The Chanted Choral Liturgy

(A guest post by Deacon Timothy Woods)

The purpose of chant in our churches is to invite the people to be actively involved in the prayer. Our chants are simple and repetitious, easy to catch on to. Even when I am tired and I don’t really feel like singing, even if I tell myself NOT to sing, halfway through the liturgy I find myself humming along and then finally singing out loudly from my heart. That is the reason for our chant, to allow the people to worship God from their hearts!

But we also have a beautiful choral tradition. Composers like Bortniansky, Kedroff, and Archangelsky are household names in the Eastern Slavic churches, and there are many others who have graced our liturgies and moved our people. Modern composers are also making fine contributions which should be used. With a well rehearsed choir under the direction of a capable leader, these Holy God’s, Cherubic Hymns and special communion pieces not only move hearts, but attract new parishioners.

It was once described to me that chant is where “the rubber meets the road,” but that the people’s prayer takes wing with choral music. The most effective worship uses both, but in a way which does not cause one to detract from the other.
When I have incorporated choral music into a chant setting, my philosophy has always been thus: The first thing sung MUST be chant, and it MUST be something the people know. If we begin with a choral Liturgy of Peace, we are immediately sending a signal to the people that “we are glad you are here, but we don’t really expect you to sing”. This is precisely the wrong message to give to any parish. Choral music should be saved for the larger liturgical pieces, and the short responses, again, must be chant so as to keep the people engaged in the flow of
the liturgical current.

I offer here an example of a Sunday Divine Liturgy with Cantors and Choir. Note that the choir rarely sings two pieces in a row. In this way the choir is present, but it is never allowed to “take over the liturgy”. The main responsibility of the singing still falls to the cantors and the people. The choir simply allows the worship to “soar” from time to time. Also note that the “Choral Settings” could be harmonized chant, or a through-composed work. This is only a suggested pattern. Many other patterns are possible, as long as the chanting holds a slight sway.

Deacon Timothy Woods

Music before Liturgy:

  • One choral piece
  • Appropriate congregational hymns, sung in unison by cantors or choir (very important there is no harmony yet, unless the people add it themselves)

At the Divine Liturgy

  • Litany of Peace: Chant, again, in unison!
  • First and Second Antiphon: Chant (spontaneous harmonizations could begin)
  • Hymn of Incarnation: Choral setting (all choral settings could be either harmonized chant or composed choral music)
  • Third Antiphon: Chant
  • Entrance Hymn: Choral setting
  • Troparion/Kontakion: Chant
  • Holy God: Choral
  • Prokeimenon: Chant
  • Alleluia: Choral or Chanted
  • Litany of Supplication: Chant
  • Cherubic hymn: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Symbol of Faith: Harmonized chant (led or assisted by choir)
  • Anaphora responses: Chant
  • Hymn of Victory: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • It is truly proper: Choral or chanted (if a 9th ode irmos is called, I would use a choral arrangement or harmonized chant, so it will not seem less festive than the parish’s ordinary hymn at this point)
  • Responses and preparation for Communion: Chant
  • Lord’s Prayer: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Communion hymn of the day: Choral
  • Blessed is he who comes: Chant
  • Communion: Choral music while the cantors receive, then verses of the communion psalm through a chanted or choral refrain
  • We have seen the true light: Chant
  • May our mouth be filled: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Blessed be the name of the Lord: Choral
  • Dismissal: Chant
  • Many Years: Chant or Choral
  • After Liturgy: One choral piece, then congregational hymns as people leave.

Liturgical hymns before the Divine Liturgy – your comments requested!

Recently, as part of the Introduction to the Divine Liturgy course for cantors, I added an article on what to sing before the Divine Liturgy to the MCI website. In particular, I have some real reservations about the practicality of using some of the liturgical hymns in the Divine Liturgies book for this purpose.

Rather than put those observations (which are purely my own!) into the article, I have decided to post them here for comment and discussion. What do you think? (Here is the article itself, without my personal thoughts.)

Continue reading Liturgical hymns before the Divine Liturgy – your comments requested!

Christ is risen!

Brother Augustine of the Byzantine Rite Franciscan house in Sybertsville, PA provided the Metropolitan Cantor Institute with a book of harmonized music for the Paschal season. Here is a 3-part setting of the alternate “Christ is risen” found on page 171 of our Divine Liturgies book:

The entire book can be found here. Please try singing them and let us know what you think!

2017 Summer Church Music Program

This year, the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh is inaugurating a regular summer church music program for cantors, choir directors, and section leaders. For 2017, the program will consist of a three-day master class and workshop to be held on July 12-14 at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.  Continue reading 2017 Summer Church Music Program

Cantor’s Meeting in Sybertsville, PA

All cantors of the Eparchy of Passaic are invited to a gathering of cantors to be held on Saturday, February 18, from 11 AM to 1 PM at  Holy Dormition Byzantine Franciscan Friary, Route 92, Sybertsville PA.

Agenda items:

  • Review the music for the Liturgy of St. Basil
  • Review the music for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
  • Share updates from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute
  • Discuss future  activities

Coffee and Danish will be available from 10:30 on, and a light lenten lunch will be available for those who can stay past 1 PM.  If you would like to stay for lunch, please contact Phil Yevics at philyevics@gmail.com or (570)239-0611 so that adequate preparations can be made.

Please bring the names of deceased cantors from your parish, since this is the first All Souls’ Saturday for this year.

Online Musicianship for Cantors!

In preparation for our online classes, which begin in February, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute has acquired a site license for Theta Music Trainer, a website with computer- and smartphone-based games that teach pitch matching, recognition and singing of scales and intervals, and other important skills.

Complete access to this website is available to all cantors in the Byzantine Catholic Church, as well as students in the MCI Online program. For more information, see the Theta Music Trainer page on the MCI website.

“To Jordan’s Water” – understanding the issues with a new hymnal

A paraliturgical hymn that was sung recently in many of our parishes, “To Jordan’s Water”, illustrates several of the issues we are facing with a new hymnal for the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Continue reading “To Jordan’s Water” – understanding the issues with a new hymnal

First steps toward a hymnal

At the request of the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute is sponsoring initial work on a hymal – that is, a collection of paraliturgical hymns for singing before and after the Divine Liturgy, and on other church occasions as well.

On Saturday, October 2, 2016, we held a workshop on paraliturgical hymns at which we sang through a variety of our hymns, and discussed what might go into the proposed hymnal.  A complete recording of this workshop is now available, along with the handout that was distributed.

Please take a listen, and if you have thoughts on the subject, or things you’d like to suggest go into the new collection, please leave a comment here!