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Author Topic: Choirs in the Church  (Read 2558 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: February 28, 2005, 09:36:40 AM »

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.

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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2005, 10:28:07 AM »

In a typical Coptic liturgy, the choir of deacons directs the people, more or less, for congregational responses, and congregation participation is an integral part of the service.  I believe what you are referring to, however, is the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, where there is a designated choir to sing responses. 
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2005, 12:53:50 PM »

There is a Greek Orthodox church close to my parent's home that uses congregational singing...they might have a leader, but no choir.  Instead of choir practice each week, they have "congregational singing" practice. Smiley  For a church its size (around 100), this is very unique, but it shows one way how the priest is making a point of getting people involved.  But this is an exception...every other Orthodox Church I've been to has a choir, witih most of them (unfortunately, IMO) having all responses sung just by the choir.  In my experience, it seems like the only parts where the people join in is during the creed and the lord's prayer.
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2005, 06:02:39 PM »

I believe that the traditions of the Carpatho-Rusyns (Carpatho-Russians, Rusyns, Ruthenians, whatever) is one of plainchant by the congregation.

Some parishes have more participation than others.  Personally, having been around the Carpatho-Rusyn tradition for a long while, I prefer to have the congregation be a part of the responses.  I don't think that this requires the choir to disband. 

In our Serbian parish, the Divine Liturgy is almost always just the choir.  At vespers, matins, etc. everyone participates.  But then almost everyone that shows up for those (except the reader) is a member of the choir.  It usually comes down to the fact in our parish that some of the most dedicated folks end up in the choir. 

My wife knows a lot more about the history of this stuff, but she won't post on the net and I don't trust myself when trying to remember what she tells me.  She has a bunch of books on this, which I've never read. 

Someone else here may know the history of the development of the klyros, choirs, etc. in Constantinople and the other patriarchates.

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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2005, 06:03:03 PM »

There are times when the choir should sing alone, but for the majority of the Liturgy, singing should include the congregation LED by the well-practiced and trained choir. The choir should especially sing alone when there are "different" or special, or additional hymns for special feast days, church holidays, or ones that can change weekly, like the Troparia and Kontakia. The reason for this is simple knowledge of the music--the ultimate responsibility is to make the text understood by all, which can be difficult when the congregation is trying to mumble along to a song they simply dont know well.

The Church also has a history of choirs, especially for antiphonal music. For example, in the feast day Antiphons, I think the ideal situation would be to have a choir (or cantor if you must, but I prefer choirs) sing the verses and the people to repeat the refrain. This was the common practice for a good long time.

When everyone is singing everything, it can be just as meaningless as when no one is singing anything. There are differeny roles within the congregation for structural purpose--it helps to sometimes listen to the Liturgy instead of singing it all--just ask any choir member who gets a sunday off b/c their throat hurts. And, at the same time, not everyone is supposed to be occupied with the technical intricacies of singing in a choir for the Liturgy. The congregation, and the choir, are good and useful as singing partners in the liturgical life of the Church.
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2005, 08:53:18 PM »

When everyone is singing everything, it can be just as meaningless as when no one is singing anything. There are differeny roles within the congregation for structural purpose--it helps to sometimes listen to the Liturgy instead of singing it all--just ask any choir member who gets a sunday off b/c their throat hurts. And, at the same time, not everyone is supposed to be occupied with the technical intricacies of singing in a choir for the Liturgy. The congregation, and the choir, are good and useful as singing partners in the liturgical life of the Church.

I don't know if you were referring to my post, but I just want to clarify that not everything was being sung by everyone.  When I visited for vespers, there definitely were cantors/readers who did certain parts.  I think for feast days with special hymns, they have inserts for the people or else just have a small group who knows it sing.

By the way, can someone please define kontakia and troparia?  I hear of them but have no idea what they are or literally mean (perhaps a result of being in churches where the choir "takes care of that").  Thanks!
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2005, 09:05:11 PM »

Google is a marvelous thing...

This is from the Melkite Church, but the info is good. http://www.mliles.com/melkite/kontakion.shtml

I wasn't directly referring to your post--just the concept in general. I generally quote or reference directly when I'm talking about something someone else said.
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2005, 09:06:09 PM »

I'm not against congregational singing of the Creed and Our Father, despite the fact that most of us are tone deaf! But I understood that singers were blessed to chant on the kliros and in many cases, readers are ordained to read, not anybody in the congregation. I feel there is an under current here of 'getting involved' which is makes me feel uncomfortable. I thought we were supposed to support the worship with prayer, while those ordained, blessed to do certain things, did their part. But perhaps i'm wrong in thinking that some of you feet out there want to be hands. Sad
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2005, 09:56:03 PM »

I'm not against congregational singing of the Creed and Our Father, despite the fact that most of us are tone deaf!
glad to hear that you're not against the people professing what they (should) believe.
But I understood that singers were blessed to chant on the kliros and in many cases, readers are ordained to read, not anybody in the congregation. I feel there is an under current here of 'getting involved' which is makes me feel uncomfortable. I thought we were supposed to support the worship with prayer, while those ordained, blessed to do certain things, did their part.
Of course, those ordained do "their part." But see wherever it says "choir" in your service book? Some churches say "people" instead. I'm sorry that this makes you feel uncomfortable.
But perhaps i'm wrong in thinking that some of you feet out there want to be hands. Sad
Okay....I think you're reacting negatively to something that is actually healthy for the Church.
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2005, 09:57:37 PM »

Google is a marvelous thing...

This is from the Melkite Church, but the info is good. http://www.mliles.com/melkite/kontakion.shtml

I wasn't directly referring to your post--just the concept in general. I generally quote or reference directly when I'm talking about something someone else said.

Interesting...thanks!
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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2005, 04:55:27 PM »

I'm not against congregational singing of the Creed and Our Father, despite the fact that most of us are tone deaf!


You might be surprized to know that there is no such thing as tone deaf. Those who "are," sing the way they do because they have not been taught how to use their voices outside of the common speaking range of tones. Singing is a natural a development as walking, and it is only those people whose upbringing lacked enough musical experiences and were never taught how to use the muscles in their throat that are "tone deaf." Anyone can be taught to sing on key.

But I understood that singers were blessed to chant on the kliros and in many cases, readers are ordained to read, not anybody in the congregation. I feel there is an under current here of 'getting involved' which is makes me feel uncomfortable. I thought we were supposed to support the worship with prayer, while those ordained, blessed to do certain things, did their part.  But perhaps i'm wrong in thinking that some of you feet out there want to be hands. Sad

When you're blessing a church dinner, and the priest is there to say the blessing, who says/sings the Our Father? The people, or just the choir members? When we are in Lent, and we say the prayer of St. Ephraim, does only the choir repeat it? Our worship is directly responsorial and antiphonal, and recruiting the regular parishoner only for the Our Father and the Creed is not at all historically the practice in Church music.

Certain people have more musical training/experience and are better musicians than others. They are called to lead the Church in prayer and certain styles of singing in church music is certainly better suited to solo work or a trained, practiced choir. But the development of this more difficult, virtuostic music is not indicative of church music over time, and it does not exclude more involvement from parishioners.

The Liturgy is the work of the people, and yes, the priest has his role, the reader theirs, the choir theirs, and the congregation, theirs. But the practice of the Church has typically included more congregational singing than just the Our Father and Creed. Litanies are the most common example of responding that the congregation should be involved in.
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« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2005, 06:48:13 PM »

In my limited experience I have only come across congregational singing i.e Our Father/Creed here in the US. I never experienced it in Jerusalem, anywhere in Greece, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Syria or Russia. I was told that some ROCOR sing the Our Father since Met Anastasy introduced it in the DP Camps, to boost morale. From a musical point of view, I disagree with you. There are definitely tone deaf people. I know people who cannot hear music! It sounds all the same to them.
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2005, 06:58:35 PM »

Quote
You might be surprized to know that there is no such thing as tone deaf.

No, there quite definitely are people who *are* tone-deaf, as in being unable to recognize simple melodies, or to hear when a note is out of place. It's as real a deficit as being colorblind is.

Quote
When you're blessing a church dinner, and the priest is there to say the blessing, who says/sings the Our Father? The people, or just the choir members?

In my church, which is ROCOR, we follow what we have received in the Great Russian tradition and have the choir sing everything, including the Our Father at mealtimes.

Quote
When we are in Lent, and we say the prayer of St. Ephraim, does only the choir repeat it?

The priest reads the prayer of St. Ephraim out loud, while the congregation prays it silently. Ditto for the "I believe, O Lord, and I confess" right before communion. The choir sings the Creed and the Our Father at liturgy, and a reader will read things like the "Vouchsafe, O Lord" and the Trisagion at vespers.
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« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2005, 06:59:19 PM »

Is there anyone here who can speak to the Carpatho-Rusyn tradition of plainchant?

If not, I'll have to consult my wife and her books. I'm likely to get a long explanation.

It was my understanding that this tradition asks the people to be involved with the singing to a larger extent.
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« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2005, 07:10:39 PM »

In my limited experience I have only come across congregational singing i.e Our Father/Creed here in the US. I never experienced it in Jerusalem, anywhere in Greece, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Syria or Russia. I was told that some ROCOR sing the Our Father since Met Anastasy introduced it in the DP Camps, to boost morale.  From a musical point of view, I disagree with you. There are definitely tone deaf people.  I know people who cannot hear music! It sounds all the same to them.


Most churches I've been to in Russia practice congregational singing during the Liturgy of the Our Father and the Creed, with the deacon leading the people. Having Beheld The Resurrection of Christ isalso sung by the congregation in a good number of Russian churches I've been to. I've seen basically the same practiced in American ROCOR parishes.
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« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2005, 01:09:21 AM »

I beg to differ. The people who cannot hear a melody or if a note is out of tune HAVE NOT BEEN TAUGHT how to do so. You have to develop ears just like you have to develop walking skills and language skills. Music is a language, and if you have never been exposed to it, of course you cannot speak it or understand it. If you take a French class, at the beginning, you cannot understand anything. However, with time, you can come to recognize the way sounds are made, words, phrases, and eventually sentences. You become fluent. The same is true of singing and music. You may start out ignorant of the language, but you CAN be taught it. No one is tone deaf as a permanent or natural condition.

Disagree with me if you like. I do consider myself somewhat knowledgeable on the topic and I am confident in my claim--music education is my career.
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« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2005, 01:39:46 AM »

choirfiend,

That is my understanding as well... that no one is actually tone deaf and can 'learn the language' with proper training was what I was taught in my class on music & physics; it was taught to us as scientific fact.

(Being naturally musical, however, I do not have any anecdotal evidence for this. Smiley)

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« Reply #17 on: March 04, 2005, 10:11:51 AM »

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No one is tone deaf as a permanent or natural condition.

This is not true. See Drayna, et al. "Genetic Correlates of Musical Pitch Recognition in Humans." Science, Vol 291, Issue 5510, 1969-1972 , 9 March 2001.

The abstract:

Quote
We used a twin study to investigate the genetic and environmental contributions to differences in musical pitch perception abilities in humans. We administered a Distorted Tunes Test (DTT), which requires subjects to judge whether simple popular melodies contain notes with incorrect pitch, to 136 monozygotic twin pairs and 148 dizygotic twin pairs. The correlation of DTT scores between twins was estimated at 0.67 for monozygotic pairs and 0.44 for dizygotic pairs. Genetic model-fitting techniques supported an additive genetic model, with heritability estimated at 0.71 to 0.80, depending on how subjects were categorized, and with no effect of shared environment. DTT scores were only weakly correlated with measures of peripheral hearing. This suggests that variation in musical pitch recognition is primarily due to highly heritable differences in auditory functions not tested by conventional audiologic methods. [emphasis mine]

See also Ayotte et al., "Congenital amusia: A group study of adults afflicted with a music-specific disorder." Brain, Vol. 125, No. 2, 238-251, February 1, 2002.
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« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2005, 12:22:35 PM »



This is not true. See Drayna, et al. "Genetic Correlates of Musical Pitch Recognition in Humans." Science, Vol 291, Issue 5510, 1969-1972 , 9 March 2001.

The abstract:



See also Ayotte et al., "Congenital amusia: A group study of adults afflicted with a music-specific disorder." Brain, Vol. 125, No. 2, 238-251, February 1, 2002.

As someone who played three different musical instruments growing up (and lazily quit them all), sang in the chorus in Jr. High, have sung in church choir for over 10 years and have always been told I have an excellent ear, I tend to agree with the above.  BUT, I think there are many that can in fact be trained and just say "tone deaf" as an excuse.
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« Reply #19 on: April 07, 2005, 10:14:52 AM »

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.

-Nick
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
 

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« Reply #20 on: April 08, 2005, 01:31:35 AM »



As someone who played three different musical instruments growing up (and lazily quit them all), sang in the chorus in Jr. High, have sung in church choir for over 10 years and have always been told I have an excellent ear, I tend to agree with the above. BUT, I think there are many that can in fact be trained and just say "tone deaf" as an excuse.

I seem to recall one of the directors (not conducting - just organizers) of the Youth Symphony I played in say something to the effect that she used to play the french horn but had to quit when she became tone deaf.  I think  it is possible.
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« Reply #21 on: April 08, 2005, 01:34:25 AM »

Interesting...and NPR article - the first thing I googled.

http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/jan/tonedeaf/020116.tonedeaf.html
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« Reply #22 on: April 08, 2005, 07:01:22 AM »

Aaaaaaaand all that is is a woman who is "tone deaf" now...I would not deny that there is a range of inherent ability among people (just like reading is easy to some, incredibly hard to others, and a tru challenge for those with dyslexia) when it comes to dealing with aural knowledge. But she is 40. She has had a life time to have her ears underdeveloped and to have been told she was tone deaf.

If they were testing a 2 year old who was being raised with music played for him/her every day, and the two year old was prfoundly unable to hear pitch change, then there might be a case. The point is that some people do not get their ears trained at all, which results in being unable to hear pitches because of their aural ignorance and undeveloped area of their brain.  This condition is treatable and while this woman may never be able to hear pitch because of her obvious dearth of listening experiences in the past, that's not to say that she couldn't get better at it.
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