As of November 4, the MCI Online class Introduction to Church Singing can be taken for free by all cantors, clergy, and parishioners of Byzantine Catholic parishes in the United States. (Non-members can take the class for $75.) This class teaches the basics for singing in church – musical sound, fundamentals of singing and reading music, and how to lead basic responses used in all services. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn our plain chant!
The course itself has been somewhat reorganized, with the addition of a new teaching song for the degrees of the scale, a full set of voice training videos, and new material in the final week on chant harmonization.
You can request an ID at https://mci.archpitt.org/online at any time and sign up. (Offer is for members of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the US; for others, tuition is $75.) If there is someone in your parish who would like to learn to sing our plain chant, please encourage them to try this course out!
In the past, we had some e-mail problems with the Archeparchy’s web server provider. So if you previously requested an ID, try logging in. If you have questions or difficulties, write me directly at email@example.com.
One request: if you have an ID, or get one, please update your profile entry with your parish name in the form “<name”, <city> <state>” – for example, “St. Mary’s, Morgantown WV.” If you just enter “St. John the Baptist” is makes it quite hard for me to tell where you actually are!
In order to arrive at your destination, you first have to decide what it IS. With that in mind, I’d like to propose some general guidelines for the content of a new hymnal for the Byzantine Catholic Church in the US.
It should contain all the hymns routinely sung in our churches, in both English and (where appropriate) the original languages such as Rusyn and Hungarian, with suitable pronunciation helps, and literal translations (though these may be made available separately rather than in the hymnal itself).
Hymns in English should be singable, correctly accented, and accord with our theology and spirituality.
All text and music should be properly credited where the originator(s) can be identified.
The hymnal should be organized in such a way that it is easy to locate desired hymns.
When a hymn has several verses, there should be regular: that is, slurs should occur in particular places, and accents should not move from one verse to the next.
When the same melody is used for several different hymns, the same basic form of the melody should be used.
Notated music should be clear: in particular, any harmonization should be in a supplement rather than in the main hymnal.
For more than ten years, our Church has suffered from the lack of a collection of our spiritual songs(I prefer than term to paraliturgical hymns, although they mean the same thing – music for singing by the people, on spiritual themes, but not part of the Liturgy itself).
Last year, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute was asked by our Music Commission to begin work on such a collection. This project officially starts today, with spiritual songs for the Nativity season, along with hymns for Saint Nicholas and Theophany.
What you can do to help
Here is a list of songs for the Nativity season (from November 14 to January 6) that I am planning to work on over the next month. Each each song, these will be a thread on this blog covering its history, versions, music, and translations, along with any known issues we ought to resolve.
Please ADD (in a comment) anything you think should be on this list.
Please COME BACK periodically and add your thoughts on each hymn as the work progresses.
I hope to have a final version of this collection done one week before the feast of the Nativity.
Music for the Nativity Fast Come, O Jesus (moleben responsory)
The Ancient Prophecies
Saint Nicholas O Father Nicholas (Otce Nikolaje)
O who loves Nicholas the saintly (O kto kto)
Nativity Angels from heaven (So nebes anhel)
Eternal God, through gates of birth (Boh predvichnyj)
God the Lord eternal shows himself to us (Hospod, Boh predvichnyj)
God’s Son is B0rn (Boh sja razhdajet)
Heaven and earth now welcome their Redeemer (Nebo i zeml’a)
In the town of Bethlehem (V Viflejemi novina)
Jesus came from heaven (Spas nas narodilsjaa)
Joyful news to the whole world (Nova radost’ stala)
Joyful tidings come out day (Radost nam sja javl’ajet)
Rejoice, all nations, God has become man (Christos rodilsja)
Wondrous news to the whole world (Divnaja novina)
You three kings (Trije Cari)
The choirs of angels sing (Anhely sohlasno) To Jordan’s water
The Intereparchial Liturgical Commission exists to provide our bishops with recommendations for liturgical texts and translations. I was appointed to the commission by Metropolitan William in 2014, with the express mission to better coordinate the work of the commission with that of the MCI.
The IELC normally meets twice a year. In the past, the meetings rotated among the various eparchies, but because of the large collection of books and other materials needed, they now take place in a fixed location (at the chancery of the Eparchy of Phoenix) twice a year, usually in February and October.
The latest meeting was held on October 16-19, beginning on Tuesday morning and ending around noon on Friday.
Members of the commission: Fr. Gregory Lozinski (Passaic), Fr. Edward Higgins (Passaic), Fr. Robert Pipta (Phoenix), Fr. David Petras (consultant), myself, and Fr. Michael Hayduk (Parma). Not present: Fr. Elias Rafaj (Pittsburgh) and episcopal moderator Bishop Kurt Burnette.
This was Father Gregory’s first meeting, and he quickly fit into the routine that we’ve established for doing liturgical work. His background in sacred Scripture and his knowledge of Greek were especially helpful, since one of our other members who is skilled in liturgical Greek (Father Elias) was not able to attend.
Books, books, books
The commission’s work is usually conducted with materials in a variety of languages. For example, when going over a particular prayer or blessing, we may have open at one time:
A Greek text (sometimes two)
Several Slavonic versions (the official Roman text, together with editions from Lviv, Uzhorod, Presov, and Moscow)
As many as 5-6 English translations
Whenever possible, each language or variant is assigned to a particular commission member. In the process, we may also be consulting dictionaries, other liturgical books, and Bibles in multiple translations.
We go over each text or prayer in multiple languages, line by line, to ensure that the result conveys as much as possible the full sense of the original; is clear and doctrinally precise; flows well as English prose; and can be sung to the appropriate tone. The entire translation is read aloud one final time before being accepted and added to the minutes.
Final texts are submitted to the Council of Hierarchs (our bishops) for approval, and may also be provided to the Intereparchial Music Commission if musical settings are required. For some services, such as the Divine Liturgies and the Holy Mysteries, nothing will be used without the bishops’ explicit approval; in other cases, such as Vespers and the Hours, the IELC translations may be adopted by the Metropolitan Cantor Institute since they represent our “best available text.”
Focus for this meeting
During the last meeting, Father Andrew Deskevich (protosyncellus of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh) asked the commission to begin preparing a replacement Trebnyk or Euchologion – the book the priest uses for blessings throughout the liturgical year. The IELC has already completed the Great Blessing of Water (at Theophany), the kneeling prayers of Pentecost, and blessing prayers for icons. So at this meeting, we worked on:
the blessing of palms (Flowery Sunday)
the blessing of Paschal foods
the blessing of fruit (August 6)
the blessing of herbs and flowers (August 15)
the blessing of cars (July 20)
the blessing of any object
We also included the blessing of candles on February 2; although this blessing originally came from Roman Catholic sources, it is widely used in our church, and so it was included in the commission’s work at this meeting.
We also reviewed previous work on the priest’s funeral service, and made plans for the preparation of a new epistle book and a comprehensive collection of rites and prayers for the care of the sick (confession, Holy Communion, Anointing, and visitation of the sick by priests, deacons, or layfolk).
The book of Psalms is essential to the work of the IELC, since the psalms make up such a large part of our liturgical worship. Our base Psalter in English is the 1963 Grail translation, with the numbering of the psalms adjusted to match the Septuagint Greek.
The Grail translation is rather good English, and can be sung easily (an important feature in our church). But since this translation was made from the Hebrew, and our liturgical texts are in Greek and Slavonic, it is often the case that a particular psalm verse must be adjusted in translation to match its liturgical context – for example, when a troparion or other hymn quotes a psalm verse, then expands on it. In this case, the Grail version may have to be slightly retranslated to fit with the sense of the Greek and Slavonic.
To maintain consistency, the IELC keeps a copy of the complete Psalter with certain psalm verses “locked in” – that is, marked in bold face to show that they have been reviewed by the commission used in some final translation in our services. Footnotes keep track of where each psalm or psalm verse is used. In the not-too-distant future, we hope to publish the entire psalter for liturgical use, long with the Scriptural canticles. In the meantime, about 2/3 of the Psalter has been reviewed and locked in as the IELC completed work on Vespers, Matins, the Hours, and Compline.
I hope this helps make the work of the Intereparchial Liturgical Commission just a bit more understandable. Please comment here, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions!
For the first time, we were able to video-record each lesson by our voice teacher, Shawn Daly, and match them up to the printed materials we use for the online class.
Every day also included voice lessons for each student, and the celebration of Compline. On Tuesday evening, we started on the basics of leading chant instead of just singing it.
This was the hinge day in the week: the last day for the beginning students, and the first day for the advanced students, with shared classes between the two groups. We opened with the Divine Liturgy and breakfast, then covered:
Learning resources for cantors
Vocal articulation: making our singing clear and understandable
Discussion: Where do we sing in church?
Singing in harmony (using the Akathist hymn)
Dealing with problems in plain chant leadership
After Vespers, we had supper together at a local restaurant, and said good-bye to the beginning students.
Thursday and Friday
These two days were for current serving cantors. Classes included:
Singing the Hours and Compline
Voice lessons: Resonance (achieving a good vocal sound)
An update on the status of our liturgical and chant books
Singing Hierarchical Services
What to do when the bishop comes (with Fr. Valerian Michlick)
Prayer for Cantors
We also celebrated Great Vespers for the feast of St. Pantaleimon.
We had a total of seven students, and look forward to having more next year! Many thanks to Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh for accommodating the program; it was particularly good to be able to accommodate both male and female students in private rooms at the seminary throughout the week.
Questions, corrections, and suggestions are welcome! All MCI Online are enabled for guest access (you only have to register if you want to do the coursework and receive feedback and assistance with your singing):