Word Magazine February 1964 Page 11
By: Rev. Fr. Vasile Hategan
Music plays a very important part in the worship of the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately it is becoming a dying art here in America. In some of the parishes very little of the Vespers, Orthros or other Services are sung, except for the Holy Liturgy, at which the responses are usually given by choirs.
The reason for this decline is obvious. We are not getting any more cantors from abroad, nor have we any program for training them in this country. We are in a period of transition and sometime in the near future we will be using more and more English in our Services. Most of the texts have not been translated into English, and if they have been, they are rather poorly translated. Then, too, we have not put these English texts to music as yet.
In the early Church, being that most of the Christians were converts from Judaism, their hymnology left its mark upon the Christian music. One can detect the Semitic influence in Orthodox music to this very day. The wide use of Psalms also is attributed to the influence of Judaism.
Very early the Christians composed hymns. St. Paul makes mention of this music. (Ephesians 5, 19 and Colossians 3, 16). St. Ignatius in his Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians speaks of these hymns. Mention is also made by Tertullian and Origen.
Clement of Alexandria and Fathers of the 3rd century just take for granted the Christian music that existed. When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire following Constantine the Great, an effort was made to unify the music in the Church. Saints Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianz were among those who helped towards this end. At the same time, when Christianity became free, secular music started to influence the Church music. This became so evident that the 6th Ecumenical Council in the 75th Canon had to prescribe how the music was to be sung in church.
It was only in the 8th century that St. John of Damascus systematized the music in eight basic tones with variations for special holidays. His Octoehus (Eight Hymns) is still the basis of Orthodox Hymnology. He invented a way to transmit the melody, using a very complicated system.
John Cucuzelis simplified St. John Damaschinos’ Hymnology, which spread throughout the Orthodox Church.
Music in the old Kingdom of Romania (Muntenia and Oltenia) is almost entirely the Greek Psaltic music. At one time, under the Phanariot domination, the Services in the larger churches were almost entirely in Greek in the Old Kingdom.
Music in Moldova and Basarabia was influenced by Slavonic music, which was a more melodic adaptation of the Greek Psaltic music.
The Serbs adapted the Greek music to their own temperament. The melodies were passed down from generation to generation by the faithful, who sang church songs practically every day. The Church in Transylvania was administered for many years by Serbian bishops, so their music had a great influence on the church music in Transylvania, from where most Americans of Romanian descent have emigrated. Romanians in the Banat and Arad area are even more so under the influence of Serbian music.
The melodies were learned mostly by ear and only at the beginning of the 20th century did Dimitrie Cuntan publish a book with the notes of the church music sung in Transylvania. This book is still basic for cantors in Transylvania. For the last 50 years, schools for cantors have been founded in Romania.
Most of the cantors we have in America have learned the music by ear and very few know the music to perfection. Unfortunately, some of our cantors do not even have a good ear for music.
Here in America, church music in our parishes is determined by the district from whence the congregation emigrated. For instance, the parishes in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Paul and one or two in Detroit sing like “in Banat.” The Macedo-Romanian parishes in Bridgeport, New York, Woonsocket and St. Louis sing the Psaltic music like do the Greeks. In the past years, many of the newly ordained priests were trained in the Old Kingdom, so they know the Psaltic music. Most of the parishes still sing the music of Transylvania, but the Psaltic music has made a great advancement in our parishes.
The problem of future cantors is still to be solved in our Episcopate. It is a pity that many of the Services have to be dropped because there are no cantors who know the music. Let us hope that somehow we will resolve this problem also, as we have with so many others.