I mean no disrespect with this post, but this is an honest question that I've gotten different answers on and I wanted to see what everyone thinks.
Is the use of a choir to sing the responses of the liturgy a true joining of voices to sing, or a concert performance which does not involve anyone in the singing except the choir members? I would honestly like to hear everyones opinion no matter which side. After I see what people think, I'll share my opinion.
The answer is not simple as the history covered a wide range of practices and all left a mark on what we have today. Some good references:
-A detailed historical account of the development of the musical tradition is in this book which is often quoted in most other discussions on the subject:
A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography
Book by Egon Wellesz; Clarendon Press, 1961
-Another book is Dramatic traditions of the Dark Ages- which reviews the conflict of theater vs. church, and how the church ecclesiastical dramas became a springboard for the spread of theater to the West...
-the GOA website also has a good essay on this. www.goarch.org
A very short summary after reading all of these:
The musical tradition was not a singular one in the history of the church, as different practices evolved in the different sees of the church and also in its missionary territories. In the beginning the singing followed Jewish custom with congregational responses to the chanter or choir- mostly because very early worship started 'with the jews', which was then , as we know, stopped.
As the church developed, emperial practices carried over... with both lay chanters (kractae) and eccesiastical ones (psalti)... each of these were large groups who sang in antiphonal style during processsions to the church, and to events where the Emperor presided... Kractae exalting the emperor and the psalti exalting God. Some of the practices used in the church today - acclamations during ordination for example- are carryovers from acclamations used for the emperor, which were then Christianized. Liturgical practice of the early period changed: In order to keep everyone 'on the same' page and prevent individual psalm writing , the council of Laodicea (sp??) banned congregational singing,& dancing, etc...during services. Only the ecclesiastical singers were to sing from the assigned book. During this time however, there were several hundred psalti and clergy singing at one time... well over 400....So, while the intent may not have been for theatrical aspects, it may have resulted in it by default...It is hard to imagine listening to 400 people and not being the slightest taken in by the singing itself...In a time with few other forms of musical entertainment were as well funded and developed as the church... The era after the iconoclasm issue brought changes into the musical tradition... The state budget was thin, but the church's good: so the emperor beseeched the Patriarch Theophylactus to allow theater and worship to merge in the church...in fact professional actors and singers were brought in for the services. This is because the state was required to provide quality theater entertainment to the people and without a budget, resorted to using the church services.... While we look in horror at this time, the belief was that this was the way to bring people back to the church, (where worship had suffered during iconoclasm) so that they would not resort to unoffical 'red light' forms of entertainment. One can only imagine what effect this long period of several centuries had on the musical practice of the church. My suspicion is that it may have lead to a continued develop of a music which was less and less simple for congregational singing...but this is only my suspicion...
Other practices, such as antiphonal singing of either two choirs, or choir and congregation, took place in Antioch: St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria introduced Christian antiphonal singing as a result of a
vision in which two choirs of angels sang in this manner.
So the question remains as to the purpose of singing now...and the answer normally is ' to carry on the tradition', which was not singular- so some Orthodox churches use congregational singing- some by deliberate choice, some by necessity as they may be too small for a choir.. I have found that in rural America,where most speak only English and not the ethnic church heritage, that the more English that is used, the more people learn and sing the hymns with the choir. Some join the choir if they have time, some sing from their seat...I think it is now a personal choice...
Hopefully the references above and this short summary will help you as you research this further...
In XC, Kizzy