Thursday, July 30, 2015

The new Sheehan Divine Liturgy Book: a brief review

Most English-language church music in the Russian tradition is written in 4 parts and often doesn’t sound good without four parts. However, a common problem in Orthodox parishes is that there are not enough singers to fill all four parts. It’s one thing in a congregation of 200 to find the people, but in a congregation of, say, 20-50 regular attendees, things can get hairy. This volume attempts to fill that gap by providing two-part arrangements of some traditional Russian music (with instructions for how to create a third part where possible for those who can manage one) and usually trying to make the music sound good even with only one of the parts.

The prefatory materials, a foreword by Vlad Morosan discussing some historical aspects of the development of Russian chant and an instructional introduction by the author on how to use the book, are very useful. The first provides some context and understanding for how the music came about. The second not only tells the reader how to use the book, but also helps the reader understand better how music is arranged in general and particularly how 4-part Russian music is arranged as typically performed in a parish setting. This knowledge is helpful for singers even if not singing out of this book.

A lot of the musical content of the book should already be familiar to people who have sung a wide variety of Russian liturgical music, which is a good thing. Much of the melodic material is “standard”, so one does not have to learn dozens and dozens of new melodies. The pieces are also almost universally carried by the melody rather than relying on chordal movement (because how can you do that with two voices?). Some of the options presented can be rather demanding, but there are always feasible options presented.

The litanies, antiphons, troparia/kontakia, Trisagion, and prokeimena are about what one would expect. Several of the pieces are standards with two parts knocked out, so this material is not terribly essential if you already have that music and know how to do it, but it is useful and nice. The real value of the book, to my mind, at least, is the liturgy of the faithful.

The Cherubikon is often a place where it is hard to find an adequate setting for a small choir. The melody is often passed between parts or, if it stays in one part, the harmonization often doesn’t work without a full complement, or sometimes the piece relies on harmonic movement rather than melody. However, the pieces are often working off of standard, memorable chant melodies (eg, Sophronievskaya, Staro-Simonovskaya). This volume takes a number of commonly used chant melodies, at least a couple of which are bound to be familiar, and provides reasonable bass lines for them. To my mind, this alone justifies the book, as it is very common to have a couple voices who know a number of traditional melodies, but the 4-part versions on hand don’t reduce well to melody + bass. This volume, with only a few minutes of practice, will add several Cherubika to our repertoire.

The same is true of the “It is truly meet”. For instance, there is the Bulgarian melody which should be familiar from Yaichkov’s arrangement – the melody is quite memorable, but pulling it out of the piece is nontrivial. The arrangement provided in the book is very singable and memorable.

There is some redundancy in the Anaphora section, since the first two pieces are apparently a one-voice and two-voice version of the same melody (a standard Znamenny melody that others have harmonized before) – one can surely recognize that the bass line can be left off the second one? But it is otherwise very good – there are some standard pieces and some are rather difficult, but one can find something that fits one’s level.

I would strongly recommend the book for any parish that is interested in performing Russian-style music but does not always have all four parts, especially if they only have two parts or even only one part. There are several pieces even choirs that usually have four parts may be interested in if they want some additional variety. A larger and more consistent choir, however, would probably be better off, eg, with the SVS Press Divine Liturgy book and not find much of use beyond a couple pieces that could be interesting for, say, a smaller ensemble to do. I believe the draft edition is sold out, but when the final edition comes out, you should be on the lookout for it.

Other things that disappoint me:

Let's talk about a few other things that disappoint me about religious discourse lately! While some of the things I have in mind here are clerical errors, I want to make clear that I don't intend to be disrespectful of clergy exercising their pastoral ministry.
  • Argumentum ad hitlerum. I think it is in singularly poor taste to compare things to Nazis and it is a rather poor rhetorical move, as well, since it will only serve to annoy readers rather than illuminate your point. It also makes you sound weird. This is, of course, a standard internet trick.
  • I don't have a short name for this, but have you ever noticed that when, say, there's a discussion of women's issues and somebody wants to have anything other than the "easy" "traditionalist" perspective, particularly if they are a woman, they have to very carefully distance themselves from the more "radical" positions, be extremely polite, and play up their "orthodox" bona fides? At least in some quarters. I noticed a recent conversation where people were discussing women's ordination and there was one woman in the conversation who wanted to know more about deaconesses, the opposition to the modern reinstitution of them, and anything else about the issue.

    She had to be extremely polite, unfailingly orthodox, and make great pains to clarify that she had no interest in ordaining women to further orders and probably no interest in agitating for the restoration of deaconesses. Meanwhile, people responded at times impolitely, "mansplained" at points, and often treated her discourse as if it were coming from some past life of theirs in the Episcopal Church or from some radical advocate of women's ordination (which she had previously had to indicate she was not). Their behavior, of course, was perfectly acceptable, since they were, after all, On The Right Side. This kind of behavior comes up regularly in discussions of sexual issues, but it also comes up occasionally in a few other contexts, but particularly when it is a woman in the conversation.

    A related problem is how abortion gets brought up by men every time a woman tries to discuss just about any issue of sex, gender, sexuality, etc.
  • An undue preoccupation with the details of private lives of private individuals. At the merest, slimmest hint of scandal over the last few years, certain quarters of the church have called for (or released) an open discussion of the private lives of private individuals. To do what? Prove a point, or ruin a churchman, or silence a voice in whatever nonsensical ecclesiastical controversy is bubbling up. Mind you, the private lives of private individuals (with perhaps named names on public internet fora) were not churchmen, they're simply used to question the exercise of pastoral ministry by certain clerics. Or something. It's okay because they're protecting the Church.
  • You can always go further right. Any step to the left is death. Essentially, anything up to explicit race realism, overt pick-up artist nonsense, or literal Nazi-ism (sorry about transgressing the first point) is given a free pass. However conservative one's theology, however, one cannot be a feminist or even say things that sound feminist. One cannot discuss "white privilege". Indeed, these will often be criticized using terminology and methods from the above three groups.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rebukes I've received.


At various times and diverse places, I have been warned off the path of evil, generally because my views are seen as departing from the narrow way. Here is an incomplete catalog of things people have said to me. These are provided as a warning that, according to some, I may be a dangerous thinker. Caveat lector.

  • [E]ver since you drank deep from the feminist well of delusion, interacting with you has become increasingly fruitless. ... You are in the wrong. Your church condemns feminism, and you should probably confess and repent.

    NB: I had just told him this was actually good news for Bitcoin
  • Really, BECOME ORTHODOX BEFORE you presume to write or speak about ORTHODOXY. Your smugness only alludes to your hubris and your lack of Orthodox formation. Your attitude is precisely YOUR PROBLEM and WHY YOU ARE HETERODOX. HUMBLE YOURSELF AND BECOME ORTHODOX ON ORTHODOXY's TERMS.

    NB: this was after saying I trusted the Synod about the Met. Jonah affair.
  • 3). In piety, outlook and discipline, rather than advancing fidelity to and observance of the Holy Fathers, the Holy Canons expressing the Mind of CHRIST, you smugly are content with an outlook in opposition to them, having the audacity to all such fidelity, outlook and discipline even "poisonous." That is most certainly heterodox, Protestant.

    Get an Orthodox formation before you write in smugness again.

    Same source
  • Psalm 118:8.Satan is decieving you

    NB: This one was some unbalanced Protestant on why global warming was false

  • If that's what you're doing, you should talk to your priest and connect more deeply with Orthodox IRL.

    NB: If I recall, this was in response to a comment that noted the Orthodox Church is a conservative institution, which should be uncontroversial
  • Racism in America is just a marxist social assumption that our culture has adopted and now uses.

    Okay, this one isn't really a rebuke to me, but it's friggin' nuts
  • This article seems to be a perfect example of how sin (Marxism, this is Marxist class theory applied to race) perverts what is good.

    A response to my posting this banal article
  • You are looking far too much towards modern re-interpretations and into modern "scholarship" on the matter and you are not looking enough to the pure and holy church for guidance. Do not look to the sinful, fallen world that is guided by demonic influence. Look towards the church for she is guided by the Holy Spirit.

    lollerskates - I believe this one was for saying that homosexual attraction is not, in itself, a sin
That's all I have at my fingertips. I'm sure I've been called worse. Alas, some places are either hard to search and some have rules of civility meaning posts get deleted if they are insulting, otherwise I would have more of a list.