Have Mercy on Me, O My God

This week, I’m beginning a new series on non-liturgical songs for use before and after church services, as part of the MCI’s contribution toward a new hymnal for the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Singing during the Great Fast

Our first “official” set of spiritual songs for Lent is probably the set in the back of the 1978 Levkulic Divine Liturgy book:

  • The sentence is passed (Uže dekret)
  • Christ our King, who reigns with justice (Christe Carju spravedlivyj)
  • In Gethsemene’s Darkness (Jehda na smert’ hotovilsja)
  • Beneath your cross I stand (Pod krest’ tvoj staju)
  • Come now, all you faithful (Prijd’ite voschvalim)
  • Now do I go to the Cross (Idu nyni ko krestu)
  • Having suffered the passion (Preterp’ivyj)

A later book from Father Levkulic and cantor Jerry Jumba, Hymns of the Great Fast (1984), added music for the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil as well as:

  • At the most holy cross (Krestu tvojemu)
  • Earth and heaven mourn (Nebo, zemlja sotvorinjnja)
  • O my Jesus, suffering in pain (O Isuse poranennj) – two versions
  • Rejoice today (Radujsja zilo) – for Palm or Flowery Sunday
  • Have mercy on me, O my God
  • Do not forsake us (Ne opuskaj nas)
  • O my people, my people (L’udi moji)
  • O my God, you are so merciful (O Bože, moj milostivyj)
  • O soul so sinful (Hljan’ duše hrišna)
  • So boundless is her sorrow (Stala Matia zarmuščenna)
  • The grieving mother Stradaljna Mati)
  • We venerate, O Christ (Poklanjajusja moj Christe)
  • O Son of David – for Palm or Flowery Sunday

I hope to look at each of these over the next three weeks. But what these have in common (for the most part) are that they are not so much Lenten hymns, as hymns of the Passion of Christ.

In our tradition, broadly speaking, the texts and prayers of the liturgical services tell us what we are about. And the forty days of the Great Fast are mostly about repentance and conversion, NOT on the sufferings of Christ.  Those are much more the focus of Holy Week itself, which comes after the forty days of Lent.

But there is one hymn in Hymns for Great Lent that definitely “works” for the entire period of Lent: a versified setting of Psalm 50, King David’s psalm of repentance.

 

 

  • The original was in 2/4 meter, but only fit into that meter with difficult. Instead, I re-barred it in a chant style, still keeping a fairly duple meter.
  • I changed the opening note from G to  E, following an oral tradition in a number of parishes. This has two advantages: it gives a gives the piece a better minor-key sonority, and it allows each verse to begin and end on the same note.
  • In three places an extra note had to be added to put an accent in the right place. Rather  than complicate the music at the top, I marked those places with an asterisk (*) and added just the problematical music at the bottom.

Whoever leads this is still responsible for SINGING the accents correctly, but I think it works, and I plan to add it to the proposed draft hymnal.

There is one spot that doesn’t sing as well as I would like.  In the last verse, “a heart contrite with humbleness” requires work to fit it to the first ten notes of the last phrase. It CAN be done, but it’s awkward. Any suggestions for a text that works better?

Please append your thoughts below!  Do you have any Lenten hymns we should talk about that are not listed above?

Why TWO classes on the Divine Liturgy?

In the 2-year MCI Online program, there are two different classes on the Divine Liturgy:

  • Introduction to the Divine Liturgy
  • The Divine Liturgy

Some students coming the program wonder if this is a mistake.  It’s not, and here’s why.

When we taught in-person classes for the Metropolitan Cantor Institute, an entire class sang together. Sure, we would often go from one person to another, trying out individual melodies, but there was really no way to make sure that every student knew each part of the Divine Liturgy.

The online course is different. For example, in the Introduction to Church Singing class, every student submits online recordings of themselves singing on a single pitch (to check rhythm and expression), then to a psalm tone, then singing simple responses (“Amen”, “To you, O Lord”) and litany resp0nses (“Lord, have mercy.”) The course is also structured to test a student’s ability to match pitch with the priest of deacon.

The Introduction to the Divine Liturgy class teaches about the Divine Liturgy, and also teaches how to sing and lead the material on pages 11-103 of the Divine Liturgy book – even the Saint Basil melodies! Students practice the music reading skills they learned in the previous course, and how to sing and lead plain chant.

But to do this for ALL the music on these pages would be overwhelming for newer cantors (and even for more experienced ones, if they are still learning to read music!). So for this course, students choose ONE melody for each hymn, such as the Trisagion (“Holy God”) and the Cherubic Hymn (“Let us who mystically”), to record and use to demonstrate their learning. By the end of this course, every student can sing the entire Divine Liturgy, as long as they can choose the melodies to be used when there is a choice.

Later in the program, the Introduction to the Eight Tones class provides a lot of experience in reading musical notation, and in learning and singing melodies. Students practice and demonstrate the troparia, kontakia, prokeimena and Alleluia in all eight tones.

Then, once they are into the “intermediate” classes and take The Divine Liturgy, they will be better prepared to understand the liturgical organization of the service, AND have the necessary skills to sing well from musical notation, and to sing more complicated music.  In this course, they will learn and demonstrate ALL the different melodies we use in the Divine Liturgy, as found on pages 11-103 of the Divine Liturgy book.

By covering the Divine Liturgy, our most important service, in two separate classes, we allow students to grow into and master the cantor’s role, and make sure that every student can sing the Divine Liturgy prayerfully, musically, and well.

 

Congratulations, Fall 2017 MCI Students!

The following students have successfully completed MCI Online courses in the autumn of 2017.

Introduction to Liturgy
Robert Cihak
Jeremy Dunham
Matthew Minerd
Andrea  Riley
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Ron Somich
Diana Terleck
Russell Ward

Introduction to the Typikon
Sherill Franklin
Joe Herman
Michelle Rubush
Amy Seyfried
Mark Tamisiea
Susan Tate

Introduction to Church Singing
Robert Bartz
Matthew Minerd
Andrea  Riley
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Ron Somich
Diana Terleck

Introduction to the Divine Liturgy
Mark Tamisiea
Susan Tate

Introduction to the Eight Tones
Lucia Clinch-Reimer
Sherill Franklin
Susan Kopko
Matthew Minerd
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Angela Sedun
Amy Seyfried

Mastering the Eight T0nes
Susan Kopko
Matthew Minerd
Andrea Riley
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Amy Seyfried

The Office of Vespers
Susan Kopko
Matthew Minerd
Andrea Riley
Amy Seyfried

In all, TWELVE students have earned the MCI Reader badge by completing Introduction to Liturgy, Introduction to Church Singing, and Reading in Church.

THREE students are the first to earn the Apprentice Cantor Badge by completing the entire Basic Cantor course (the reader course, plus classes on the Divine Liturgy, Eight Tones, and Typikon):

  • Susan Kopko, St. Ann, Harrisburg, PA
  • Angela Sedun, St. Ann, Harrisburg, PA
  • Amy Seyfried, St. Philip, Sacramento, CA

Congratulations to all!  Signups for Spring 2018 classes are now open.

The Online Menaion project

Astute users of the MCI website may have noticed a new entry in the left-hand navigation bar: Menaion.

The Menaion, of course, is the monthly book (twelve in all) with propers for divine services on each day of a particular month.  Such books are available in Greek and Church Slavonic;  in “King James” English; and in a modern English edition that follows Greek / Antiochean usage.  But until now, we have not had a complete set of these books for our church, using our translations and following Ruthenian Slav usage.

Continue reading “The Online Menaion project”

New mailing list for cantors

For some 12 years now, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute has used a Yahoo-based mailing list to distribute monthly music mailings and send out announcements.  Unfortunately, this service has been increasingly unreliable, and also lacks quite a few useful features of more modern mailing list software.

So I have created a new mailing list, cantors@groups.io, which will provide BOTH news/announcements and an open (moderated) forum discussion for cantors.

  • Current mcimusicfiles and MCI announcements will go out on this list, along with cantor education news from all four eparchies.
  • You can use the mailing list to ask questions, seek assistance, share music, and raise topics for discussion.
  • Eventually we will be adding the ability to upload and share files, and contribute to a wiki specifically for Byzantine Catholic cantors and church singers.

To join the mail list,  go to:  https://groups.io/g/cantors  and subscribe to the new group using your preferred email address.

If you wish to receive ONLY news and announcements, you can change your subscription options to “Special Notices Only.”  You will still be able to view all discussion  topics by pointing a Web browser to the group address, https://groups.io/g/cantors.

 

P.S. I am looking for a nice wide photograph to use as the banner for the cantors mailing list and the MCI blog.  If you have a suitable one – particularly a photo of a singing congregation – please let me know!

Singing and Church Renewal

(Originally published in the September 2017 issue of the Byzantine Catholic World.)

Our church’s tradition of singing – that we ALL participate in chanting entire liturgical services – is a precious spiritual inheritance, one that sets us apart within both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. It has the potential to endow our worship with great beauty and stateliness, but it can also have practical benefits for our parishes. In this series of articles, I’d like to talk about these benefits, and present a challenge to each parish, and each Byzantine Catholic, to help foster this tradition over the coming year.

Our plain chant, developed for Church Slavonic from its origins in Greek music and adapted to English, has a vital property when led by a trained cantor: inevitability.  Its melodies can be learned by heart and applied to a wide variety of hymns such as troparia and kontakia, in such a way that every phrase leads naturally into the next, and each hymn is matched to the one that follows.  “The overall effect,” said musicologist Ivan Garder, who travelled in Eastern Europe in the 1920’s, “is one of extraordinary power.”

Yet many of our parishes no longer  experience this power today, and the reasons are not hard to find. As a whole, we are no longer a culture that sings, at work or at play; instead of making music, we listen to other people make it. Music education in schools is less thorough than it once was, and parishes are fragmented. Liturgical services like Vespers, molebens and the Paraklis have fallen out of use, and while the vast majority of our parishes still sing entire Divine Liturgies, we often do so in a lackluster fashion, using only a small number of the wide range of melodies we once knew by heart.

At this year’s Summer Music School in Pittsburgh, cantors from around the country had a chance to discuss the state of our church singing and prospects for renewal. There was general agreement that there ARE things we can do to recapture and even surpass the kind of congregational singing our parishes have been known for in the past.

– We need to acknowledge that EVERYONE can sing, and good singing can be taught, learned, and practiced.

– Cantors need to be encouraged, AND held to a high standard, since their talents and attitude make a huge difference.

– Singing in harmony, once done by ear in most of our parishes, is a skill that can taught, and harmonized plain chant should become once more a regular part of our liturgical experience.

– School children and young adults, in particular, should have more opportunities to learn and enjoy singing in church.

Most importantly, cantors and faithful need to learn to listen to one another. We sometimes forget that listening is an essential part of living in community, and is just as essential if we want to sing our praises to God with beauty, grace, and joy.

Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski is the director of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute.

MCI Courses for 2018

With the end of the first full year of MCI Online and the beginning of our second year of comprehensive cantor education, we are putting in place a complete set of cantor classes, available anywhere in the US:

  • The Basic Course (six classes, two of them free and open to anyone) teach the skills necessary to serve as an assistant cantor, and occasionally lead the singing at the Divine Liturgy.  The Basic Course is taught twice a year, beginning in January and July.
  • The Intermediate Course (four classes) covers the complete contents our Divine Liturgies and Sunday Vespers books, and shows cantors how to lead and sing these services throughout the year.  Like the Basic Course, the Intermediate course is taught twice a year, beginning in January and July.
  • The Advanced Course covers the Lenten and Paschal seasons, the holy mysteries and the funeral services, and Christmas/Theophany. The six classes in the Advanced Course will be taught every year, and can be taken in any order.

Through this program, anyone with the basic ability to sing  and a willingness to learn and practice can become a cantor in two years, or extend the courses out over a longer period. Experienced cantors can use the same courses to demonstrate what they know, brush up or learn new skills where necessary, and earn a cantor’s certificate from the MCI and their bishop.

Over the next few weeks, I will posting additional details here about how the program works.  For now, you can find out more at http://mci.archpitt.org/classes.

Congratulations, Summer 2017 MCI Students!

The following students have successfully completed MCI Online courses in the summer of 2017.

Introduction to the Divine Liturgy
Lucia Clinch-Reimer
Carol Donlin
Sherill Franklin
Joe Herman
Susan Kopko
Christine Mott
Sandy Polocz
Samuel Popiel
Michelle Rubush
Angela Sedun
Amy Seyfried

Reading in Church
Carol Donlin
Sherill Franklin
Joe Herman
Susan Kopko
Lawrence Lattuca
Christine Mott
Pamela Pettit
Rob Polocz
Sandy Polocz
Samuel Popiel
Michelle Rubush
Mike Schulz
Angela Sedun
Amy Seyfried
Mark Tamisiea

Introduction to the Typikon
Carol Donlin
Susan Kopko
Samuel Popiel
Angela Sedun

Congratulations to all!  Signups for Late Fall classes are now open.

Office hours, new menaion, and revision work

With the start of fall MCI Online classes and the beginning of a new liturgical year, we are making some additions to the Metropolitan Cantor Institute schedule.

“Office hours”

On Thursdays, I will be holding virtual office hours using Skype for MCI Online students, as well as cantors who have questions about upcoming music or MCI projects.

They will normally be held from 9-11 PM Eastern time; if for any reason they are cancelled, there will be a note on the MCI website, mci.archpitt.org.  To join, contact me on Skype (jeff.mierzejewski) approximately 15 minutes before you plan to join the office hours conference call.

Office hours will begin tomorrow, August 16, and continue through the end of September, at which point we will decide if they should be continued

New menaion project

I have received several requests to collect and collate all the music that has been set by the MCI for the liturgical year.  The entire Menaion (for Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy, etc) is entirely too large a project at the moment, but it should be quite possible to collect most of this material, a month at a time.

So beginning in September, I will be collecting the Vespers stichera, certain Matins hymns, and the hymns of the Divine Liturgy for each day, and putting them online.  Where texts are not available, users will be pointed  to appropriate commons.

Fine-tuning of existing music

As part of the work on a menaion, I will also be making some updates, corrections, and “tuning changes” to the MCI-provided music for these hymns, especially in places where they do not match the standard forms of the melodies set by the Inter-Eparchial Liturgical Commission.

As a result, the links in the Liturgical Calendar will be removed from September 1 onward, and re-established as music is reviewed.  Any music that is updated will have a revision date at the bottom of the first page.

If you are interested in reviewing this music as it is revised, drop me a note at mci@archpitt.org.

Congratulations, Spring 2017 MCI Students!

The following students have successfully completed MCI Online courses in the first half of 2018.

Introduction to Liturgy
Greg Beattie
Noel Bustillos
Lucia Clinch-Reimer
Carol Donlin
Sherill Franklin
Joe Herman
Susan Kopko
Lawrence Lattuca
Pamela Pettit
Anthony Polocz
Paul Polocz
Rob Polocz
Sandy Polocz
Samuel Popiel
Nicholas Rakovic
Robert Riley
Gina Romancheck
Michelle Rubush
Mike Shulz
Angela Sedun
Amy Seyfried
Susan Tate
Colin Ventrella
Elizabeth Zackowski

Introduction to Church Singing
Lucia Clinch-Reimer
Carol Donlin
Sherill Franklin
Joe Herman
Susan Kopko
Lawrence Lattuca
Pamela Pettit
Bella Polocz
Kathleen Polocz
Rob Polocz
Sandy Polocz
Samuel Popiel
Nicholas Rakovic
Michelle Rubush
Mike Shulz
Angela Sedun
Amy Seyfried
Susan Tate
Colin Ventrella
Elizabeth Zackowski

Congratulations to all!  Signups for Fall classes are now open.