Good advice can come from all sorts of directions. Here is some guidance on how to sing in church, from John Wesley (1703-1791). Please add your own thoughts in a comment below!
Last Saturday, February 22, 2020, from 2-4 PM at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, PA, Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski gave a publication presentation and workshop on our church singing, covering:
- The role of the cantor in our church singing
- The melodies that make up our plain chant, and where they came from
- Our paraliturgical singing (spiritual songs) for use outside the liturgy
- Our church’s history of singing improvised (“folk”) harmonies as a normal element of our services, and how these can improve our worship
As part of our church music documentation project – AND to fill out information on the current cantors pages for Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma, and Phoenix – I would love to have photographs of the following from each our our parishes:
- of the enterior of the church – something recognizable
- the iconostasis or sanctuary
- of your current cantor(s), with names
- of your cantor stand or loft (whichever places the cantors sing from)
- your retired or deceased cantors, with names, and dates of service if possible
Photos can be in any format; you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me by email (same address) for a physical mailing address and I will scan them. Thanks!!
In 1947, Father Julius Grigassy of the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Exarchate of Pittsburgh – the predecessor to the current Archeparchy – published a little booklet of “devotions” for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. This booklet was republished by the Archeparchy in 1968.
For Christmas Eve, it gives the liturgical services (not private devotions, in spite of the title) of Great Compline, Litija, and Matins. The Great Compline portion of the booklet is highly abbreviated, and in fact is almost exactly what was published in English by Father William Levkulic as the Christ is Born! booklet in 1969. (The Grigassy booklet is in Slavonic, with a parallel English translation; at its original publication in 1947, the English would not have been used in church.)
But today the second part of the booklet is of particular interest: the “devotions for New Year” consist of a Moleben of Thanksgiving, returning thanks to God for all that has taken place in the year just ending, and a Panachida, praying for all those who have died. You can find the Moleben of Thanksviging here on the MCI website.
It seems to me that we would all benefit from such a service as the year ends, and I hope to promote its celebration next December.
At the back of the booklet is a short collection of spiritual songs for Christmas:
- Silent Night / Jasna Zorja
- Nebo i Zem’la
- Božij Syn Dnes’
- Divnaja Novina
- Nova Radost’ Stala
- Vselennaja Veselisja
- Radost Sja Nam Javl’ajet
- Nyňi Adam Vozveselisja
- Anhel Pastyrjam ‘Zv’istil
- Čas Radosti, Veselosti
- Dar Ňyňi Prebohatyj
The songs in bold face were included in Christ is Born! and the 1978 Divine Liturgies book and have remained parish favorites, while the others have largely fallen out of use. (You can find Nyňi Adam Vozveselisja and Vselennaja Veselisja, along with new, singable English translations, in the proposed hymnal.)
And for New Years:
Both of these are still sung in our parishes – and both have additional verses here which will be included in the proposed hymnal. (We have English translations of the new verses for Vs’i T’a chory, and are working on them for Blahodarim Boha – particularly worthwhile because this is one of our only hymns to God the Father.)
May God bless your New Year!
The next batch of work for the Hymnal Project will feature spiritual songs in honor of Mary, Theotokos and Ever-Virgin. Many of these songs are well-known, and some of them have particularly thorny issues involving the text, the music, or both.
In this installment, we will look at the hymns on the project page whose titles (first lines) begin with the letters A-M.
- All the faithful come before you
- Beautiful holy Queen
- Christians, join in our procession
- Sing with joy and pray together (Come to Uniont0wn)
- From our hearts we sinners
- Lourdes Hymn
- Mary, look upon us
- Mary, mother to us all
- Mother of all people
Click on each link for the discussion page, and leave any comments below!
The first half of the initial work to create a new hymnal for our church is pretty much complete:
- Guidelines for a New Hymnal
- Hymnal roundup: Christmas and Theophany
- Songs for the Great Fast
- Songs for Palm Sunday
- Songs of the Passion of Christ
- Music for Pascha, Part 1
- Music for Pascha, Part 2
- Music for Pascha, Part 3
- Two hymns for the Ascension of the Lord
- Hymns to the Holy Trinity
- Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ
- Hymns to the Holy Spirit
This month, we will look at hymns to the Mother of God, then conclude with some work on hymns for feast days throughout the year. The results at that point will be collected, and presented to the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission for review.
But there are a few items left over from this first batch of music that could still use some work – and I’m looking for volunteers!
From the Christmas music:
- In the town of Bethlehem (Viflejemi novina) deserves a new English translation, as well as a close look at the rhythm of the final phrase in English. The Slavonic original ends each verse with praise of Mary; the English translation we have changes this (sometimes contrary to sense) to “O Savior”, and at the same time changes the rhythm of the Slavonic. Meanwhile, there are quite a few additional verses in Slavonic that might be “mined” to make a longer hymn in English.
- Jesus came from heaven (our translation of Spas nas narodilsja) has real theological problems, and at the same time departs markedly from the Slavonic original in many ways (the original Slavonic does not have the theological problems that the English does).
For both of these, it would help if someone fluent in Rusyn and Church Slavonic could craft a good, LITERAL translation of the full hymn as given in the Slavonic sources, and either that person or someone(s) else could set to work on properly Englishing it for singing.
We have two Rusyn versions of Silent Night in circulation: Ticha noc is a literal translation of the German original, but Jasna zorja is more widely sung. Which one should be include? Or both, or neither?
Several hymns for Great and Holy Week have many more verses in the original than we have in English, and often then tell the whole story of the Passion, where our English settings (translating only the first couple of verses) omit much of it.
- Radujsja zilo
- Christe Carju spravedlivyj
- Jehda na smert’ hotovilsja
- O Bože moj milostivyj
- Uže dekret podpisujet
Christe Carju spravedlivyj has another issue as well: a very popular Lenten hymn, it has several different musical versions in circulation, and we should at least collect them and decide which one(s) to use, and how that affects the English version as well.
Two hymns for Pascha have the same problem (our current English setting only tells the START of the story of the Resurrection, while the Slavonic has more verses):
and these hymns to the Holy Trinity have additional verses, some with solid theological content:
We need someone – or several someones – willing to work with collected verses (which I can provide) and prepare literal English translations, which could then be used to write fuller English versions (and we perhaps could use volunteers there as well).
More verses not only complete the story, but they enhance singing in other ways: once you have a text in front of you and are singing to a melody, singing MORE verses to the same melody is simply less work, requires less coordination by the cantor, and reduces the need to sing 3-4 one- and two- verse hymns over and over in particular season. Two longer Paschal hymns might be alternated throughout the Paschal season as singing “before the Liturgy.”
Any takers? Please post below!
Our paraliturgical hymn tradition has less material for feasts of the Lord than for the Mother of God and the saints – but that doesn’t mean we should neglect what we do have for these feasts!
Here are two recent additions to the repertoire.
Cantors Ken Dilks and Joe Ferenchik worked up an English translation and setting of Hospod’ vosnesesja, one of two hymns for the Ascension in the Užhorod Pisennik (1913):
For comparison, here is the Slavonic:
Notice that the Slavonic is in strict 2/4 time, while the English setting is reorganized in a chant style, by entire phrases. The longer phrases have the advantage of not splitting words at bar lines, but they can cause the underlying rhythm of the music to be lost if you don’t know the Slavonic.
The bar lines also raise the question of rests or pauses at the end of the first and third phrase, which we would normally insert in singing chant. The pauses work after the first phrase, but if inserted after the third phrase, the words “angel” and “ascension” are broken in the middle.
Here is a different hymn for the Ascension, from the collection of John Kahanick (1914-1998), long-time cantor and choir director across the Metropolia. It has been restored (with added verses) by cantor Joe Durko.
If anyone recognizes the melody as coming from some other source, please let me know! But it is entirely possible that this hymn (like some others, notably for the feast of Saint Michael) is an original composition in English.
Please post your thoughts below!
(You can see all the hymns considered so far at the Hymnal Project page.)
This is the third and final set of hymns “to God” which are not connected with a particular feast – or at least, not always connected to a particular feast.
In this installment, we are looking at hymns to the Holy Spirit, of which three are well known in our parishes:
- Heavenly King, Comforter – Carju Nebesnyj, Ut’išitel’u
- O Holy Spirit, mighty defender – Carju nebesnyj, Bože mohučij
- The Holy Spirit shall come upon you – Duch Svjatyj snidet na t’a
They illustrate a range of issues we face in finalizing the new hymnal.
Heavenly King, Comforter
This is a acually a liturgical piece: a sticheron or Vespers hymn from the feast of Pentecost, which was eventually sung before the Divine Liturgy on Pentecost Monday before moving to its present postion in many parishes, on Pentecost Sunday itself. (See page 203 of our Divine Liturgies book, where it is titled Special Hymn.)
It is sung to the Tone 6 samohlasen melody, and is very often used as a general invocation of the Holy Spirit, before meals, at the start of meetings and so on.
So why include it in the hymnal if it is already in the Divine Liturgies book?
- To make it clear that it can be sung on any day, not just Pentecost, and not just at the Divine Liturgy.
- To provide the setting in Slavonic, in which it is sometimes also sung.
- Because for us, it is used not just liturgically (when the services call for it), but at other times as well.
- Because we don’t have many separate hymns to the Holy Spirit!
As we saw with Hymns to Our Lord Jesus Christ, there IS a small problem with titling it. Do we label it HOLY SPIRIT? Or PENTECOST? (That is, by the subject of the hymn or when it is used.) Overall I think it would be easier to label it as a Hymn to the Holy Spirit, and put a note in the liturgical year section of the hymnal noting that it is particular appropriate on Pentecost.
O Holy Spirit, mighty defender
This IS a paraliturgical hymn; sung to a regular metered melody, it used rhyme and pacing to provide for very strong congregational participation.
In Slavonic, the first two words are exactly that same as for the liturgical hymn looked at above, which is why in both English and Slavonic, I am titling many hymns by the entire first line rather than just the first few words.
Like some of the other hymns “to God”, it ended up appearing in collections of hymns for singing during Holy Communion. Hymns like these, directed to other Persons of the Trinity, or hymns to Christ which have nothing to do with Holy Communion, would be much better sung before or after the Divine Liturgy, rather than as “communion hymns.”
The Holy Spirit shall come upon you
This very short piece is a THIRD kind of hymn in honor of the Holy Spirit: it consists of the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:35), which are also used in the Divine Liturgy (said by the deacon to the celebrant) as an invocation or calling-down of the Holy Spirit.
In our church, this was long used as a hymn “before the sermon”, asking God’s grace to rest upon the preacher. Because it is a scriptural text, it IS something allowed by our bishops’ guidelines for the singing of paraliturgical hymns during services – but consult your pastor first!
The melody is a simple one that should also sound familar: it is also used for the A settings of the hymn after Holy Communion (“May our mouth be filled with your praise”) and the invocation of the divine Name (“Blessed be the name of the Lord”).
I am still looking for a few more GOOD hymns to the Holy Spirit. Please post your thoughts below!
Within the sacred liturgy (Vespers, Matins, the Divine Liturgies, and so on), our prayers are usually directed to God the Father – through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit – while most of our liturgical hymns are directed to Jesus Christ, our Savior and the visible “face” of the Trinity.
Our paraliturgical hymns, on the other hand, surround the liturgy and meet other needs. Many are directed to the Mother of God, and to particular saints, or are sung within the community to bolster one another’s faith. Of course, many hymns ARE directed to God through the liturgical year, but most of those fall in a particular liturgical season, and so are treated separately in the Hymnal Project.
As we saw in the last post, Hymns to the Holy Trinity, there remain a few frequently sung hymns to the Trinity and its Persons which are not tied to a liturgical season. Today, we will look at the hymns directed to our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. These fall into three basic categories. Continue reading “Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ”
I’m trying something a little different with this installment of the Hymnal Project: instead of having a discussion article on the MCI website for each hymn, I’m going to create one only for spiritual songs which I know have issues (edit to be considered, or the question of whether to included it in the hymnal or not). If you have comments, please post them here!
Hymns to the Holy Trinity
So far, we have looked at hymns grouped according to their place in the liturgical year: hymns for Christmas, the Great Fast, and so on. We will also be looking at hymns to the Mother of God, and for saints and feasts throughout the rest of the year.
Next, I would like to look at hymns directed to God, starting with those we sing to the Holy Trinity, or simply to “God” (which in our tradition can mean God the Father, the source and fountainhead of divinity):
- Hosts of angels on high – Vs’i T’a chory
- So great is God – Kol’ slaven naš
- We thank you, God Most High – Blahodarim Boha
Follow the links for more information about each hymn!
The first is our primary spiritual song which praises the Trinity, and so it is most suitably sung at Pentecost; but it could also be sung before the Divine Liturgy on virtually any occasion. The Slavonic original has several verses which name each of the groups praising the Trinity (cherubim and seraphim, archangels and angels, apostles and martyrs), and from these verses I had added three to the English text.
The second is known well outside our particular church, and has a long and somewhat checkered past, being used by others primarily on secular occasions. But for US, it remains a “churchly” hymn. I have added the (English translation) of the second verse of “O Jesus Lord, we ask you to bless us” here, since it fits much better here. This hymn has no particular “place” in the liturgical year, but could be sung before any Divine Liturgy that does not have a particular theme.
The third hymn is explicitly one of thanksgiving; the words “You have enlightened us” make it particular suitable for singing as a thanksgiving AFTER the Divine Liturgy, where we thank God for our enlightenment in the Eucharist, but it could also be sung on other occasions as well, where these same words become a general thankgiving for revelation, for holy Baptism, and so on. Unlike the other two hymns in this set, this one’s origin is somewhat mysterious (Edit: FOUND – see comment below!), appearing in our recent collections of paraliturgical hymns without a clear source.
Titles, titles, titles
If you look at the PDFs of these hymns, you will see that each one has a “theme” or “title” in the upper right, suggesting when it might be most appropriate to sing. These were relatively easy for feasts like Christmas and Theophany.
Here, “Holy Trinity” is fairly obvious for Hosts of angels on high, but what do we do for So great is God? Some of our books have simply labelled it as “Hymn to God”; I am included to title it “God the Father,” not meanly to absolutely exclude thought of the other Persons of the Trinity, but because we have so few non-liturgical hymns directed to this Person.
The case is a little different with “We thank you, God Most High.” This hymn could be labelled “Holy Trinity” or “God the Father”, but it could also be labelled “Thanksgiving” so that cantors might select it for that purpose.
Please post your thoughts and comments below!