The editors of Antiochian.org recently launched a newly improved Liturgical Resources  section, accessed on the menu bar of the website's home page. One of the site's most popular destinations, the Resources page now features categories such as "Articles," "Music Resources," and "Podcasts and Audio." An aggregation of the most critical liturgical tools required by chanters, choir directors, deacons and priests, the page is also helpful to laypeople involved in Bible study groups or choir. Browsers can download music, an Akathist, even the Antiochian Archdiocese's well-loved "Little Red Prayer Book."
Recently, Antiochian.org spoke with the Very Rev. Fr. David Barr, respected Antiochian liturgist and Director of the St. Romanos Chanter's Training Program, about the importance of liturgy and music in the life of the Church.
1. Generally speaking, do parish musicians usually need formal training to chant in church? Why/why not? What would you recommend for that musically inclined parishioner who might be interested in chant, but shy?
To chant properly using Byzantine chant, one needs some formal training. Even though a great deal of Byzantine music exists today in western notation, it is important to understand the ethos. The tones work differently than Western Music. The approach is different--and one must realize that Byzantine chant is not based on specific notes (A440, etc.), but rather on relative scales, sung in the comfort range of the chanter. A chanter needs to understand and know the Byzantine scales and the the parts of the scale used in a particular tone.
2. Describe the St. Romanos Chanting Course.
The St. Romanos Chanters Training Program (www.saintromanos.com ) is a self directed course in chanting Byzantine music as sung in Antiochian parishes in English using western notation. Through the use of CD's, music, and workbooks, the student learns the structure and basic elements of Byzantine chant.
3. What were some of the topics at the recent chanting conference at Antiochian Village, that seemed to spark the greatest interest?
Students are fascinated to learn that the roots of Byzantine music go back to the 4th Century and that the ancient Church, both western and eastern, used a tonal (or modal) form of music in 8 tones. Although both have changed throughout the centuries, Byzantine and Gregorian chant come from a common root of liturgical church music. In many ways, the tradition in church music is very similar to iconography. Church music is structured, even stylized, within the tonal system. Not all music is appropriate for worship--just as not every type of art is appropriate for churches. The structure offered by the Byzantine tones offers both expression and limitations to music--and aids in setting a proper ethos for worship.
4. For those with Western musical "ears," what does Byzantine chant have to offer?
Byzantine chant might not be the familiar tunes used so often in popular society, but it offers a style of music for worship that has stood the test of time. It is other than what we hear in the world--we could even say that the chant is "not of this world." Byzantine chant does not have to sound "foreign" to be proper or good. There are various expressions of Byzantine chant (Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, etc.). Each is Byzantine, and yet each is distinct. Again, this is somewhat like iconography. As we develop in chanting in America, it is likely that the Church's chants will take on some of our culture--while also transforming our culture into something greater. This will take time--and will be organic, not contrived.
5. What do you see as the greatest need for the Church, liturgically, today in America?
We need to increase the amount of training we offer to chanters in our parishes. Chanting is an integral part of our worship--and we need to give it the attention it deserves. We need our seminaries to train church musicians in Byzantine Chant in much the same way we train clergy. This training exists in the "old countries" but has not developed very far in the new world. Weekend workshops are good, but not adequate for where we need to be going. At the same time, it is encouraging to see a growing interest in Byzantine chant in the Church.
6. Do you have any tips or advice for musicians experienced in western music and choral singing when approaching Byzantine chant? What are the common pitfalls, what musical habits might need to be broken?
There are a couple of things I might suggest. In Byzantine chant, we typically keep a steady beat. Don't slow down and speed up in a hymn. At the same time, we typically don't get louder and softer in different musical passages. We should not be dramatic. We are offering the words with music that they might be heard and received. The emphasis is not on the dynamics of the music, but rather on the words. Much of western choral music is dramatic, aimed at getting an emotional response. This should not be the approach to Byzantine chant. The chant tradition is one of simplicity and dispassion.