Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two worthwhile posts about the craft of Orthodox church music

I've had to, over the past 18 months, put in a fair bit of thought about doing Orthodox church music. The last 18 months has been having to deal in various ways with the musical situation at a new OCA mission, with the first 15 months of it having nobody nominally in charge and the last 3 or so months with me as the "choir director". Prior to this, I had spent the last 10 years in a couple missions which, while they may had had, at times, a difficult musical situation, they always had somebody else in charge and, I would like to think, some vision of musical excellence in mind that somebody else was thinking of. Generally, I flitted in and out of the choir as needed, generally being in the choir (or being the choir) for ferial services and not in it on Sundays. And then a year in a Greek church which had its own set of challenges, but I didn't think about them at all: it's Greek music, I have no idea what's going on, and there were a load of difficulties there that I didn't want to deal with at all. Namely, they were, as far as I can tell, trying to get the choir running and encourage more congregational participation. For my part, I sung in the choir.

Anyway, there are two articles, the first from Richard Barrett about how to improve as an Orthodox church musician. Perhaps the first and most important point is that Orthodox musicians need to exist, as music is an important and primary part of our worship rather than an afterthought. Further, they need to work on getting better. To do that, parishes need to invest in making it happen. There surely is a question about what and how much they need to invest, and there are plenty of other things they may be underinvesting in, but if they're making cuts, they need to be done consciously with a plan to rectify them.

Another along that theme, on the need to pay choir directors and church musicians in general from Benedict Sheehan. Now, mind you, I'm not agitating to be paid here, as I'm not a real musician, and I don't even really conduct - I suggest music that gets rejected by the priest and I suggest pitches that get rejected by the sopranos. We're a small mission and not really paying for anything right now. But it is something to be mindful of as things grow: investment in music is necessary, as necessary as investing in icons and in paying the priest.

A third article as a bonus, also from Barrett (can you guess one of the people I've been relying on to help guide my thought on church music? not exclusively, though, as I'm emphatically not a Byzantine chant guy): Psalterion as Pulpit.