Kallinikeion Foundation Grants $15,000 to the Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music

New York, NY –The Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music has received a $15,000 grant from the prestigious Kallinikeion Foundation. Since its establishment in October of 2010, the Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music has been granted over $35,000 from the Kallinikeion Foundation which has been its strongest supporter.

Alexandra Kallin, the founder of the Kallinikeion Foundation, was an admirer of the Greek language and culture, as well as a devout communicant of the Greek Orthodox Church. She established the Foundation in 1993 with the aim to promote the Greek language and Orthodoxy. The Kallinikeion Summer Greek Language Institute at Hellenic College, Brookline, Mass. is one project of the Foundation and is just one example of its desire to promote the Greek language and Hellenism. This grant was given in order to support the school’s mission to train and inspire future Byzantine Chanters and to enrich the liturgical life of the Direct Archdiocesan District.

Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos, the Director of ASBM, expressed his deepest gratitude to all the members of the Board of Trustees for their $15,000 grant to ASBM and for their continued support of the mission of the school. The Archdeacon commented that, “we are deeply indebted to all the members of the Kallinikeion Foundation for their generosity and trust towards the Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music. We at ASBM are firmly committed to continue to promote and share our vast spiritual and musical heritage and to bear fruit for the growth and advancement of Orthodoxy and Hellenism throughout the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.” He added, “ASBM will continue to extend its most fervent prayers for the eternal repose of Alexandra Kallin, a devout and dedicated handmaiden of God who loved the Greek language and Byzantine Music and gave so generously back to her church.”


Axion Estin Foundation: Mostly Orthros Festival, December 8, 2012

Mostly Orthros Festival, December 8, 2012

The 2012 Mostly Orthros Festival consists of a conference during the day (9 am – 4 pm) and a concert in the evening (7:30-9 pm). The international conference will take place at the James Chapel of the Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, New York, 10027. It will include a keynote address entitled “The All-Night Vigil at the Tomb of Jesus in Early Christian Jerusalem, and its Musical Legacy East and West” by Dr. Peter Jeffery, Michael P. Grace II Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Scheide Professor of Music History Emeritus at Princeton University. Additional presentations will be delivered by distinguished scholars Dr. Susan Boynton, Columbia University; Dr. Alexander Lingas, City University London; Dr. Achilleas Chaldaeakes, Music Department of Athens University, Greece; Dr. Grammenos Karanos, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology; Dr. Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, Brown University & Emerson College. Doctoral candidates presenting recent findings from their doctoral dissertation research include Alan Gampel, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University; Spyridon Antonopoulos, City University London; Jamie Greenberg Reuland, Department of Music, Princeton University; Adrian Sarbu, Iasi, Romania.

Conference registration fee: $25 in advance / $50 at the door. Payments accepted by check only. Payable to Axion Estin Foundation. Postmark by December 3, 2012, to receive reduced rate ($25). Mail to Axion Estin Foundation, 10 Mill Road, New Rochelle, NY 10804.

For more information on the conference contact Dr. Angelo Lampousis at (914) 235-6100 or alampousis@gc.cuny.edu.


Early Christian and Byzantine Music: History and Performance

by Dr Dimitri Conomos

I would like to divide this rather general presentation into two distinct, though interrelated, parts. The first is essentially historical: an overview, without too many details, of the information we have about early Christian and Byzantine music-making and its performance. The second is more reflective and subjective. It has to do with today’s legacy and the understanding of music in worship through the lens of Orthodox spirituality.

I. Historical sketch

Now for the first millennium of Christianity, we have no direct information about sacred melody. There are no musical manuscripts; there was no need of a notation since the tunes were the property of all the believers and were well known. On the basis of indirect evidence, I suggest that the origins of early Christian chant lie partly in the music of Jewish domestic ritual celebrations (there was no music in the liturgy of the early Synagogue and in the Temple music was only used to accompany the ritual of sacrifice) and partly in Syriac musical practices, both of which shared in the cultural milieu of the Hellenistic Orient.

One may well ask: Why were the liturgical texts sung at all? The answer to this question is not unique to the Christian Church. Nearly all religions have built their services around the communal repetition of sacred texts — not silent repetition, but sounded repetition, through which the holy words could be heard, mouthed and absorbed by all. And for such “sounded repetition”, singing has seemed more natural than speaking. Apart from the tediousness and sheer ugliness of communal speaking, the rhythm of song — even when it is a comparatively free rhythm — keeps everyone together and allows for audibility. And the melody of song helps people to remember the words.

It was, in fact, the monastic population that produced the first and finest hymnographers and musicians — Romanos the Melodist, John Damascene, Andrew of Crete, and Theodore the Studite. And it was the monastic population that also produced the inventors of a sophisticated musical notation which enabled scribes to preserve, in hand-written codices, the elegant musical practices of the medieval East. There was, of course, some early monastic opposition to music. But this does not mean that the monks did not chant. Their rejection was of worldly music, musical exhibitionism and the singing of non-scriptural refrains and chants.

Broadly speaking, however, there is a conspicuous indifference to Church music in the literature from Byzantium before about the year 1000. After all, there was very little to remark upon. In those days, no one went to Church with the idea of hearing a good choir or of listening to so-and-so’s latest musical setting of the psalms and canticles. Rather the faithful knew that they themselves would be involved in some sort of musical activity — and this was singing of a kind that, naturally enough, was relatively uncomplicated, simple to learn, easy to follow, straight-forward, and direct. There were no special effects and definitely no attempts were made to have the music evoke a particular kind of atmosphere or theatricality.

Now do we know how medieval Byzantine music may have sounded? A careful juggling of fact, inference, and conjecture can certainly point us in the right direction to answering this question. Already we have come to realise that Byzantine music adhered to the early Christian tradition of being a purely sung, or vocal, music, without instruments and having a style that consisted of melody alone, without accompaniment. This monophonic music is frequently called plainchant and it has no fixed rhythm. There were no notes to record it until after the 9th century. St Isidore of Seville in the 7th century lamented the fact that the sounds of music vanished and there was no way of writing them down. Only towards the end of the first millennium was it felt that the singers’ fragile memories were not adequately conserving the sacred melodies that something was done to fix the plainchants in writing. An elementary notation was devised, using little strokes, curves and dots called neumes to produce a rough graph of the ups and downs of the melody. The early neumes did not show specific notes, thus they could not teach an unknown melody to a singer who had never heard it before. But they could remind a singer who already knew a melody of how it went. By the 12th century the neumes evolved to a point where they represented specific notes and even directed the manner of singing.

The introduction of neume notation in the 9th century had both positive and negative effects for plainchant. On the positive side, it meant that an authoritative version of a plainchant melody could be transmitted, without alteration or deterioration, to other singers in distant places that were unfamiliar with the tradition. On the negative side, it meant that plainchant melodies had in effect become fixed once and for all. What do I mean by this?

During the first nine centuries of Christianity, the Byzantine musical tradition of plainchant managed to keep alive a certain improvisatory fervour that was also manifest in the spontaneity of prayers and rituals in the early Christian liturgy. Now, with some strokes of a 9th-century pen, the plainchant melodies were caught in a rigid stylisation. They became as if embalmed and their stylistic profiles conformed to 9th-century and eventually, later, tastes. The old chants that originated as “sung prayers” were henceforth crystallised “art-objects”. Yet once the neume notation was available to Byzantine Church musicians, it was impossible to ignore its capabilities. And soon the notation became a force for artistic experiment, since it gave composers a way to try out new musical ideas, letting them ponder their novelties and circulate them for others to examine and compare.

Thus, with a supply of graphic devices both to enshrine the ancient melodies and to record new compositions, the Byzantine musician embraces the art of composing. To begin with, this art meant something a little different from what it does today. It was not just a matter of thinking up fresh and novel sound combinations and putting personal inspiration on display. Certainly the sacred texts were given a musical dress that was designed to enhance their expression. But this was accomplished largely without injecting the human creative personality.

Most early Byzantine composers were content to practise their craft anonymously in the service of the Church. Their names are unknown, and in their musical techniques a similar impersonality prevails. The early chants tend to be built out of little twists and turns of melody that everyone had heard and used for generations. The word composing actually means putting things together, and that was essentially what the Byzantine composers did. They arranged, adjusted and stylised from a fund of age-old melodic bits and phrases that were active in the communal memory. Therefore, when a “new” melody was created, it was often not entirely fresh and original. More frequently it was a refinement of some existing strains. It is for this reason I said earlier that impersonality prevails not only in anonymity but also in musical techniques.

Actually, a fairly recent instance of this same ancient procedure may be observed in a new Greek service that was “put together” (“com-posed”) in the early 1980s on Mt Athos in honour of America’s first Orthodox saint, Herman of Alaska. St Herman was among the humble Russian monks who arrived in Alaska in 1794, and since his death in 1837 he has been venerated by the Aleuts, among whom he preached the Gospel and among whom he died. He was officially canonised in the USA in 1970, and since then his cult has spread worldwide. The Athonite monk who composed this remarkably beautiful new service did precisely what his medieval counterparts would have done — he selected, as models, pre-existing hymnody of other saints whose lives and labours resembled those of St Herman — namely, a monastic vocation, a missionary zeal equal to that of the apostles, an ascetic struggler, a paradigm of humility and virtue, a worker of miracles. The composer then skilfully re-arranged and modified the melodies so that they would fit the new text which he himself had written.

The Church Music of Ancient Rus

Did St Cyril and St Methodius transmit not only Greek liturgical texts to the Slavs, but also the melodies that went with them? We can never be absolutely certain — Slavonic music books from ninth century simply do not exist — but in general the circumstantial evidence would seem to support such a conclusion. The new Christian culture of the early Slavs was largely an imitation of the social, political and religious structures in Byzantium. Architecture, iconography, liturgy, ceremonial, and imperial institutions had their prototypes in the Greek East. Surely, one could argue, the same would apply to music.

Secondly, if we look at the Slavonic hymn texts, we see immediately that they are almost always word for word translations of the Greek. And where the Greek tradition arranges the hymns in a particular order and in a particular mode,1 the Slavonic tradition normally follows suit. Furthermore, philologists like Roman Jakobson have brought to light remarkable examples that demonstrate how, at times, the Slavonic translators were indeed successful in reproducing, approximating, or imitating the syllabicism — occasionally even the accentuation — of the Greek originals. To preserve the Greek meter in the Slavonic translations creates ideal conditions for adapting the early Greek melodies virtually unchanged. Otherwise, what possible motivation could there have been for this slavish imitation?

Finally, there are the music manuscripts themselves. If we can demonstrate that the Slavs used the same notation as the Greeks, there can be little doubt that they used the same melodies. Nineteenth-century Russian music scholars were aware of the existence of marked parallels between Greek and Slavonic musical usages. In the first decade of this century, Anton Preobrazhenskii found evidence which he believed proved the Byzantine origin of Old Russian notation, and his findings have been confirmed by subsequent scholarship.

However, in spite of all of this impressive evidence, I am not entirely convinced. For it is one thing to contend that, by virtue of their arrangement and graphic resemblance, the neumes used by the first Orthodox Slavs were adopted from the early Byzantine notational systems, and quite another to deduce that those same Slavs sang Byzantine hymn tunes. I think the possibility exists that the ancient Russian chants may have constituted an independent musical response to the liturgical translations from Byzantium. Let me explain why I say this. In the earliest Russian chant books, the Kondakaria of the 12th and 13th centuries, there is preserved a unique repertory of kontakia. In textual and liturgical respects they are very close to the Greek. The modes agree and the system of neumes is definitely borrowed from the Byzantine host tradition. But the music of these Slavonic kontakia is totally unrelated to the earliest known Greek examples. Are these melodies independent Slavonic creations or are they recensions of lost Byzantine exemplars?

Even in repertories where the evidence of actual musical borrowing is much more apparent — such as in the Koinonika (Communion chants) — the medieval Russian musicians often adapt the Byzantine melodies to the translated texts in idiosyncratic ways. In Russian hands, the Byzantine neumes behave in ways quite unfamiliar from Byzantium. And one neume, the stopitsa, is an entirely original invention.

For example, it is normal for Greek composers to give musical importance to the accented syllables in a text. But often the Russian arranger, working with the same melody on a text with equivalent accents to the Greek, chooses an apparently irregular alternative. He gives musical attention intentionally it would seem to unaccented syllables. Such curiosities in these chants have raised important questions for the philologist interested in the fundamental problems of accentuation in Old Church Slavonic. For the musicologist it gives evidence of a new approach, a refinement, or a mannerism unique to the Russian musical genius.

The Performance of Byzantine Chant

Let us now turn to actual performance practice. When speaking of medieval Byzantine chant, one must be reminded first, that not everything that was sung was written down in notes and secondly, not everything that was written in notes was sung as written. To begin with, musical notation was simply a device, a graphic tool, invented to preserve a melody that was relatively new, relatively complex, and relatively difficult to sing from memory. Familiar items were not recorded but left to communal memory and to oral tradition. Furthermore, sacred chants, whether from the Latin West or the Greek East, were never meant to be rigidly or mechanically duplicated at each performance. A chanter’s approach to the music could be compared with that of a jazz musician’s approach to a vocal or instrumental line. In both cases, improvisation was the hallmark of the style. In both cases the skill and experience of the performer affected the musical rendition. The inscribing of a chant melody in a manuscript was, in the first instance, one man’s application at one moment of a musical gloss on a traditional melody.

The Desert and the City

Byzantine liturgical music did not come about in a cultural vacuum. It has its origins in the desert and in the city: in the primitive psalmody of the early Egyptian and Palestinian desert communities that arose in the 4th to 6th centuries, and in urban centres with their cathedral liturgies full of music and ceremonial. It is this mixed musical tradition that we have inherited today — a mixture of the desert and the city. In both traditions — that of the desert and that of the city — the Old Testament Book of Psalms (the Psalter) first regulated the musical flow of the services. It was the manner in which this book was used that identified whether a service followed the monastic or the secular urban pattern.

In the desert monasteries psalms were sung by a soloist who intoned the verses slowly and in a loud voice. The monks were seated on the ground or on small stools because they were weakened by fasts and other austerities. They listened and meditated in their hearts on the words which they heard. The monks gave little thought to precisely which psalms were being used — they were little concerned, for example, with choosing texts that made specific reference to the time of the day; that is, psalms appropriate to the morning or ones appropriate to the evening. Since the primary purpose of the monastic services was meditation, the psalms were sung in a meditative way and in numerical order. The desert monastic office as a whole was marked by its lack of ceremony.

But in the secular cathedrals the psalms were not rendered in numerical order; rather, they consisted of appropriate psalms that were selected for their specific reference to the hour of the day or for their subject matter which suited the spirit of the occasion for the service. The urban services also included meaningful ceremonies such as the lighting of the lamps and the offering of incense. Moreover, a great deal of emphasis was placed on active congregational participation. The psalms were not sung by a soloist totally alone but in a responsorial or antiphonal manner in which congregational groups sang a refrain after the psalm verses. The idea was to have everyone involved in an effort of common celebration: there was no place here for individual contemplation.

II. Liturgical Music and Orthodox Spirituality

Is there a message for today in all of this? How applicable is the musical aesthetic of the medieval East to the current liturgical and ecclesiastical circumstances of the twenty-first century?

Whichever style we choose to adopt — monophonic or polyphonic — there are, I believe, three fundamental concepts in Orthodox spirituality that can be made to apply to our Church music:

  1. asceticism
  2. holiness
  3. apatheia, or ‘passionlessness’

1. Asceticism is the call for self-denial, self-dissatisfaction; and the constant yearning for improvement through hard work and energetic application. Throughout the year, but particularly during Great Lent, the Church impresses upon us the great blessings that are ours through increased prayer, prostrations, fasting, and charitable works. The Church singer has a sacred profession, and this sanctity requires a determination of character, a strong faith, great modesty, and a high sense of integrity. To be a Church singer in an Orthodox Church is to respond to a calling, to a vocation — it demands purity, sureness of faith and conviction. How hypocritical it is for singers, who transmit in melody the dogmas of the Church, to feel that they deserve congratulations and gratitude for performing before a captive audience: as if they were doing the congregation a favour. How much worse if those singers felt that they ought to be paid for the job of praising God with their God-given vocal chords — as if the Church were commissioning entertainers.

Here is where the ascetic task of self-denial is clearly applicable — we must convert the familiar image of the liturgical performer-musician to an image of someone who promotes the Christian attribute of self-denial — of putting oneself in the background, of thanking God for the privilege of allowing one to sing in the services. Singers should follow instructions from the director and from the priest in all humility, putting aside any notions of self-gratification, and the imposition of one’s likes and dislikes.

Liturgical art is, at the same time, both discipline and freedom; and to accept this duality is to be an Orthodox churchman in the truest sense of the word. To be an ascetic is to be in the world but not of it — to tame the world in oneself — to be a participant in the Truth.

The best music teachers are those that teach by example — the example of one’s life, the example of one’s attitude in Church. This also involves a participation in the sacramental life of the Church. The teacher must not be shy to point out mistakes, even to reveal another’s insufficiencies. The student must be willing to listen with humility and with a sense of eagerness to learn and to improve.

The ways of the world ought to be alien to the Church artist. We must never sell ourselves; we must not make Church music a career; we must have no ambition. We must not advertise or exhibit ourselves. Such is the asceticism of the Church; and this is what it means to be true to the holiness of our vocation.

2. And what is meant by the holiness of our vocation? “Holiness” is my second basic concept. I firmly believe that today this means freeing Church music from the heavy burden of centuries of decadence and secularism. Holiness means otherness, sacredness, apartness — not the common or the ordinary but the unique, the particular, the uncontaminated.

Musical art has become separated from the teaching of the Church — separated from the liturgy itself – because the understanding of what it means for the world to become transfigured has been lost. The musical transparency revealing the inner light of the Kingdom has been replaced by heavy, human and shimmering sound — musical gloss full of cheap sentimentality.

We must also be warned against a frequent tendency in contemporary Church music for it to be mechanical and imitation for the sake of imitation. Blind copying is incapable of giving life to the hymn or of calling the faithful to prayer.

3. The third concept, that of apatheia or passionlessness, can be applied to two aspects of music: (a) the composition itself; (b) the performance.

Needless to say, musical settings ought not to be seen as ends in themselves. They ought not to call attention to themselves or have special effects. The aim of melody is to add a special dimension to the text — to make it more audible and available for reflection. In this way, music becomes one with the text — a selfless ally of it. In this way, too, music shares in the passionlessness that in Orthodox spirituality is seen as an avenue to purity of mind and body.

This ideal of passionlessness is perhaps most reflected in the best Orthodox iconography — where the saint is painted in colours and shapes that transcend everything that is fleshy, sensuous, and cosmetic.

The most appropriate Christian music is monophonic plainchant. It does not have to be Byzantine chant, or Old Believer, or Old Slavonic or Coptic chant; and ideally it should not be polyphonic. Why do I say this?

Personally, I do not believe that there is anything intrinsically “unorthodox” about polyphonic music. And, of course, there are many kinds of polyphony, just as there are many types of monophony. Singing an ison against a melody is already a polyphonic musical gesture.

My preference for monophony — that is, single-line or horizontal melody — is more practical than it is aesthetic. It’s usually easy to sing, easy to learn, and easy to remember. The chanters can readily match their note to the celebrant’s without worrying whether it’s too high for the sopranos or too low for the basses. This style of music is ideal for congregational singing and one never has to worry about going flat. And the liturgy ceases to be interrupted by the annoying arpeggio humming of the conductor before the beginning of every troparion.

Polyphonic music, on the other hand, is by its very nature more complex, denser, and more difficult. In order for it to be done well — both musically and liturgically — one has to concentrate. The music demands a lot of attention — attention that could better be given elsewhere during a divine service. This is not horizontal but vertical music — it depends on the interplay of consonance and dissonance — that is, musical tension and release — to arouse our senses and to draw our attention to the excellence (or its lack) of the composition.

Nothing in our Church should belong to the realm of fashion — neither the vestments of the clergy, nor the icons, nor the music. Fashion implies style, and style is governed by the principle of built-in obsolescence. What is nice today will not always be nice tomorrow. The Church should never foster mediocrity.

The Church, because She is the Holy Reality of God, must be above current or past trends. In 1913, Alexander Kastalsky wrote: “I should like to have music that could be heard nowhere except in a Church, and which would be as distinct from secular music as Church vestments are from the dress of the laity.”

This does not mean that Church art is fossilised. Music, together with iconography, do and must change since they serve a vital function in a living culture. Sacred music and painting of the 6th century differed markedly from that of the 8th century — and those of the 10th, 12th and 14th century were each different one from the other. Our Divine Liturgy is not that which was arranged by St Basil or St John Chrysostom.

Change and adaptation in Church art are the inevitable and perfectly reasonable by-products of an organic and growing faith. But they must always operate within parameters that do not obscure or invalidate the intention of that art. That is why our icons cannot reasonably be painted in modern abstract designs; nor can the colours, posture or features be the objects of individual fancy. Similarly, sacred music has certain formal principles. It, too, cannot be written in modern, jazz, or folk styles. Neither can it deliberately be the product of personal inspiration.

Monophonic music serves the liturgy perfectly well. Unlike polyphony — the music of fashion in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods — simple chant melodies can be tailored to follow the text, to amplify its meaning and rhetoric, to give it an appropriate musical dress.

But even monophonic music can be made inappropriate if the singers engage in vocal display with dominating voices, unnecessary exaggerations, poor phrasing and unclear diction. As transmitters of the sacred texts, the vocalists must edify the chant by singing well, singing together, and by praying the hymn.

Some working criteria

1. Liturgical chant must maintain a symbiotic relationship between the music and the text. The text is to be enhanced by the musical element but the music should not have an independent existence from the words. All of the elements of melody: contour, phrasing, rhythm, form, are to reflect the poetic patterns inherent in the text.

2. Where polyphony is the local tradition, the musical texture should be homophonic and homorhythmic, not contrapuntal. That is, everyone should be singing the same words and syllables at the same time in order to preserve intelligibility and avoid confusion. This also preserves the structural symbiosis between word and tone.

Where monophony is the local tradition, the musical texture should avoid extended melismas, extreme ranges, and the intrusion of meaningless syllables that distort the sense of the hymn.

3. With regard to expression, true liturgical singing should be self-effacing and objective. The sacred words must speak for themselves without the intervention of subjective, personal interpretation. Dramatic renditions and theatricality are out of place in the liturgy.

4. Within the limitations articulated above, sacred music nevertheless can use artistic means to differentiate between festal and ferial liturgical occasions, to colour words and to draw contrasts and parallels between cognitive meanings in the texts. In this way music can carry or highlight the theological meaning of the hymns.


1. ‘Mode’ is the term given to each of the eight musical patterns that provided the framework for medieval Church music. They are also commonly known today as ‘tones’.

NOTE: This is a slightly modified version of a lecture originally given at the St Sergius Orthodox Institute, Paris, in 1997. Published on Monachos.net, February 2003.


Orthodox Byzantine Music

by Dimitri Conomos, Ph.D.

Strictly speaking, Byzantine music is the medieval sacred chant of Christian Churches following the Orthodox rite. This tradition, encompassing the Greek-speaking world, developed in Byzantium from the establishment of its capital, Constantinople, in 330 until its fall in 1453. It is undeniably of composite origin, drawing on the artistic and technical productions of the classical age, on Jewish music, and inspired by the monophonic vocal music that evolved in the early Christian cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Epheus.

Early Christian Period

Byzantine chant manuscripts date from the ninth century, while lectionaries of biblical readings in Ekphonetic Notation (a primitive graphic system designed to indicate the manner of reciting lessons from Scripture) begin about a century earlier and continue in use until the twelfth or thirteenth century. Our knowledge of the older period is derived from Church service books Typika, patristic writings and medieval histories. Scattered examples of hymn texts from the early centuries of Greek Christianity still exist. Some of these employ the metrical schemes of classical Greek poetry; but the change of pronunciation had rendered those meters largely meaningless, and, except when classical forms were imitated, Byzantine hymns of the following centuries are prose-poetry, unrhymed verses of irregular length and accentual patterns. The common term for a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas, is troparion (this may carry the further connotation of a hymn interpolated between psalm verses). A famous example, whose existence is attested as early as the fourth century, is the Vesper hymn, Phos Hilaron, “Gladsome Light”; another, O Monogenes Yios, “Only Begotten Son,” ascribed to Justinian I (527-565), figures in the introductory portion of the Divine Liturgy. Perhaps the earliest set of troparia of known authorship are those of the monk Auxentios (first half of the fifty century), attested in his biography but not preserved in any later Byzantine order of service.

Medieval Period

Two concepts must be understood if we are to appreciate fully the function of music in Byzantine worship. The first, which retained currency in Greek theological and mystical speculation until the dissolution of the empire, was the belief in the angelic transmission of sacred chant: the assumption that the early Church united men in the prayer of the angelic choirs. This notion is certainly older than the Apocalypse account (Revelations 4:8-11), for the musical function of angels as conceived in the Old Testament is brought out dearly by Isaiah (6:1-4) and Ezekiel (3:12). Most significant in the fact, outlined in Exodus 25, that the pattern for the earthly worship of Israel was derived from heaven. The allusion is perpetuated in the writings of the early Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Justin, Ignatius of Antioch Athenagoras of Athens and Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite. It receives acknowledgement later in the liturgical treatises of Nicolas Kavasilas and Symeon of Thessaloniki (Patrologia Graeca, CL, 368-492 and CLV, 536-699, respectively).

The effect that this concept had on church music was threefold: first, it bred a highly conservative attitude to musical composition; secondly, it stabilized the melodic tradition of certain hymns; and thirdly, it continued, for a time, the anonymity of the composer. For if a chant is of heavenly origin, then the acknowledgement received by man in transmitting it to posterity ought to be minimal. This is especially true when he deals with hymns which were known to have been first sung by angelic choirs – such as the Amen, Alleluia, Trisagion, Sanctus and Doxology. Consequently, until Palaeologan times, was inconceivable for a composer to place his name beside a notated text in the manuscripts.

Ideas of originality and free invention similar to those seen in later music probably never existed in early Byzantine times. The very notion of using traditional formulas (or melody-types) as a compositional technique shows an archaic concept in liturgical chant, and is quite the opposite of free, original creation. It seems evident that the chants of the Byzantine repertory found in musical manuscripts from the tenth century to the time of the Fourth Crusade (1204-1261), represent the final and only surviving stage of an evolution, the beginnings of which go back at least to the sixth century and possibly even to the chant of the Synagogue. What exact changes took place in the music during the formative stage is difficult to say; but certain chants in use even today exhibit characteristics whichmay throw light on the subject. These include recitation formulas, melody-types, and standard phrases that are clearly evident in the folk music and other traditional music of various cultures of the East, including the music of the Jews.

The second, less permanent, concept was that of koinonia or “communion.” This was less permanent because, after the fourth century, when it was analyzed and integrated into a theological system, the bond and “oneness” that united the clergy and the faithful in liturgical worship was less potent. It is, however, one of the key ideas for understanding a number of realities for which we now have different names. With regard to musical performance, thisconcept of koinonia may be applied to the primitive use of the word choros. It referred, not to a separate group within the congregation entrusted with musical responsibilities, but to the congregation as a whole. St. Ignatius wrote to the Church in Ephesus in the following way:

“You must every man of you join in a choir so that bring harmonious and in concord and taking the keynote of God in unison, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, so that He may hear you and through your good deeds recognize that you are parts of His Son.”

A marked feature of liturgical ceremony was the active part taken by the people in its performance, particularly in the recitation or chanting of hymns, responses and psalms. The terms choros, koinonia and ekklesia were used synonymously in the early Byzantine Church. In Psalms 149 and 150, the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word machol (dance) by the Greek word choros. As a result, the early Church borrowed this word from classical antiquity as a designation for the congregation, at worship and in song in heaven and on earth both. Before long, however, a clericalizing tendency soon began to manifest itself in linguistic usage, particularly after the Council of Laodicea, whose fifteenth Canon permitted only the canonical psaltai, “chanters,” to sing at the services. The word choros came to refer to the special priestly function in the liturgy – just as, architecturally speaking, the choir became a reserved area near the sanctuary – and choros eventually became the equivalent of the word kleros.

The development of large scale hymnographic forms begins in the fifth century with the rise of the kontakion, a long and elaborate metrical sermon, reputedly of Syriac origin, which finds its acme in the work of St. Romanos the Melodos (sixth century). This dramatic homily, which usually paraphrases a Biblical narrative, comprises some 20 to 30 stanzas and was sung during the Morning Office (Orthros) in a simple and direct syllabic style (one note per syllable). The earliest musical versions, however, are “melismatic” (that is, many notes per syllable of text), and belong to the time of the ninth century and later when kontakia were reduced to the ptooimion (introductory verse) and first oikos (stanza). In the second half of the seventh century, the kontakion was supplanted by a new type of hymn, the kanon, initiated by St. Andrew of Crete (ca. 660-ca. 740) and developed by Saints John of Damascus and Kosmas of Jerusalem (both eighth century). Essentially, the kanon is an hymnodic complex comprised of nine odes which were originally attached to the nine Biblical canticles and to which they were related by means of corresponding poetic allusion or textual quotation.

The nine canticles are:

  • (1)-(2) The two songs of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43);
  • (3)-(7) The prayers of Hannah, Habbakuk, Isaiah, Jonah and the Three Children (1 Kings [1 Samuel] 2:1-10; Habbakuk 3:1-19; Isaiah 26:9-20; Jonah 2:3-10; Apoc. Daniel 3:26-56);
  • (8) The song of the Three Children (Apoc. Daniel 3:57-88);
  • (9) The Magnificat and the Benedictus (Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79).

Each ode consists of an initial troparion, the heirmos, followed by three, four or more troparia which are the exact metrical reproductions of the heirmos, thereby allowing the same music to fit all troparia equally well.

The nine heirmoi, however, are metrically dissimilar; consequently, an entire kanon comprises nine independent melodies (eight, when the second ode is omitted, which are united musically by the same mode and textually by references to the general theme of the liturgical occasion, and sometimes by an acrostic. Heirmoi in syllabic style are gathered in the Heirmologion, a bulky volume which first appeared in the middle of the tenth century and contains over a thousand model troparia arranged into an oktoechos (the eight-mode musical system).

Another kind of hymn, important both for its number and for the variety of its liturgical use, is the sticheron. Festal stichera, accompanying both the fixed psalms at the beginning and end of Vespers and the psalmody of the Lauds (the Ainoi) in the Morning Office, exist for all special days of the year, the Sundays and weekdays of Lent, and for the recurrent cycle of eight weeks in the order of the modes beginning with Easter. Their melodies preserved in the Sticherarion, are considerably more elaborate and varied than in the tradition of the Heirmologion.

Later Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Periods

With the end of creative poetical composition, Byzantine chant entered its final period, devoted largely to the production of more elaborate musical settings of the traditional texts: either embellishments of the earlier simpler melodies, or original music in highly ornamental style. This was the work of the so-called Maistores, “masters,” of whom the most celebrated was St. John Koukouzeles (active c.1300), compared in Byzantine writings to St. John of Damascus himself, as an innovator in the development of chant. The multiplication of new settings and elaborations of the old continued in the centuries following the fall of Constantinople, until by the end of the eighteenth century the original musical repertory of the medieval musical manuscripts had been quite replaced by later compositions, and even the basic model system had undergone profound modification.

Chrysanthos of Madytos (ca. 1770-46), Gregory the Protopsaltes, and Chourmouzios the Archivist were responsible for a much needed reform of the notation of Greek ecclesiastical music. Essentially, this work consisted of a simplification of the Byzantine musical symbols which, by the early 19th century, had become so complex and technical that only highly skilled chanters were able to interpret them correctly. Despite its numerous shortcomings the work of the three reformers is a landmark in the history of Greek Church music, since it introduced the system of neo-Byzantine music upon which are based the present-day chants of the Greek Orthodox Church.



Carnegie Hall Concert, Dec 16

[pl_tabs][pl_tabtitlesection type=”tabs”][pl_tabtitle active=”yes” number=”1″]About the Concert[/pl_tabtitle][pl_tabtitle number=”2″]Location[/pl_tabtitle][pl_tabtitle number=”3″]Video about the Church[/pl_tabtitle][pl_tabtitle number=”4″]Buy Tickets[/pl_tabtitle][pl_tabtitle number=”5″]Donate[/pl_tabtitle][/pl_tabtitlesection]
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About our Concert…

On behalf of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, I would like to invite you to attend this year’s Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall entitled, Glory in the Highest. It was the holy angels who appeared to the shepherds on Christmas day and proclaimed, Glory to God in the highest for the remarkable event of our Savior’s birth. On December 16 at 6PM, the Archdiocesan Byzantine and Youth Choirs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese will join their voices to those of the angels in singing praises to God and offering Him thanksgiving for His Son’s birth.

But this concert will serve an additional purpose. We hope to combine the spirit and excitement of this Christmas concert with the important effort of our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to reopen the ancient church of the Holy Archangels in Siyi, Turkey. We hope that the doxology offered by the shepherds on Christmas day may again be heard as it was for centuries by the faithful in this ancient church of the Holy Archangels. This is why all the proceeds from this concert will be offered to assist in this noble cause.

The church of the Holy Archangels, or as it is known in Greek, the Taxiarches, was built in the 8th century and is located in the town of Siyi, Turkey in the Metropolis of Proussa. The church of the Taxiarches is an important church of the Metropolis of Proussa, given that it is among the oldest ones still standing in this eparchy. During the exchange of populations at the turn of the 20th century the Turkish government confiscated this church and rendered it closed to the faithful. Now, almost 100 years later, our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch is diligently working, with the help of the local metropolitan, to reopen it as a house of worship. By attending this concert you will help make this sacred endeavor a reality.

The concert program will feature a selection of ecclesiastical hymns from the Christmas period performed by the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir in Greek. The Archdiocesan Youth Choir will perform a number of traditional Christmas songs and Greek Kalanda to joyfully usher in the holiday season. This is the second time the Archdiocesan choirs are sharing a stage at Carnegie Hall. This evening is sure to be a most memorable one and I hope that you will keep our choirs and the ancient church of the Holy Archangels close to your hearts.

Conveying to you His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios’ warmest prayers and blessings for a joyous Christmas, I remain

With deepest gratitude,

Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos

Director, Archdiocesan School of Byzantine Music

[pl_tabcontent number=”2″]About Zankel Hall

57th Street and Seventh Avenue, New York City

Zankel Hall, the newest of Carnegie Hall’s three auditoriums, occupies a space that had previously suffered something of an identity crisis. Underneath the main hall, architect Tuthill had designed a 1,200 seat recital hall where German pianist Franz Rummel performed on April 1, 1891—a little more than a month before the official opening night in the main hall on May 5.

In 1896, this mid-size venue was configured as the 800-seat Carnegie Lyceum; for the next six decades, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts used it for occasional musical performances, but mostly for dramatic productions that included young stars-to-be Anne Bancroft, Grace Kelly, Jason Robards, and Spencer Tracy.

Carnegie Lyceum became a movie house in 1952 and served as an off-Broadway theater until 1961, when it was converted yet again to a cinema. In 1997, the process to reclaim the space for its original purpose as a performance venue began, and two years later ground was broken on Zankel Hall, a versatile 599-seat auditorium, with alternate stage configurations of different capacities. Zankel Hall opened in 2003 and is named in honor of the generosity of the late Carnegie Hall Vice Chairman Arthur Zankel and his wife, Judy. Today, Carnegie Hall presents the finest world, jazz, and folk musicians at Zankel Hall in addition to innovative new concert music and outstanding chamber ensembles.[/pl_tabcontent]
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Enter the password: white-fox

The church of the Holy Archangels, or as it is known in Greek, the Taxiarches, was built in the 8th century and is located in the town of Siyi, Turkey in the ancient Metropolis of Proussa. The church of the Taxiarches is an important church of the Metropolis of Proussa, given that it is among the oldest ones still standing in this eparchy. During the exchange of populations at the turn of the 20th century, this church was confiscated by the Turkish government. Now, almost 100 years later, our beloved Ecumenical Patriarchate is in a position to purchase this ancient church and reopen it as a house of worship for all of her faithful. By attending the concert, or by making a contribution, you are helping this sacred endeavor become a reality.

[pl_tabcontent number=”4″]You are all cordially invited to join us on December 16 for an unforgettable evening of glorious Christmas music for a most noble cause.

Purchase tickets through Carnegie Hall: [pl_button type=”success” link=”http://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2012/12/16/0600/PM/Archdiocesan-Youth-Choir-Archdiocesan-Byzantine-Choir/?fb_action_ids=529896697039947&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582″ target=”blank”]Buy your ticket[/pl_button]

If you are unable to attend, but are still interested in making a donation, kindly make your checks payable to:

In the Memo write: ASBM: Taxiarches Church

Send checks to:
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
C/O Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos
8 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075

For further information, call 212-570-3590.[/pl_tabcontent]
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