Byzantine Music

What Our Hymns Can Teach Us by Vicki Pappas 1990
1. Hymns as Prayers- Sung instead of spoken, we use them to speak to God, to supplicate Him, to praise Him, to give thanks to Him, and to seek His mercy.

2. Hymns as Vehicles of Participation- In the Divine Services, the priest and the laity enter into a dialogue between themselves and God. Singing is not just for the priest and the psalti (chanter).

3. Hymns as Instruction- They teach us about spiritual and historical events. The apolytikia teach us aspects about the Resurrection. “Ti Ipermakho” teaches us about the saving power of Theotokos in Constantinople.

4. Hymns as Carriers of Orthodoxy- They not only expose us to the sounds and phrases of Orthodoxy, but they tie the sounds and phrases together. Music is an excellent tool for memory.

Byzantine Music Simplified by Rev. Fr. Nicholas M. Kastanas 1985
Byzantine Music is the liturgical music of our Holy Greek Orthodox Church. “Byzantine” refers to its association with the once great empire. It is, more precisely, Psaltic Art, Ecclesiastical Chant, Eastern Music or Psalmody.

Byz. Music is expressed/interpreted, almost exclusively, by the human voice which seeks to enter the Divine Darkness of the Mystery of Salvation, via theosis.

The main difference between Eastern Chant and Western Music is ephos, ethos and phronema. It is that sacred medium of expression whereby the person allows the weightiness of lyrics and melody to inspire, unite, interpret, crucify and resurrect.

Orthodox Ecclesiastical Chant is based on a system of eight Tones or Modes. This system comes to us as a result of the serious work of interpreting the “ancient notation” by the three great teachers of Byz. Music, namely Gregory the Protopsaltes, Hourmouzious the Hartophylax, and Metropolitan Hrysanthos of Prouses.

Orthodox Byzantine Music by Dimitri Conomos in A Companion to the Greek Orthodox Church 1984.
Origins- Since early on, one aspect of the Tradition upholds the angelic transmission of sacred chant (NT ref. Rev. 4:8-11; OT ref. Is. 6:1-4; Ez. 3:12; Ex. 25), ex.- Amen, Alleluia, Trisagion, Sanctus and Doxology. The effects of this belief were: a) highly conservative attitude in musical composition, b) it stabilized the melodic tradition of certain hymns, c) preserved the anonymity of the composer.

Byzantine Sacred Music by Constantine Cavarnos 1956
Byzantine Music is characterized by simplicity, purity, entirely vocal, and monophonic. Its aim is spiritual. It is a means of worship and veneration; a means of self-perfection, of eliciting and cultivating man’s higher thoughts and feelings; and opposing and eliminating his lower, undesirable ones. Ephesians 5:18-19 implies that the practice of singing, or listening to , psalms, hymns and spiritual songs uplifts us spiritually and makes us recipients of the Holy Spirit. Byzantine Church music must be executed in a certain manner by quialifed chanters. 

1) done in a disposition of attentiveness, inner wakefulness, with a fear of God, devoutness, contrition, and humility. 

2) Laziness is to be avoided as well as forced and unduly loud chanting (75th canon of Trullo). 

3) The proper tempo should be maintained, neither too fast or too slow. 

4) Clarity- every verse, phrase and word must be sung in such a way that the meaning of the text is not obscured or altered.

5) Wholly/exclusively vocal, no instruments. From the beginning, the Church forbade instrumental music as being secular and hedonic, evoking pleasure without spiritual value. St. Gregory the Theologian (325-391) writes: “Let us take up hymns instead of drums....and theatrical sounds.” St. John Chrysostom comments on Psalm 143, “That is, I shall give thanks to Thee. But then there were musical instruments through which they executed their sacred songs, but now, instead of instruments we employ the body.”

6) Monophonic- no polyphany, there is only one part, so that even when many chanters take part in the psalmody, they all chant together, “as though their voices were coming out of one mouth,” as St. John Chrysostom puts it. This adds to the simple, humble and serious character of Byz. Music. Polyphany introduces an element of undue complexity as well as of ostentation and lightness.

7) Base (ison) notes are sung by the ‘isocrats’. The ison not only enhances the melody, but also emphasizes the mode in which the psalm, hymn or ode is being sung, and adds solemness and power to the psalmody.

8) Antiphony- the employment of two choirs that psalmodize alternatively in order that each choir may rest and to keep the inner wakefulness of the congregation.

Requirements of a Chanter- From what has been said regarding the inner, spiritual state necessary for rendering Byzantine sacred music properly, it is clear that the chanter must be a person who is in fact, and not merely in name, a Christian. He must be a person characterized by inner wakefulness, fear of God, piety, humility, and understanding--an understanding not only of what he is chanting, but also of the important purpose which he has been appointed to serve. Needless to say, he must also have a superior voice and musical sensibility, and must have received an adequate training in chanting Byzantine music. p.22

Scripture References: Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Lk. 19:37-38; Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Acts 16:25; 

Troparion- a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzes (could connotate a hymn interpolated between psalm verses). Ex. O Gladsome Light, Only begotten Son, etc. They have special names to indicate function or subject (ex. stavrotheotokion- a troparion in which the Mother of God is pictured by the Cross, lamenting the cruel death of her Son.

Choros- (chorus, choir) refers not to a separate group within the congregation entrusted with musical responsibilities, but to the congregation as a whole.

Kontakion- a long and elaborate metrical sermon, reputedly of Syriac origin, highly developed by St. Romanos the Melodist (6th cent.). A dramatic homily, which usually paraphrases a biblical narrative, comprises some 20-30 stanzas and was sung during the morning Orthros service. Later these were reduced to the prooimion (introductory verse) and first oikos (stanza).

Kanon- A hymnodic complex comprised of nine odes. The odes were originally attached to nine biblical canticles. This supplanted the kontakion in the late 7th century and was initiated by St. Andrew of Crete and developed by St. John of Damascus and Kosmas of Jerusalem (8th cent.)

Canticle- the original nine were:
1. First Song of Moses- Ex. 15:1-19
2. Second Song of Moses- Duet. 32:1-43
3. Prayer of Hannah- 1Kings 2:1-10
4. Prayer of Habbakuk- Hab 3:1-19
5. Prayer of Isaiah- Is. 26:9-20
6. Prayer of Jonah- Jon. 2:3-10
7. Prayer of the Three Children- Dan. 3:26-56
8. Song of the Three Children- Dan. 3:57-88
9. The Magnificat and Benedictus- Lk. 1:46-55; 68-79

Hiermos- initial troparion of each ode, which are metrically dissimilar

Ode- nine series of hymns which comprise the kanon, usually the second ode is omitted. Each is united musically in the same tone and textually by references to a general theme of the liturgical occasion.

Stichera- the most important and numerous group of troparia, which are sung in the morning and evening services.

Ainoi (Lauds, Praises)- 
Apolytikion- dismissal hymn

Liturgical Books- Menaia, Parakletike, Triodion, Pentecostarion,

Heb. 2:12; Acts 16:25