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Author Topic: Difference taste in liturgical music  (Read 1275 times) Average Rating: 0
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DanM
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« on: July 15, 2013, 10:03:41 PM »

Conceding that de gustibus non est disputandum, I am still puzzled by my own limitations.  I enjoy many different kinds of music from around the world, but I have never been able to get over my initial impression that Greek liturgical music is heavy, tuneless and mournful.  There is nothing ethnic in the picture, since I cherish Greek bouzouki music.  Also, I realize my Western bias is hyperactive--I love most Russian liturgical music.  In particular, I love the 17th century Russian liturgical music--that's how biased I am.  Still, does anyone know what it is that I don't like about Greek liturgical music?  Sometimes I do not like hearing new music until I know what effect the composer was aiming at and how he thought to succeed.  Many thanks in advance, Dan
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« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2013, 11:03:13 PM »

Byzantine music uses a different harmonic scale to post-medieval western music. Add to this an essentially unison style of chant underpinned by the ison (drone), and it's a very, very different kettle of fish to what normally reaches your ears.

Also, Byzantine chant is a particularly stern and unforgiving mistress. When it's good, it's sublime and truly other-worldly; when it's even a little less than good, it's HORRIBLE. And I've listened to a great deal of both in my time.

As for Greek bouzouki music, this is quite a late import into Greek popular culture, brought into Greece by Greek refugees from Asia Minor in the 1920s. Like jazz and blues, it initially had a seedy, unsavory reputation, and it remained on the fringes for a good 30 years, until becoming "respectable" in the 1950s through the work of many post-war musicians and singers.
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« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2013, 10:22:22 AM »


LBK.  When it's good, it's sublime and truly other-worldly;
DanM.  Right.  I love the chants on my Balamond CD.  I still detect a bit of the marching-dwarfs effect in some pieces, but the vesperal Psalm is out of this world.

LBK.  it remained on the fringes for a good 30 years
DanM.  Long enough for the young girls who first heard it to become grandmothers and to bestow on the jolly music of their youth their matriarchal blessing. 
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« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2013, 12:21:31 PM »

Conceding that de gustibus non est disputandum, I am still puzzled by my own limitations.  I enjoy many different kinds of music from around the world, but I have never been able to get over my initial impression that Greek liturgical music is heavy, tuneless and mournful.  There is nothing ethnic in the picture, since I cherish Greek bouzouki music.  Also, I realize my Western bias is hyperactive--I love most Russian liturgical music.  In particular, I love the 17th century Russian liturgical music--that's how biased I am.  Still, does anyone know what it is that I don't like about Greek liturgical music?  Sometimes I do not like hearing new music until I know what effect the composer was aiming at and how he thought to succeed.  Many thanks in advance, Dan

What do think of Znammeny, the first Russian music that came from the Byzantine?  I mean the melodic, unison style - not modern harmonizations where the chant can be almost unrecognizable.
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« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2013, 12:22:54 PM »

I have a lot of Russian chant tapes. It's very soothing to me.  angel
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« Reply #5 on: July 16, 2013, 12:37:46 PM »

In what context have you heard Byzantine music? In my opinion, it has to be prayed to be understood. Even the best choirs in the world can't do it justice when you're just listening to a recording at home. I absolutely love Byzantine chant, but even I often find it quite tedious if I'm just listening to something on my iPod (the same is even more true of Coptic chant - I love hearing it in church, but I can't stand most recordings).

I think a lot of people find Byzantine music ugly at first much in the same way a lot of people find Byzantine iconography rather ugly at first sight - and this is not surprising as they share very similar characteristics.
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« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2013, 01:05:01 PM »

In what context have you heard Byzantine music? In my opinion, it has to be prayed to be understood.

This is my experience as well.  I prefer chant to choral music, but that's because I think it's easier to pray using chant than it is to pray using choral music.  But, again in my experience, it depends on how much one can sing along. 

I come from a tradition where the hymnography is chanted and we also have congregational singing.  It would make a pretty horrible recording, but it's a very prayerful atmosphere.  Similarly, my experience in Coptic churches as a non-Copt is that, once I've learned how to sing something, it's easy to join in prayerfully.  When you listen to recordings, however, it gets old after a while unless you actually join in singing along.  On the other hand, I find recordings of choral music, polyphony, etc. delightful to listen to, but it's almost impossible for the average person to join in when it's performed in church.  It's nice to meditate with, it's a great cover for one's own private prayers in church, etc., but I don't know that I believe that is all church is about.   

Whenever I've had the opportunity, I've promoted "choral" interpretations of liturgical music (OO) in recordings, concerts, etc. as a nice alternative, but insisted on retaining chant for actual use in churches.  Chant is a great equaliser. 
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2013, 01:27:16 PM »

Elisha.  What do think of Znammeny, the first Russian music that came from the Byzantine?  I mean the melodic, unison style - not modern harmonizations where the chant can be almost unrecognizable.

DanM.  I know just what you mean, and I am not a big fan of Znammeny; it is another type of chant that I have tried to like over the years and failed.  It makes perfect sense that Z. would come from the Byzantine tradition.  
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2013, 01:35:50 PM »

In what context have you heard Byzantine music? In my opinion, it has to be prayed to be understood. Even the best choirs in the world can't do it justice when you're just listening to a recording at home.

My knowledge of Byzantine music is limited to participation in vespers and liturgies spanning in all about 25 years; besides the Balamond CD, there is only one other Byzantine CD in my collection.  You may be right; it is a little less irritating in mediis rebus than on a CD.  Ditto Znammeny.  I have mixed feelings about listening to liturgical music, but argue that Elder Porphyrios encouraged at least one of his spiritual children to listen to recordings--of Byzantine music, of course--for his own good.
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« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2013, 01:43:10 PM »

Similarly, my experience in Coptic churches as a non-Copt is that, once I've learned how to sing something, it's easy to join in prayerfully. 

When we lived in Singapore, the only church on the island was Syrian Orthodox.  The parishioners were dark-skinned Indians from the southern tip of India.  They were the happiest people in Singapore; maybe the only happy people.  On one Sunday they did services in English, which used a lot of Western hymn-tunes (I think the Cherubic hymn was sung to the tune of How Great Thou Art, but it has been a while).  On the next they used Malayalam with unadulterated melodies.  When I heard them sing in Malayalam, I felt as if I were going to be swept away in a flood of beauty.  I wonder where their music came from.  I never heard anything like it.
My limited exposure to Coptic music was not as stunning, but it was still very positive, and with the trilingual service books, very singable.  (I had at one time learned the Coptic alphabet and had mastered a little of the grammar, so that was fun, too.)
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« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2013, 01:49:34 PM »

It's natural for somebody unfamiliar with oriental or modal music to find Byzantine chant alien sounding or even dislike it. I believe our preferences are shaped by what we grew up and were exposed to more often. Just don't let yourself be prejudiced by them.

There's a much broader range of oriental music to which Byzantine chant is related: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew or even Indian.  

Have a look, for instance, at these youtube channels:

http://www.youtube.com/user/Callixtinus/videos

http://www.youtube.com/user/kourostatis/videos

http://www.youtube.com/user/aag1956/videos
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« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2013, 01:55:23 PM »

I really like Byzantine chant. I think it's better than Russian chant, but that's just my opinion.
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« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2013, 02:00:12 PM »

When we lived in Singapore, the only church on the island was Syrian Orthodox.  The parishioners were dark-skinned Indians from the southern tip of India.  They were the happiest people in Singapore; maybe the only happy people.

LOL, our people were the only happy people in the country?  I guess I'll scratch that off the list of places I want to visit.  Tongue

Quote
On one Sunday they did services in English, which used a lot of Western hymn-tunes (I think the Cherubic hymn was sung to the tune of How Great Thou Art, but it has been a while). 

Yuck.  I've suffered through those here.  There's a "school of thought" (in quotes because it's hard to characterise something as a school when it has no real thought behind it) which says that Western style music should be used in our Liturgy when English or other Western languages are used for the Liturgy.  That sounds nice in theory, but what ends up happening is that, rather than studying Western musical traditions and doing the hard work of developing a Western style octoechos for our tradition, they just take a few hymns here and there and set them to the melody of popular Protestant hymns.  The result is unedifying and unsatisfactory to all concerned.  I'm no expert in classical Indian music, but it seems to me the effort to do something similar with liturgical music for Hindi services is a bit more "authentic".    

Quote
On the next they used Malayalam with unadulterated melodies.  When I heard them sing in Malayalam, I felt as if I were going to be swept away in a flood of beauty.  I wonder where their music came from.  I never heard anything like it.

The vast majority of music used in Malayalam is just an Indian variation of a standard form of Syriac chant.  You can hear Syriac chant done by actual Syriacs and, if you're familiar enough with the music, identify the hymn and the tone and distinguish the differences between Syriac and Malayalam "interpretations".  It's not identical, but it's close enough.  And that's funny: the people who think English should be done in an Anglican style and Hindi in a Hindustani style have no problem with Malayalam being done in a Semitic style.    
 
Quote
My limited exposure to Coptic music was not as stunning, but it was still very positive, and with the trilingual service books, very singable.  (I had at one time learned the Coptic alphabet and had mastered a little of the grammar, so that was fun, too.)

Yeah, our music is better.  Sorry Copts!  Tongue
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« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2013, 02:13:15 PM »

When we lived in Singapore, the only church on the island was Syrian Orthodox.  The parishioners were dark-skinned Indians from the southern tip of India.  They were the happiest people in Singapore; maybe the only happy people. 

Different cultures express happiness in different manners.

"Happy-clappy" tunes are indeed incompatible with Byzantine semnotes (dignity, reverence, sollemnity), but that doesn't mean that our chant is devoid of joy.   
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« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2013, 03:16:19 PM »

My limited exposure to Coptic music was not as stunning, but it was still very positive, and with the trilingual service books, very singable.  (I had at one time learned the Coptic alphabet and had mastered a little of the grammar, so that was fun, too.)

Yeah, our music is better.  Sorry Copts!  Tongue

A funny story. A Coptic man my fathers knows had a near death experience. He claimed to have seen a vision of heaven and  began to describe to my father how wonderous and beautiful it was. You can believe or not believe it, I have my doubts as well. But this is what he claimed.

Anyway, he told my father he could hear angels chanting in the most beautiful way, that they sounded a little like our liturgical chant but only much more beautiful. When my father related that part to me, I said "Aha, the angels chant in the Byzantine style!". Maybe I was wrong and it was Malayalam Grin
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« Reply #15 on: July 16, 2013, 03:21:22 PM »

Romaios.  Different cultures express happiness in different manners.
DanM.  Then the Malayalam-speakers were as Western as John Wayne.  They grinned from ear to ear and laughed merrily; they were the friendliest people on the island.  (By contrast, the whole clutch of non-Malayalam Indians I met in another context over there were everything you thought a New Yorker ought not to be--belligerent, pushy etc.)  The Chinese by comparison were a rather grim lot all in all; a lengthy silence did not indicate anger or even resentment.  Western ideals of courtesy are regarded with suspicion by some Chinese as too-obvious attempts to butter up a victim.  Also, the Chinese tended to laugh to show unhappiness, anxiety, even anger.  Interested parties may read Bo Yang's _The Ugly Chinaman_ for more details.  One of the interesting features of Singaporean life was just the constant navigation of different cultures--Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Tamil etc.  What a delightful place to live and learn.

Romaios.  "Happy-clappy" tunes are indeed incompatible with Byzantine semnotes (dignity, reverence, sollemnity), but that doesn't mean that our chant is devoid of joy.   
DanM.  One of the criticisms of Europeanized music which may be ventured is just this incompatibility with semnotes.  Some of the liturgies-for-opera-singers-only are as solemn as a Methodist church mouse on a Sunday afternoon, but lose the spirit of the liturgy.  My problem is how to pick the lock of Byzantine music.  Is Byzantine music like steak-&-kidney pie--you have to grow up eating it to appreciate it?

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« Reply #16 on: July 16, 2013, 03:42:43 PM »

Upon becoming Orthodox, I really didn't find anything appealing about Byzantine Chant. I, like you, felt it was mournful, and was just odd, and almost awful to my ears.

What changed me, was actually going to Greece, and experiencing that chant in church, during Holy Week and with the faithful actually belting forth the chant along with the cantors. As well as finally learning enough of the alphabet and language that I can figure out what they are saying, and what the hymns are in comparison to ours.

One of my favorite Byzantine hymns, is far more famous amongst Americans in it's Russian form. That is, "O Lord Save Thy People", or "Spasi Gospodi, iyudi tvoya", or "Soson Kyrie, ton laon sou". Once I heard that hymn in Greece, being boldly chanted by the cantors, priests & people, I was taken by it. Same for the rest of Byzantine chant.

I initially fell in love with Russian renditions of Holy Week hymns. Yet, once I heard them in Byzantine Chant, in the whole setting of a traditional, Greek church, I feel head-over-heels in love with them. Kassiani's Hymn, the Lamentation service (especially the 3 stasis), the Bridegroom hymns, They have stripped me of my garments, Today he is hung etc...

I've also fallen in love with other hymns rendered in Byzantine Chant like It is Truly Meet, To Thee, the Champion Leader, the Cherubic Hymn, God is With Us, Lord I have Cried, The Polyelos (Psalm 135) etc...

Along with all of this, sadly, I have felt that I've kind of lost my original love of later Russian Chant, while also gaining great appreciation for Gregorian & Old Roman Chant, Georgian Chant and older Russian Chants like Znamenny.

I'll post some examples here of great Byzantine Chant.



God is With Us (Isaiah)/Snami Bog/Meth'imon O Theos

Lord I have Cried (Psalm 140)/Kyrie Ekekraksa Pros Se/

It is Truly Meet/Dostoino Est/Axion Estin
(does anyone have a rendition of this hymn in Church Slavonic, but in Byzantine Chant? I've heard it once and thought it was amazing, but can't find audio.)

To Thee, The Champion Leader/Vzbrannoy voyevode/Ti Ypermaxo Stratigo

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord...For His Mercy Endures Forever... (Psalm 135, Polyelos)/Eksolomogisthe Tou Kyriou

O Lord, Save Thy People/Spasi Gospodi, ijudi tvoja/Soson Kyrie ton laon sou
It is extremely impressive to hear an entire parish singing this in Byzantine Chant. But it was made most famous outside Orthodoxy through it's use in the 1812 Overture (beginning and end): http://youtu.be/VbxgYlcNxE8

Bless the Lord O My Soul/First Antiphon (Psalm 102)
Unfortunately, this isn't heard much in Greece outside of Mt. Athos because most in the Byzantine Tradition have replaced the traditional Psalms as the first three antiphons with other psalm verses alternated with petitions to Christ & the Theotokos.

They Have Stripped Me/Eksedysan me ta imatia mou

Holy Friday Lamentations - 1st Stasis (In the tomb they laid thee)/I Zoe en tafo
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« Reply #17 on: July 16, 2013, 03:52:08 PM »

I have a contrary situation. I love byzantine chant, and generally don’t like Russian chant> I would send to a bin compositions of Chaikovsky, Vedel, Rachmaninov etc. I would leave the only for some concerts or for the time of distribution of Communion or for the end of the services. I appreciate znammmieny chant, synodal melodies (obikhod) but I prefer it as something additional and byzantine tones with its variable parts as something basic. It’s more mystical, deeper, prayerful, more suitable for Church. I think there are no better chants for e.g Holy Saturday Lamentations, Paschal Canon, Eulogitaria and so on than byzantine chants.

And sometimes I really can’t sand these Russian chants in my parish and generally in Poland, but I can’t overestimate melodies over the meaning of the liturgical texts. However, I admit, it’s difficult. You’re lucky in USA you can choose jurisdiction with its chant tradition.
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« Reply #18 on: July 17, 2013, 06:45:47 PM »

You’re lucky in USA you can choose jurisdiction with its chant tradition.

Lord, forbid such luck here.
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« Reply #19 on: July 17, 2013, 10:15:02 PM »


I have found everyone's remarks to be helpful, educating, elucidating and edifying, but yours in particular were useful.  I have listened to all the links below with great instruction.  It is clear to me now that I have to concentrate on the very best that Byzantine chant has to offer and train my ear.  Thank you everybody for helping.
Dan



Upon becoming Orthodox, I really didn't find anything appealing about Byzantine Chant. I, like you, felt it was mournful, and was just odd, and almost awful to my ears.

What changed me, was actually going to Greece, and experiencing that chant in church, during Holy Week and with the faithful actually belting forth the chant along with the cantors. As well as finally learning enough of the alphabet and language that I can figure out what they are saying, and what the hymns are in comparison to ours.

One of my favorite Byzantine hymns, is far more famous amongst Americans in it's Russian form. That is, "O Lord Save Thy People", or "Spasi Gospodi, iyudi tvoya", or "Soson Kyrie, ton laon sou". Once I heard that hymn in Greece, being boldly chanted by the cantors, priests & people, I was taken by it. Same for the rest of Byzantine chant.

I initially fell in love with Russian renditions of Holy Week hymns. Yet, once I heard them in Byzantine Chant, in the whole setting of a traditional, Greek church, I feel head-over-heels in love with them. Kassiani's Hymn, the Lamentation service (especially the 3 stasis), the Bridegroom hymns, They have stripped me of my garments, Today he is hung etc...

I've also fallen in love with other hymns rendered in Byzantine Chant like It is Truly Meet, To Thee, the Champion Leader, the Cherubic Hymn, God is With Us, Lord I have Cried, The Polyelos (Psalm 135) etc...

Along with all of this, sadly, I have felt that I've kind of lost my original love of later Russian Chant, while also gaining great appreciation for Gregorian & Old Roman Chant, Georgian Chant and older Russian Chants like Znamenny.

I'll post some examples here of great Byzantine Chant.



God is With Us (Isaiah)/Snami Bog/Meth'imon O Theos

Lord I have Cried (Psalm 140)/Kyrie Ekekraksa Pros Se/

It is Truly Meet/Dostoino Est/Axion Estin
(does anyone have a rendition of this hymn in Church Slavonic, but in Byzantine Chant? I've heard it once and thought it was amazing, but can't find audio.)

To Thee, The Champion Leader/Vzbrannoy voyevode/Ti Ypermaxo Stratigo

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord...For His Mercy Endures Forever... (Psalm 135, Polyelos)/Eksolomogisthe Tou Kyriou

O Lord, Save Thy People/Spasi Gospodi, ijudi tvoja/Soson Kyrie ton laon sou
It is extremely impressive to hear an entire parish singing this in Byzantine Chant. But it was made most famous outside Orthodoxy through it's use in the 1812 Overture (beginning and end): http://youtu.be/VbxgYlcNxE8

Bless the Lord O My Soul/First Antiphon (Psalm 102)
Unfortunately, this isn't heard much in Greece outside of Mt. Athos because most in the Byzantine Tradition have replaced the traditional Psalms as the first three antiphons with other psalm verses alternated with petitions to Christ & the Theotokos.

They Have Stripped Me/Eksedysan me ta imatia mou

Holy Friday Lamentations - 1st Stasis (In the tomb they laid thee)/I Zoe en tafo
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« Reply #20 on: September 01, 2013, 07:01:16 PM »

I guess I cannot help, in terms of Western music, prefer sacred polyphony, especially the English stuff, but really any of it. I do quite like the English choirs and music though. But I also like some later stuff like the classical and baroque. I really like Mozart's Requiem Mass, for example. I could never really get into Gregorian chant though, although I like some of it better than other stuff.

In terms of East, I have not had enough experience since I am just moving that way to really say. I do appreciate it though and even though I love the organ do not like the idea of it in the East. I think it is out of place there.
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« Reply #21 on: September 02, 2013, 10:24:06 PM »

I guess I cannot help, in terms of Western music, prefer sacred polyphony, especially the English stuff, but really any of it. I do quite like the English choirs and music though. But I also like some later stuff like the classical and baroque. I really like Mozart's Requiem Mass, for example. I could never really get into Gregorian chant though, although I like some of it better than other stuff.

In terms of East, I have not had enough experience since I am just moving that way to really say. I do appreciate it though and even though I love the organ do not like the idea of it in the East. I think it is out of place there.

It really doesn't get much better than Mozart's Requiem.
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