I make a point to try and avoid criticizing monks ...
I make a point to try to avoid waving away the Fathers.
Indeed, but you're waving away most of your brethren if you think only Byzantine chant is compatible with their views, in that parishes using only Byzantine chant account for a minority of Orthodox parishes, when you consider the huge size of the Russian church and also the use of modern compositions in Greek and Diaspora Greek parishes.
Now to be clear, I am in no sense opposed to Byzantine Chant, only to an exclusivist view regarding it, which I consider demeaning to other Orthodox traditions and also to contemporary Orthodox composers. And I also don't consider it a coincidence that Alexander Lingas, arguably the foremost authority in Byzantine Chant, is also an avid enthusiast of contemporary Orthodox music. And this is the guy who gave a huge boost to English language Byzantine chant, which some people say doesn't really exist, by recording an entire Divine Liturgy in it as a two CD album (which I have, and recommend).
So I just cannot accept that the music of the Russian Orthodox Church is categorically less Orthodox than that of the ancient Byzantine church, since we're talking about the music that modern day Fathers lived by, such as St. John of Kronstadt, St. John Maximovotch, and most of the New Martyrs of Russia.
The only music I believe to be fundamentally incompatible with Orthodoxy would be rock music, pop music and derivatives thereof, a view shared by many, so for this reason I have been thrilled to see a crackdown on praise band music in the Coptic Church in recent months. The reason for this however is due to the obvious dance orientation and sex orientation of such music, which you, as someone who understands the Ethos of the individual tones, should understand. Although IMO some views regarding the eight tones, like the view that the Plagal of the Fourth was spiritually harmful, were superstitious, and the Church to my knowledge entierely rejected that idea.
Now it is true that tonal music can be emotionally manipulative and that's why in the early 19th century one will find polemics from some Greek bishops against it. But the fact that the Greek church and the Russian church are still generating saints two centuries later suggests to me these fears are misplaced.
Also, a further clarification to Mor Ephrem on this point: if Syriac and Coptic music did become more variable, I.e. if new schools of Syriac composers came into being, I think they should start from scratch and not by any means import Western musical styles. The most successful Russian music worked because Russia historically always connected culturally with Germany and Scandinavia, whose territories she historically abutted, and a sort of folk music continuum did exist. At the same time the best modern Russian church music consists of four part harmony and tonality, or atonality, which were all Western inventions (some believe they were German or Scandinavian specifically in terms of tonality), were layered atop the ancient Russian chant, like Valaam chant. This in turn traces back to the Octoechos. But the Syriac Octoechos for example is different, and unlike anything except for Islamic, Persian and some Jewish liturgical music; the latter is related to it, whereas the former I believe is certainly copied from it (the cries from the muezzin which sound so much like Haw Nurone, for example). So new Syriac music I feel would grow within that framework.
And at the same time, as far as the Malankara Church is concerned, correct me if I'm wrong, but to some degree at least in the style of singing there has been some influence on the music from the surrounding Indian culture, and there have been some variations composed on the hymns vs. the Middle Eastern. And most of the recordings I see of Syriac church music come from Malankara, and I get the impression, please correct me if I'm wrong, that musical activity in your portion of the Syriac church is more active than in the Middle Eastern portion.
By the way, as it is germane to a thread which I believe boils down to aesthetics, my favorite church music is Slavonic, Syriac, Mozarabic, Anglican, German, Ambrosian Rite, Coptic, Renaissance, especially Spanish, Gregorian, Italian, French, and Georgian, in that order. That is not to say Georgian is my least favorite, I love it passionately and just acquired a new CD. But when I'm distressed I listen to Syriac or Russian. This is in spite of the fact that Syriac is, as I have lamented, relatively static; I basically just want to hear more of it. Syriac might actually be my favorite, it's just that, counting Assyrian, Syriac Catholic and Maronite variants, my Russian collection is still, on the basis of unique pieces rather than alternate recordings, about a hundred times larger. So the fact I listen to Syriac as often as I do, which is an eight tone system similoar to Byzantine chant, suggests it's probably my actual favorite. The first time I heard it in person in a Syriac Orthodox Church was on Holy Tuesday, at the end of Vespers (I arrived late and missed most the service). And I was enraptured. But this is pure personal preference, and as my avatar of St. Athanasius demonstrates, (by virtue of being a fleetingly rare Syriac icon), I have a major crush on that church.
So I can't fault anyone for saying "Byzantine Chant is my favorite." But where we are at loggerheads, Porter, is that Infeel you're trying to tell me the vast corpus of Russian music and modern music by composers like Tikey Zes is somehow spiritually defective. I've read this argument before, albeit much more delicately worded, from Fr. Andrew Stephen Dammick. I respect his opinion, I love his blog and his books, but I disagree. But, not wishing to even appear to lord it over you as a communicant, because my prayer life and my piety is so sloppy I'm just grateful my priest lets me have communion, I do wish you would partake of the Mysteries, and obviosuly after Baptism, then partake of them again at a Russian church, before making up your mind on this matter. Because the Eucharistic experience did change me. I'm still a verbose gadfly but at least I'm not a vainglorious glutton who obsessively buys enterprise grade computers for personal recreational use and freaks out when they get minor scratches while being installed in the data center or my garage lab. Really, before I joined the Orthodox Church, at one point I was in such depths of sin that I used to enjoy wearing sleek business suits with elegant neckties so I could enjoy seeing my reflection on the windows of the office building when I went to work.
Now in your case, you have always lived a purity of life given the strictness of your prior religion and are in your catechumenate ascending to still greater heights. I don't think you've ever in your life freaked out over a 1 mm scratch on your computer or enjoyed looking at your reflection. My only concern is that in your profound piety you might fall into the trap of dividing yourself from your brethren over Byzantine Chant. And in saying this I don't presume to be your confessor or spiritual director, I am not worthy for that honor by any stretch of the imagination. But I am convinced your position is wrong, simply because it implies the majority of Orthodox Christians are worshipping defectively, and my instinct from my catechesis is that anything that separates one from ones brethren is undesirable in the extreme (and I will readily admit that I go further than most in this, for example, in my burning desire for reconciliation between the Eastern and Oriental churches, but I will say when I have tried the other approach the results have been toxic). So I would just beseech you to consider contemporary fathers like St. John Maximovitch, and not write off the music of the Russian church until you've experienced Russians at prayer, for example.