With this two-fold offering of traditional Byzantine Music, we seek to give the listener two distinct yet complementary experiences: first, that of being in a traditional Orthodox church somewhere in the Middle East, wherein one choir sings in Greek and the other in Arabic; and second: that of being in a traditional Orthodox church in the United States with highly trained and proficient chanters singing traditional Byzantine Music in straightforward, clear, properly translated English. The first experience is not uncommon today; the second is less common, but we have hope that it will soon become the liturgical standard—hand-in-hand with the continued development of Byzantine Music in Greek and Arabic—for Orthodox Christian parishes in America. Presented in liturgical sequence, each disc jumps from one moment to another, giving a taste of the entire experience of praying the Great (Royal) Hours on Christmas Eve morning, Vesperal Liturgy on Christmas Eve, and Orthros (Matins) and Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning.
Back in the United States…
I have written elsewhere concerning my general approach to the composition of Byzantine Music
in English. For this project, I was blessed to have the opportunity to set the excellent translations of my late spiritual father, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) (+ 2016). In rendering his translations, I focused on three areas: first, setting the medium-textured Idiomela (through-composed hymns) in the most traditional way possible; second: rendering the syllabic-textured Troparia in traditional forms that lend themselves to memorization and congregational singing; and third: metering Fr. Ephrem’s translations to fit the melodies of the Greek Eirmoi for the Odes of the Canon. Each of these tasks is comparably challenging, vastly different, and equally important.
In composing the Idiomela, I may choose to follow the general contour of the Greek prototypes, but more often than not I simply allow the text to direct me where to go. Sometimes this yields a result much like the Greek, other times the result is very different. At its heart, however, are the structure and content of the text itself. I departed from the middle texture of Petros’s Doxastarion for the double-choir Doxastikon of the Ninth Hour, opting for a style closer to the slow or “old” sticheraric genre. This showcases a more melismatic style in English, for which I sought to emulate the works of Stephanos Lambadarios, Konstandinos Protopsaltis, and the newly released Doxastikarion of the Athonite monastery of Vatopaidi.
The syllabic Apolytikion and Troparia of the Prophecies in general require a process similar to that of the Idiomela: compose for the text. However, I also make an attempt to create melodies that will linger in the listener’s mind and lend themselves to memorization.
The Canon melodies, being modeled after the Eirmos of each Ode, require a metered translation in order to be sung correctly; otherwise, the Ode loses its strophic melodic pattern, and the whole structure falls away. Having been given free reinby the late Fr. Ephrem to adapt his translations as I see fit, I dedicated significant time and energy to the metering process. Rather than attempting to find the most polysyllabic synonyms possible for each translated word, I rather erred on the side of elaboration, clarification, and paraphrase—while staying within the spirit and content of each hymn text and within the bounds of Orthodox theology—and worked toward a text that is clear and theologically sound, sounds like proper English, and fits the given melody.
In undertaking these three main compositional challenges, I strove to create a series of hymns that not only would complement their Greek originals and Arabic counterparts, but that would stand also on their own merits.
Sun of Justice Concert Series
Cappella’s Associate Music Director John Michael Boyer directs exhilarating Byzantine chants for Christmastide in Greek, Arabic, and English. Featuring Lebanon-born guest soloist, Rev’d Deacon John (Rassem) El Massih, and the release of a new CD of the program.
With performances in Seattle, Portland, Salem, and Sacramento.