Paschal Troparion, 1977

Christ is risen!

Dear Cantors – and anyone who would LIKE to be a cantor:

Please sit down and listening to the following recording of the singing of the Paschal troparion and kontakion, as sung in 1977 at St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church, Nesquehoning, PA. The celebrant is Fr. Basil Boysak; the cantor is John Katchen (whose wife Helen is singing alto; Helen died last week, on Pascha. Please pray for her repose in the place of the just.)

Why am I asking you to listen to this recording?  It is not because it is technically “perfect”; the cantor swoops and slides in a way that can be a bit disconcerting (even if traditional), and I always tell students of prostopinije to hit the notes cleanly.  It’s not because everyone is singing with choir-like precision, because they’re not.  Und so weiter, und so fort.

But the cantor’s voice is leading the congregation in prayer.  He is plenty loud enough to be heard, strong but not bellowing or hectoring the congregation. His vocal  resonance carries through the church, and allows everyone else to blend.

You can hear harmonies throughout – alto and tenor are present, several different singers cooperating and clearly listening to one another. The result, as Johann Gardner described the inter-war singing in Europe, is one of “extraordinary power.”

It is also worth noting that the cantor is singing a strong baritone, allowing the other parts to work well together. While some (not me) would argue that men make better cantors than women, the problem is rather than some cantors, men and women, simply sing too high to achieve the kind of effect we hear in this parish recording.

Finally, this shows why cantorisms like added notes in a melodic pattern come into being: the singing is slow enough that the added notes in the troparion keep the sound moving strongly without needing to swell and descrescendo (something that is hard to do when a church is packed). If anyone in the congrgegation sings without the added “grace notes”, it sound just fine also, so there is no need for anyone to learn these cantorisms: they’re just….  there.

May Christ bless your singing this Pascha.

Pittsburgh Church Singing Presentation, February 22, 2020

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

Continue reading “Pittsburgh Church Singing Presentation, February 22, 2020”

Send us your photos!

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, or contact me by email (same address) for a physical mailing address and I will scan them. Thanks!!

Devotions for New Year’s Eve

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!



Songs for the Mother of God, Part 1

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.

Click on each link for the discussion page, and leave any comments below!

The Hymnal Project – May 2019 update

The first half of the initial work to create a new hymnal for our church is pretty much complete:

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.

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!



Two hymns for the Ascension of the Lord

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.)

Hymns to the Holy Spirit

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:

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?

  1. To make it clear that it can be sung on any day, not just Pentecost, and not just at the Divine Liturgy.
  2. To provide the setting in Slavonic, in which it is sometimes also sung.
  3. Because for us, it is used not just liturgically (when the services call for it), but at other times as well.
  4. 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!

Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ

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”