" by its inclusion in the old recently-retired pew books found throughout the Metropolia) was written no more than maybe 30 years ago by +Fr. Basil Kraynyak using a well-known melody (that of the Rusyn and Ukrainian carol "Nebo i zemlja"--"Heaven and Earth"). He actually did way back then what the cantor institute director had very recently done for all the Sundays of the year by writing all new lyrics to an established traditional melody of ours, so the cantor institute director hardly blazed that trail. I have a sheet somewhere of similar things that Msgr. Russell Duker wrote in the same vein, especially for Theophany (which he erroneously referred to as "ščedrivki", which in actuality are not Theophany hymns).
Do we need to be making new lyrics so that the hymn text is coupled to the day's readings? That is a novelty that I could live without, but could also live with if the lyrics were better. But then again, the lyrics of some of the older English renditions of our traditional paraliturgical hymns were equally, if not more, banal.
I think some of one of those cantors' later work, to the extent that it strove for at least a more accurate English rendition of the actual original text (rather than the 1970s questionable invented lyrics that bear little relation to the original text), stood out as an improvement on the older corpus of English hymns (also "canonized" by inclusion in the old pew book). Professor John Kahanick of blessed memory did his own English versions of our hymns with accuracy as a higher concern... unfortunately most of his work was never used outside of northeastern New Jersey.
Perhaps the issue is that we are challenging the musical capabilites of the present generation. Maybe we just can't sing, or learn anymore. I am skeptical. So please tell me, in your opinion, what is being destroyed? What original tradition is at risk?
You are right, singing for most of us is a big problem; we don't sing at home and hardly ever do we sing in community the way our past generations did, Americans across the board of whatever ethnic group.
What do I feel is being destroyed or is at risk under the new paradigm of liturgical (and paraliturgical) singing in the Pittsburgh Metropolia today?
1) Local traditions and melodies in the "old country" (i.e., the immigrant-founded communities in the rust belt towns of PA, NJ, OH, NY, CT, etc.). I think the musical needs of a parish in Phoenix, Arizona or Roswell, Georgia are quite different from those in Nanty Glo, Pa., or Roebling, New Jersey. And if the Brooklyn chapel (a largely immigrant-Rusyn, Rusyn-speaking, Church Slavonic-praying community, suppressed about 8? years ago) were somehow still a going concern, I can't imagine how they would be expected to respond to the mandate(s). Maybe the people in the Hillsborough (Manville), NJ, parish are young enough and their substantial European-born Rusyn contingent is now assimilated enough that they won't be so traumatized. Probably parishes in upstate PA and isolated parts of Ohio are more "selo" parishes ("village" parishes, where most of the people's families have lived there for generations and who all came from the same villages/local region in the European homeland) than parishes in New York City or Yonkers (or Cleveland, or Bridgeport, etc....) would be today, especially since the immigrants don't seem to be flocking to them, even in cities such as those named where there are such immigrants.
2) The cantor institute director spent probably a good year or more writing all those "new" hymns, but how many newly-published hymns from the cantor's institute were translations & arrangements of material in the Uzhhorod pisennik
or of the (non-Ukrainian) stuff in Pap's Grekokatolicki duchovni pisni
, or of some newer Rusyn hymns from eastern Slovakia sung the last 10-15 years by Rusyn immigrants attending the Uniontown pilgrimage? None! A prominent former Pittsburgh-area cantor has a lot of this work done already but outside his cantor school alumni, probably few people have it and for the most part it isn't available online anywhere. Where perfectly fine and aesthetically & spiritually pleasing hymns exist in the corpus of our own tradition (that perhaps are, God forbid, not yet in English) we should be translating these hymns and arranging them in English before we start inventing new hymns.
3) The recently-issued (and official?) cantoring directives of the cantor institute put such heavy restrictions on which
paraliturgical hymns can be sung and when
, and put them at lowest priority after psalmody (even outside the Liturgy proper) that our traditional, even our most well-known paraliturgical hymns will be sung rarely at best. And yet they are publishing new paraliturgical hymns for each nth Sunday after Pentecost that will be sung at most once a year and whose text will essentially have to be re-learned and sung from printed sheets year after year. Do they expect that anyone will develop any kind of emotional attachment to the hymn text? How will this happen? (In any case, I don't think that this is their goal. Regardless, it represents a rupture with our traditional spirituality and piety as represented by our traditional paraliturgical hymns, which are primarily of a more-popular, dare I say, "western", piety; they do express theology, but they do it simply and without telling an elaborate story such as these new "Gospel of the week" hymns now being distributed by the cantor institute.) The traditional Rusyn paraliturgical hymns are a significant part of my spirituality, and I love to immerse myself in them, and yet I find that I'm singing them so rarely now in church (or merely once a year at a pilgrimage, as the cantoring directives point out as the most appropriate place & time for them) that even I am forgetting many of the lyrics to them.
That's where I'm coming from.
To further illustrate what I feel we have either lost or have no interest in recapturing, please take a look at the photos (at least the 1st few pages' full) here:http://www.lemkowyna.net/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=750&Itemid=2
This is a village parish in the Carpathian Mountains of southeastern Poland; the people are Lemko Rusyns who returned to the area since the 1960s after being deported in 1947 to other parts of Poland.
For what reason should our parishes and pilgrimages not
look like this? These are our people and they are following our religious traditions. Even if those people were singing entirely in English, even if nobody was in traditional dress, I can't think of anywhere I've been in the Pittsburgh Metropolia, with perhaps one partial exception (a "selo" parish in upstate PA), where I would think we belonged to the same church as those folks. (Technically we don't -- they're 'Polish' Orthodox, and rather than prostopinije
or Galician plainchant they were probably singing Russian or Ukrainian choir music but almost certainly were singing our paraliturgical hymns. And their village is less than 10 miles from the border with Slovakia, where even though because the former were in a historically Galician eparchy and their music was a bit different, the people speak the same language & dialect and know the same customs and recognize no difference between the people who live on one side of the border and those on the other, except for an artificial political boundary between them.)
I could easily find photos of similar events in eastern Slovakia or the Transcarpathian district of Ukraine that would look entirely the same as in the link above, but would likewise look very different from what our religious practice looks like here. If we value our past and are still striving to return to our traditions
, why are we more concerned about ostensibly "authentically-eastern" -- i.e., Greek and Russian -- practices than aligning our ways back to those folks where we actually came from?