Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Orthodoxy has a rich tradition of choral music. Our services are chanted and sung rather than spoken, with the human voice as the only instrument. Each national church has its own musical traditions, but underlying all of them are the eight modes or "tones" of Byzantine Chant. The traditional tones can be quite a shock to someone who has only encountered Orthodox music in its lush, more westernized Russian incarnation. It is emphatically not western sounding, with a modal scale that strikes the uninitiated as sounding positively middle-eastern. Nonetheless, once you get your ears adjusted, there is a delicate and somber beauty that is hard to reproduce in Western notation. I have made a few attempts at the traditional tones over the years. The result was disheartening, rather like listening to the Lawrence Welk Orchestra working its way through the B. B. King songbook. Nonetheless, I still have hopes. The Greek Archdiocese has a resource for the do-it-yourself student at its On-Line Chapel; a whole page of links to introduce the novice to Byzantine Chant.

1 comment:

Rick Hanson said...

"Nonetheless, once you get your ears adjusted, there is a delicate and somber beauty that is hard to reproduce in Western notation."

I would say that it is impossible to reproduce in Western notation. For me, the most sublime and moving examples of Byzantine chant are in modes based upon scales which are not even-tempered.

Keep up your endeavors though! You have a good voice, for I have heard it myself fill the parking lot of a suburban Korean Bar-B-Q joint. :-)

By the way, your wonderful and funny self-effacing comments on your attempts at "the tones", reminded me of another funny comment you made to me over a year ago. You said, "Listening to Byzantine chant in English is like listening to rock and roll sung in German." True dat!