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Word Magazine February 1981 Page 13-14
MUSIC IN OUR CHURCHES
By James E. Meena
When I was first asked by SOYO to write an article for The WORD magazine my mind began to search for a topic to center the article around. I found it a difficult task as I ran through a number of subjects all with equal applicability to the state of Orthodox Sacred Music in our churches. Three basic questions continually arose and dominated each specific topic:
I. “What and why are we?”
II. “Where are we going?”
III. “How do we get there?”
Simplistic? Perhaps; but it is important to understand the whys and wherefores of the purpose of our singing and working in the Church before we can address the timely problems of ‘Byzantine’ or ‘Slavonic’ music?”, the “Misuse of the organ in the Orthodox Church” and “Why not a standardized English text for all our Orthodox Churches in North America?”
So, let’s begin with the basics.
We are the “musical family of Jesus Christ”, the children of God who possess first a talent for the musical arts and secondly the desire to see that talent mature and be used to the greater glory of God and His Holy Orthodox Church. This is both what and why we are.
Each person has a talent which directs him/her in a path toward serving or not serving the Church. No one talent or person is greater or lesser than another because of his/her talent, or the direction which that talent takes them. The uniqueness of the “musical family”, however, is the dealing with and the creating of both an artistic and a spiritual product. That’s right — an artistic product just as a symphony orchestra is an artistic product, as a high school choir is an artistic product or as opera is an artistic product. Any definition of what we are begins with the fact that we are in a sense artists, with each Sunday being, in part, a performance; a moment in our lives when we present to our fellow Christians the sum total of what we have accomplished as artists in our choir rehearsals. The proof of the pudding as to how good an artist we are is the musical quality of our choir’s singing.
However, we are not performing artists who perform for performing’s sake. The thrill of singing should not be our reason for coming to the Orthodox Church Choir. Our “musical family” has a dual nature; the “musical family”, the artist and the “family of Jesus Christ”, the spirituality of our musical prayers.
Perhaps the opening stanza of the Cherubimic Hymn best describes what our spiritual function in the Church is — “We who mystically represent the Cherubim”. The choir is the human image of the heavenly hosts delivering the “Good News”, the “Joyful Message” and the beauty of the Faith to the faithful at each service. We do not come to the choir to sing but to pray and to be the catalyst which stimulates the congregation to prayer. By bringing this “Joyful Message” to the faithful, we are directly responsible for the uplifting of hearts to the realization of the Light of Christ. Our artistic abilities, therefore, bring us not luxury and privilege for being a member of the choir, but a responsibility to our fellow singers, directors and brothers and sisters in Christ.
This dual-natured definition places an artistic responsibility on each singer and director as well as a spiritual responsibility. If the choir sings poorly, they have failed on both accounts. If their singing is nothing more than false bravura, then they may as well become a concert choir performing in public concerts. Each note of each “Amen” must be felt by every heart and soul in the choir before the “Good News” has a chance to reach the congregation. Meeting this definition makes being a member of our “musical family” very difficult.
Where are we as a “musical family of Jesus Christ?” Perhaps we should first ask, “where should we be?’’ or ‘‘where would we like to be?”, which means that we must first state some ideals and goals for our organization.
As an organization, we have three levels of operations the Archdiocese Sacred Music Department, our regional SOYO choir committees and our local choirs.
Ideally speaking, the direction for, guidance of and enthusiasm for new programs should come from the Sacred Music Department. Such programs may then be instituted, at least in part, by the regional SOYO choir committees with the benefits of these programs being realized by the local choirs.
Our goals should include the scholarly research and editing of Orthodox Sacred Music, the professional publishing of this music and the distribution of this music to our local choirs. Our goals should include a concerted effort to encourage the composition of new liturgical pieces under the liturgical guidelines of both the Byzantine and Slavonic traditions. Our goals should center around coordinating the vast amounts of Orthodox Sacred Music currently in print by other Archdiocese printing houses and commercial publishers with the direct benefit of informing the local choirs of where they can purchase new materials. Our goals must include a program for the musical and liturgical education of our choir directors, singers and young musicians. Our goals should center around progress.
Where are we in relation to these goals? Simply re-read the goals and ask yourselves which of them we are fulfilling.
“How can we reach these goals?” Here is a basic format which may put our thoughts toward meeting them:
a. NEVER be satisfied with an accomplishment. When your choir sings well, your region hosts a successful choir workshop or your director wins an award be happy in your achievement, but never be satisfied with it.
b. Seek a challenge. The choir that is challenged will work together to meet that challenge — the un-challenged choir will wallow in mediocrity.
c. Seek new settings of Orthodox Sacred Music to help challenge your choir. There are many sources of such music — find and use them.
d. Be involved in the Faith as members of Christ’s family first, then be members of His “musical family”.
e. Let your faith sing on Sundays; not just your voices.
f. Attend rehearsals faithfully as “preparation” for each religious event.
We will never arrive at our goals unless each singer, each director and each priest expects the best from the local choirs. Further, if we do not expect the best from ourselves, our directors and our regional and Archdiocesan leaders and if we accept poor singing and lack of direction, then we not only will never reach our goals, but we will have no one to blame for our failure but ourselves.
Let’s take a fresh look at these fundamentals so that the work can begin in the name of our Lord and His Holy Orthodox Church.
James Meena is choirmaster in Pittsburgh, PA and is Choir Coordinator for Eastern Region SOYO.