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 18, 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 11, 2016.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in contributing!
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.
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!
Since 1999, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute has provided in-person cantor instruction in Pittsburgh (and at a few other locations), and distributed information and sheet music through its website, metropolitancantorinstitute.org.
Throughout 2015, we experimented with online cantor education, and took a hard look at our Church’s needs for music education. We prepared a set of standards for cantor certification, moved from five courses a year to twelve, and began posting audio and video from MCI sessions.
At the start of 2016, we will be announcing a comprehensive online program for cantor and reader education, using mentoring and regular feedback to help new cantors learn to lead our chant well, and allow current cantors to stay up to date and master their craft.
This new website will allow for much more feedback:
- the ability to post comments and make suggestions for any page on the website
- a regular weblog and (eventually) podcast
- integration with our online courses, so that anyone can read the course material, then go directly to Moodle to take quizzes that count toward cantor certification
Over the next few weeks, we will be copying content from the old website to the new one at mci.archpitt.org, doing some cleanup, and preparing new online courses for release. (The old website remains available at metropolitancantorinstitute.org.)
So – here’s YOUR chance to make suggestions. What would you like to have on the MCI website?