by Venise Kousaie
Imagine being appointed to a leadership role in your parish without knowing whether you are truly prepared or equipped to handle it.
Imagine that it is a position requiring specialized knowledge in liturgics, music theory, conducting, enunciation, pronunciation, vocal technique, byzantine tones and hymnology, teaching, and so forth. Imagine there is no one with all of these skills that you can talk to, because you really wouldn’t know where to begin to find the sources of all the information you need to be successful in your leadership role.
Early in my ministry as an Antiochian Orthodox Church Choir Director I found myself in precisely this situation. Although as a musician I had majored in voice and piano, there was a lot about directing a choir I needed to learn. As the result of a directive from His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, the opportunity came to attend the first-ever Sacred Music Institute (SMI) at the Antiochian Village in 1984. I didn’t know what to expect. I attended, believing that my faith would guide me to solutions. What I found in the hills of Pennsylvania shaped my sacred music ministry and my contribution to my parish, my diocese and the Archdiocese for the next 28 years. The courses I took at the SMI were given by a group of musicians and clergy who were experts in their respective professional fields, and the courses served to fill gaps in the knowledge I needed to be successful. There were music-school teachers, theologians, conductors and key-note speakers.
Each and every year upon returning to the SMI I would tap into this wealth of resources in sacred music and take away something new, whether it was new music to teach my choir at home, or conducting techniques, or a better understanding of the Byzantine tones and the order of the liturgical services.
By Rev. John Finley, B.M., M.A., M.S.T.
2002 Conference on Missions and Evangelism
The Gospel in Song: Music, Missions and Evangelism
August 30-September 02, 2002
Just as an authentic icon makes visible for us, the invisible Kingdom of God, so too, authentic Church music makes audible for us the inaudible song of the angels around the throne of God.
And just as an icon of Christ or the Theotokos differs in style from nation to nation, and from one century to the next, so too, a musical setting of a hymn to Christ or to His mother differs in style from nation to nation and from one century to the next.
Because we respect the tradition of the Church, and because we know that no culture or no era stands in isolation from another in Church History, we seek to develop Church art in a living continuity with the past, realizing however, that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to which we are united, is not simply the Church of the past, but also of the present and of the future.
Our Patriarch Ignatius IV commenting in his book The Resurrection and Modern Man on the Apocalyptic verse "Behold, I make all things new" emphasizes that God comes into the world from the future. So, too, should our music, and iconography be made new from generation to generation, not in the sense of radical innovation or novelty, but new according to the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We must trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal the mind of the Church in every generation and in every nation as the faithful apply the great commission not only to the spread of the Orthodox faith in thought, word and deed, but also in Christian art.
The following article is taken from the newsletter PSALM: Pan-Orthodox Society for the Advancement of Liturgical Music, Spring 1996, written by His Grace Bishop BASIL. For more information on PSALM, please go to www.orthodoxpsalm.org .
There are few ministries of the Church that require the devotion and the dedication that church singing does. You who lead the singing as well as you who follow the leader are precious gifts to your parishes. You are as important to the parish as is the holy table itself. As there can be no liturgy without the holy table, there can be no liturgy without you. This is not to compliment you or increase your pride, but rather to put a little fear and awe in you, so you know what your responsibilities are. Church singing is not a hobby. Being a choir director is not something one does for personal fulfillment. It is first and foremost a duty, a duty of those to whom God has given musical talents. It is sinful, in my opinion, for someone not to sing who has been given the gift to sing. Sinful! You join the angels, and do that which the angels do perpetually. That’s not an interest, avocation, or a hobby; it is a duty. Angels were created to serve and to praise, and you have been given voices for that same purpose.
I love to remind our church singers of the fact that we physically jump into something that goes on perpetually. We jump in and join with the angels for a couple of hours, and then we jump back out. The liturgy does not begin with “Blessed is the Kingdom” and your “Amen,” and it doesn’t end with “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers” and your “Amen.” Those phrases only define the time that we participate in the liturgy which goes on perpetually before the throne of God.
“The hymnologists of the Orthodox Church are Christians of virtue and great faith, having been endowed with musical talent as well as the power of religious inspiration. Their creations have enriched our worship services and have helped turn our souls towards God. Perhaps the greatest of all hymnologists is St. Romanos the Melodist. Many other hymnologists have written ecclesiastical hymns, but none of them inspired the Christians as much as St. Romanos.” This statement, issued by the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians concisely states the reverence, appreciation and feeling all Orthodox Christians have for St. Romanos.