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.