Website update

The liturgy articles have been transferred from the old website to this one;  I am fixing internal links are such, since these articles will be a crucial part of the next MCI Online course, Introduction to Liturgy.

Next will be the Recordings page and the paraliturgical hymn entries. I am trying out several different audio player plugins, and I will probably end up with two: one the whole width of the column (for podcasts and other long records, as well as playlists), and a tiny one for putting in where there is current a “listen” button. I actually have a lot more audio (tutorials and such) than conveniently fits on one big page; the challenge is organizing it.  You suggestions are welcome!

The weekly podcast is in full swing, and I plan to add a Question Box link so that anyone can post a question to the blog.

Check out the Singing the Services entry (which can also be found under Topics) in the main navigation)!

Originally, I had a pull-down menu on the top navigation bar, to make it easier to find things. I removed it because it did not work at all well on mobile devices;  I am thinking of putting it back. An alternative would be to change the Home list on the top navigation bar to a full Site Map (since you can always go Home by clicking on the title box at the top of any website  page).

Please post here is you have any other problems with the websites, or ideas to make it more useful!

Chant Notes: Sunday Afternoon Vespers in the Great Fast

This podcast explains how to lead the singing of Sunday afternoon Vespers in the Great Fast, using the following Metropolitan Cantor Institute books:

Chant Notes: Cheesefare Sunday

As I explained in the last episode of Chant Notes, Cheesefare Sunday takes its name from the fact that it is the last day before the Great Fast, or Lent. According to the traditional rules of fasting, no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products are eaten from the first day of the Fast until the feast of the Resurrection. So during Cheesefare Week, we finish off all the eggs and dairy products in the house.

Continue reading Chant Notes: Cheesefare Sunday

Chant Notes: February 1-6, 2016

This week is Cheesefare Week, the final week before the beginning of the Great Fast. The name “cheese-fare”, or “cheese-eating”, refers to the traditional fasting practice of abstaining from meat this week, while using up the cheese, eggs, and other foods that would not be eaten again till Pascha.

Continue reading Chant Notes: February 1-6, 2016

Chant Notes: January 25-31, 2016

Welcome to Chant Notes, a weekly podcast from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. This week we will talk about church services and music for the seven days beginning Monday, January 25, 2016.

Continue reading Chant Notes: January 25-31, 2016

First two courses available!

The first two MCI online courses are now available; both can be taken for free:

I hope to have the next course, Introduction to Liturgy, available by the end of the month.

If you look at the Courses page, you will see that most courses are greyed out, meaning they are not yet available. See the roadmap for an idea of what will be in them.

If you have questions, please post them here!

Why a new Cantor Education Program?

In the course of this month, you will be seeing several new articles on this website describing our  new cantor formation program. But first I’d like to take some time to explain why we are creating a new program in the first place.

In brief: we need new cantors (Metropolitan William estimates we could use fifty new cantors right now). We need cantors who are comfortable leading all our services. And we need cantors who don’t just sing the music in front of them, but who show the faithful how to turn it into real prayer.

Traditional Cantor Education

In Europe up until World War II, cantors typically served as village schoolteachers, and studied formally in cantor/teacher schools for several years before receiving certification. Many of these trained cantors came to the United States, and taught cantors to succeed them. Unfortunately, in the years that followed, our liturgical life became narrower, and volunteer cantors (some of whom could not read music) succeeded those with formal training. The singing of services like Vespers and Matins became a lost art.

On the other hand, attempts to start cantor schools in the New World were not always effective; the schools did not have a set curriculum, and were out of reach of many potential cantors due to the distances involved. Even when they had the support of our bishops, cantors might “finish the program” without a firm grasp of the liturgical, musical, and leadership tools required to lead the singing at all the services of the church year.

Enter the Cantor Institute

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute was founded in Pittsburgh in 1997. It taught quite a few new cantors, and equipped more experienced cantors for new challenges and greater responsibilities. But it still faced problems of geography (how many students can get to Pittsburgh every month?) and pedagogy (what do you when the material is too advanced for some students, and too easy for others?).

In 2013, we decided to write a formal set of cantor certification standards, describing the knowledge and skills a cantor must have in order to lead church singing throughout the year. We met with several groups of long-time cantors and made some additions based on their input – but there was general agreement that what was on the list was essential.  A cantor who cannot lead the funeral services, for example, or the hymns of Holy Week, needs to learn them. Put another way: the standards should be such that the material could be taught in 3-4 years, and any cantor who met the standards could practically be parachuted into a parish and land on his or her feet, needing only to learn the particular traditions of that parish.

A Metropolitan Cantor Institute

In January 2014, I was appointed director of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute and asked to orient it toward serving all four eparchies of the Byzantine Catholic Church (Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma, and Phoenix).  It had become clear that much of what we were teaching in Pittsburgh could be taught online; in fact, for several years the MCI sessions were designed with that in mind.  But for the rest, how do you teach someone to sing? and how to do certify that a student can not only sing our chant, but lead the services?

The answer is to use both technology and our collective experience wisely. We will be holding vocal classes throughout all four eparchies, making these classes available in video format, and encouraging cantors to obtain some formal voice training in their own area. (We will provide voice teachers with information about exactly what it is that cantors need to do!) Internet-based tools will allow students to learn pitch matching and accurate singing of intervals. In many cases, we will match up students with more experienced cantors and clergy in their area, who can help them and assist the MCI with assessing their progress. When this is not possible, students will upload recordings of their own singing and receive feedback from MCI instructors.

But no cantor will be certified without an in-person assessment by at least two experienced cantors at an actual parish service, at which the cantor to be be certified shows that he or she knows the liturgy, can sing the chant, and can properly lead the sung prayer of their parish.

Plans for 2016

During the coming year, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute will be focusing on three things:

  • Developing new cantors, and encouraging inactive cantors to become active in their parishes
  • Providing opportunities to allow every cantor to become better at leading our church singing, and singing it well
  • Encouraging the lay faithful to “sing with understanding” by providing introductions to the basics of singing, liturgy, and chant

Here’s what we plan to do.

Online Courses

Starting in January, we will make three online courses available for free to anyone in the Byzantine Catholic Church: Becoming a Cantor, Becoming a Reader, and Plainchant of the Byzantine Catholic Church (a history course). Individuals who desire to take additional courses for cantors and readers will be able to enroll in the full MCI program for $85 per year; this will include access to the complete cantor education program, including cantor certification.

The program will be aimed at allowing new cantors to become certified in three years of self-paced online classes, along with either in-person training in Pittsburgh, or local mentoring arrangements with an experienced cantor or priest. Current cantors can use the program to expand and deepen their knowledge of our services and chant.

Podcast

On Sunday, January 10, we will be starting a weekly podcast entitled Chant Notes, discussing the liturgical services of the coming week and their music. We would also like to feature recordings by our cantors and choirs as part of this podcast, so please contact me at mci@archpitt.org if interested in contributing!

Public presentations

On Thursday, February 11, from 7-9 PM, the MCI will give a presentation on Music of the Great Fast at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, covering both Lenten services and traditional Lenten hymns.

On Thursday, March 3, from 7-9 PM, there will be a presentation at the cathedral on Music of Holy Week and Annunciation – particularly timely for 2016, when the feast of the Annunciation will fall on Great and Holy Friday.

Both presentations are free and open to the public. Materials will be provided, and both sessions will be streamed live on the Internet.

Other opportunities for cantors

We are planning a cantor’s picnic for June, and possibly a general meeting of our cantors later this summer. Over the past few years, there have been fewer opportunities for cantors to get together, and I would like to reverse this trend.

I am also hoping to meet with the cantors in each deanery to discuss our cantor education program, and begin cooperative work with the Eparchies of Passaic, Parma, and Phoenix.

Publications

In addition to a Daily Matins book, we hope to assemble prayer materials for cantors, a liturgical Psalter, and books for the Hours (normal, Lenten, and Paschal). My eventual goal is an English edition of the Sbornik, with liturgical texts for the entire calendar year in one volume, suitable for use both an home and in church. Potential projects include an online lectionary, with Scripture readings for each day, and smartphone apps for the daily readings and typikon.

Meantime, the Liturgical Commission and Council of Hierarchs continue to work on materials for the holy mysteries and the funeral services, and the MCI will provide classes on these when they become available.

Questions? Comments?  Please post them here!