Unmercenary Sacred Music

Choir Practice Resources

September 21, 2003

Parishioners Present:

Sloan, Emilie, Ursula, Nick, Mike, and Helise.

Business Matters:

Retreat:  We are still planning to have a choir retreat.  The cost of an overnight retreat is too much based on the current commitment.  Retreats at most places are about $60-80 per night.  For this year we will have a one-day retreat.  Emilie and Ursula have volunteered to look into a location for the event and setting it up.  Tentatively, we will have this retreat in November.

Choir Practice Schedule:  The Saturday 4:00 PM choir practice this summer was a total failure.  Attendance was almost non-existent.  From now on practices will be held at 12:00 PM after the Sunday liturgy.  In time, I hope to have one practice per month on Saturdays for a more in depth rehearsal.  We need to begin looking at our Christmas and Theophany services.

Auditions and Voice Tests:  Both existing and new members of the choir need to go through an audition and voice test.  This is not for the purpose of excluding members but isolating what talents and areas of improvement each singer has.

Choir Practice Content:  The primary purpose of choir practice is that members of the choir be prepared for leading the parish in singing the liturgy.  However, the practice sessions are open to all.  I especially encourage those who serve as readers to attend so that they might better know the services and how their singing can best blend with the choir.  Likewise, choir practice is an example opportunity for members of the congregation to learn the common responses that they should be singing.  Finally, each practice will have a particular lesson in liturgical theology as well as other theoretical lessons concerning music, notation, chant styles, liturgics, rubrics, history, etc.

Lesson:  Interpreting Notation and the Extended Beat.

In much of the new music that I am producing for the choir, I have taken make time in being very particular about how these items are notated.  Since we are in a transition phase, we have many different styles we must tolerate in the music notation.  The problem is that each arranger has a particular way of interpreting chant notations.  The following is a line from ode one of the resurrectional tone four canon (Kievan chant).  The notation is a Kievan style used in Russian and Ukrainian chant books since at least the fifteenth century.

The simplest transcription is as follows:

However, we are more used to giving the half-note the beat.

Now, the problem we then have has to do with accent.  If strictly keep the time, the first syllable of the first word in the second measure gets the downbeat.  However, this Slavonic word, nyevlazhnymi, is accented on the second syllable.  The easiest way to correct this is make the previous half note a dotted half note.

A skilled cantor is trained to sing this way even though the music does not have this.  Interpretation is an essential assumption of using such liturgical books.  However, in our modern notation, transcribes and arrangers of change have often not put these interpretive marks in the notation.  But some have.  In my new arrangements, I have strived to put as much interpretive markings into the text so that singers do not have to decide, "Is it to be sung as a half note, dotted half, or even a whole note"?  So when singing from these new settings keep in mind that one should follow closely these notations and the following standards.
Another oddity in chant is the extended beat.  Since accents do not fall neatly into a 1-2-1-2 pattern, the extended beat must be used.  It is not to be confused with a triplet, which forces three pulses into one or two beats.  Rather the extended beat adds a half of a beat to an otherwise 1-2 pulse.  An example taken form verse one of Psalm 129 (LXX):
Out of the depths I cry...

The accenting and pulse is as follows.  The symbol + is used for a half beat and 1 for a down beat.
Óut of the dépths I crý...

In the music extends beats are often indicated by putting a bar above or below the notes.  In the following setting of this phrase, there are two examples of the extended beat.  The first is a there because of the grouping of three syllables.  The second is added to get the word depths an accent, but not too much accent.  Technically, putting a dotted half would work, but it causes the singer to almost halt the word.  The purpose of the extended beat here is to give both an accent and to keep the singer moving forward to the word cry.

New Music

Anaphora: This week we begin looking at the Carpatho-Rusyn setting of the anaphora based on one found in the 1906 Prostopinije.  In this setting the singer must be very much aware of extended beats, especially found near the end of phrases.  Look out for the half-quarter-half-whole combination.  Do not turn either of the half notes into dotted halves.  The piece needs to have good forward motion.  Do not drag it!  It should have a lively feel.

A note on translation.  The text comes from a current divine liturgy text that Fr. Daniel Swires has been arranging for the Midwest diocese.  I have departed from that translation at one point.  Instead of a "A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise," it reads, "Mercy and peace, a sacrifice of praise."  What is a mercy of peace?  The current Greek text reads, elion eirinis, thysian ainiseos.  In older manuscripts, like the Barbarini 336 codex, we find, "Mercy. Peace. A sacrifice of praise."  It is the offering that we make.  The priest instructs the congregation to focus their attention "that we may offer the holy oblation in peace."  What we are saying in response is that we offer mercy, peace, and a sacrifice of praise.  A hypothesis on the change goes as follows. 
The older Greek text read, elion, eirinin, thysian aeniseos.  There is one letter difference, that is, a sigma (s) on the end of eirini (peace).  By adding the sigma (s), "peace" becomes genitive, that is, "of peace."  Scribal change then adds grammatical balance to each of the two sets of four word: x OF y.  So it then reads, "a mercy OF peace, a sacrifice OF praise."  When the liturgy was translated into Slavonic, the Greek text was already changed.  Therefore, the Slavonic has always read, "a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise" (milost' mira).
Little Entrance:  This entrance antiphon, Come Let Us Worship, is also a 1906 Prostopinije setting.  However, it may sound familiar to some.  Do not be tempted to sing it the way you think it should sound.  Principally on the word "Alleluia", do not sing descending half notes (B-A-G) on the syllable, "lu."

Lesson: Antiphons

Read the following excert from Save us Who Sing to You: The Form and Function of the Divine Liturgy by Sloan Rolando about the meaning of what antiphons and antiphonal singing is:

What is an Antiphon?

The term antiphon does not mean the same thing in every liturgical system. In particular, the Roman and Byzantine understandings are quite different. Moreover, in Byzantine usage it has several, although loosely related, meanings. Therefore, the term does not clarify its function without further explanation. Moreover, the multiple meanings may lead to its functional reinterpretation, i.e., the function of antiphon as it is used in Matins, for example, may be used to justify doing the antiphons at the divine liturgy in a similar way even if inappropriate. We will look at both the Roman and Byzantine uses in the hope of discerning the nature of antiphons and antiphonal singing.

Roman Usage. In the Roman rite, the antiphon is used in both the Mass and the liturgy of the hours in a similar fashion. The following definition best fits its use in the Roman Mass:

[It is] a short refrain, frequently a verse from a psalm, that is suggested as a repeated congregational response to a psalm during a liturgy, for example, as the entrance song or the communion song.1

Typically the antiphons of the Mass consist of the introit, gradual, alleluia (or tract during Lent), offertory, and communion. The most elaborate of them is the introit or entrance antiphon. In missals published before the new Roman lectionary of 1969, the introit had the following form:


Example from the first Sunday in Advent 2

The Antiphon is sung. It is a refrain that is typically from a psalm. However, it can be from other sources like the Ascension introit, which is taken from Acts 1:11.

To you I lift up my soul; in you, O my God, I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. No one who waits for you shall be put to shame. (Psalm 24:1-3)

The Psalm verse is sung, which is typically only one verse, but not necessarily from the same psalm used in the Antiphon.

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths. (Psalm 24:4)

The Glory or doxology verse is sung.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Antiphon is sung again.

To you I lift up my soul; in you, O my God, I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. No one who waits for you shall be put to shame. (Psalm 24:1-3)

Table 1 : Structure of a Roman Antiphon

The psalm that forms the core of the introit and other antiphons has suffered the same fate that other liturgical families have suffered, that is, reduction to almost nothing. "In the Middle Ages the psalms were drastically reduced in length as the music became more elaborate…."3 The same happened to the other antiphons of the mass; in the case of the offertory and communion, the psalm was reduced to only the antiphon itself. Since the reform of the lectionary, however, the use of a whole psalm has been reintroduced such that the gradual antiphon is now the refrain to a complete psalm and has been renamed the "responsorial psalm" in English language missals. 4

In the liturgy of the hours, the antiphon precedes and antecedes a psalm or a scriptural canticle. The General Instruction of the post-Vatican II liturgy of the hours considers the antiphons, along with titles and collects or psalm prayers, as three aids to understanding the psalms for Christian Prayer.5 While it is considered traditional to sing the antiphon before the psalm or canticle and then again after the doxology is sung at the end, the General Instruction suggests another ancient tradition of responsorial singing.6

In addition, when the character of a psalm suggests it, the divisions of the strophes are indicated in order that, especially when the psalm is sung in the vernacular, the antiphons may be repeated after each strophe; in this case the Glory to the Father need be said only at the end of the psalm.7

The content of Roman antiphons is generally scriptural; they also use freely composed interpretive antiphons so as to "help bring out the character of the psalm."8 For example, the ancient antiphon sung at Compline during the Canticle of St. Simeon states: "Protect us, O Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep; that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."9

While the Roman practice of using an antiphon does not exactly match the Byzantine use, there are enough common elements that we will be able to use this as part of the evidence towards determining the most appropriate character and elements of antiphonal singing.

Byzantine Usage. The most common worship element that is known as an antiphon is found in the opening part of the divine liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil.10 Either three psalms and their refrains or two psalms and the beatitudes are at this point. However, there are a few other items that take the name "antiphon."11 These include sections of psalmody that occur in vespers and hymns that occur in matins.

Johann von Gardner notes that an antiphon indicates both a style of singing as well as a type of musico-liturgical element.

In principle, this style involves two choirs stationed at the right and left of the Icon Screen ( ikonostatis ). Both choirs, the right and the left, sing in alternation: first, the right choir sings a hymn or verse in its entirety, then the left choir sings the next hymn, also in its entirety. This style is employed primarily for the performance of stichera and psalms that are performed verse by verse. Similarly, in the case of lengthy hymns, such as the Great Doxology, the hymn is divided into sections that are alternately performed by the right and left choirs.12

This explanation is perhaps the most popular understanding of antiphonal singing; however, as noted earlier, antiphonal singing is more properly a form of responsorial psalmody. Gardner also notes four types of antiphons:

  1. The psalms performed verse by verse during the Litany of the Catechumens.
  2. The first three "Glories" of the first Kathisma at Saturday evening Vespers.
  3. Three troparion-like stanzas performed at Resurrectional Matins, [known as] the graduals (α’ναβαθμοί, stepenny), since their contents are based on Psalms 119-132.
  4. The troparion-like stanzas of varying length that are grouped into fifteen antiphons and performed at the Matins of Good Friday between the first five Gospel readings, three at a time. Each stanza is repeated by the opposite choir.13

We can conclude, in each case, that an element has been named as an antiphon for at least being performed in an alternating style or being somehow linked to the psalms.

A further piece of evidence comes from the cathedral-rite sung offices of Constantinople that were used before the eventual ascendancy of monastic typika such as the Studite typicon and later the Sabbaite typicon. Antiphons, like today, had more than one meaning in the Cathedral-Rite office. First, an antiphon was primarily a selection of psalms to be sung at an appointed service.14The psalms chanted at these offices consisted of fixed psalms for certain services, like Psalm 85 being the first antiphon of Vespers,15 and the distributed psalmody that changed each day so that all 150 psalms would be sung in a week's time. Those psalms that were not fixed were "then divided into sixty-eight antiphons, roughly equal in length, each antiphon containing from one to six psalms."16 The antiphons were also split into even and odd antiphons with the odd ones having the refrain, "alleluia," and the even using a preassigned, short refrain of which there were only ten total.17 The refrains were phrases like, "Have mercy on me, O Lord"18 or "Save us, O Lord."19 The psalm ended with the Trinitarian doxology (split into two verses-"Glory to the Father…" and "Now and ever…") followed by the refrain.20 Unlike the Roman style, the first verse of the psalm was always sung before the refrain was sung, whereas Roman usage always starts with its "antiphon refrain."

The antiphons, then, of the Constantinopolitan office are much like the Sabbaite kathisma. Therefore, this can provide a link between the antiphons noted in the first kathisma of Saturday night vespers. The Sabbaite typicon states the following, "First kathisma: Blessed is the Man, the first antiphon, but the second and third antiphon, sing in the tone of the day."21 When we trace the history of the antiphons at the liturgy, the Constantinopolitan office will again figure in prominently in the discussion of the liturgy antiphons and its execution with certain refrains and Only Begotten Son (‘ο Μονογενής).

Early Byzantine documents detail that the most elaborate form of antiphonal singing followed this structure:

Cantors 1 & 2:
Sing refrain three times
Choirs 1 & 2:
Repeat the refrain three times22
Cantor 1:
Psalm verse 1
Choir 1:
A final part or clause of the refrain (α’κροτελέυτιον)
Cantor 2:
Psalm verse 2
Choir 2:
A clause of the refrain
The rest of the psalm alternating as indicated above.
Cantor 1:
Doxology (this was a signal to let choirs now that the psalm was completed).
Choir 1:
Clause of the refrain or full refrain
Cantors 1 & 2:
Sing the full refrain or an appendix or alternate refrain (περισσή)
Choirs 1 & 2:
Sing the full refrain or an appendix or alternate refrain23

A remnant of this structure still exists in the singing of the trisagion at the Divine Liturgy. The psalm has long disappeared, but the use of a clause24 remains after the singing of the doxology and is then completed with the full refrain.

’Αντιφωνέω and α’ντίφωνος. Before drawing final conclusions, we need to look at the linguistic element. As we have seen from the examples of the use of the term antiphon, it does not seem to have only one meaning. However, when we simply translate the term from Greek, it is very simple. An α’ντίφωνος is an adjective that means sounding in answer or responsive; literally, it means opposite (from α’ντί) voice (from φωνή).25 Similarly, the verbal form, α’ντιφωνέω, means to sound an answer or a reply.26

From the Latin, Byzantine, and linguistic evidence, we can now draw up a root definition for the term antiphon. An antiphon is a liturgical element consisting of a strophically divided psalm or scriptural canticle and a refrain that is sung as a response, ideally by the congregation, between the strophes of the psalm or canticle; moreover, the psalm or canticle is sung in alternation, right to left, by two choirs or cantors culminating in the Trinitarian doxology27 and a final singing of the refrain. The refrain can be from either a scriptural or an ecclesiastical source and serves to focus the meaning and Christian understanding of the psalm or canticle in the present liturgical celebration.

This definition is the minimum requirement for an element to be considered antiphonal. The antiphonal style can also involve multiple refrains, a longer refrain at the beginning with truncated refrains used throughout, and even a different summary refrain at the end. Stylistically, the congregation or choir that is responding with the refrain can also be split into two or more groups, which may be singing different refrains.

1 Dennis C Smolasrski, S.J., Liturgical Literacy: From Anamnesis to Worship. 1990 NY: Paulist Press, 60.

2Roman-Seraphic Missal, (Paterson: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1968), 1.

3 R.H. Fuller, "Lectionary," The Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, 298.

4 Mary Berry, "Chants of the Proper of the Mass" The Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, 160.

5General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 110. (GLIH) As found in The Liturgy of the Hours: According to the Roman Rite. Volume I . New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975. Hereafter known as GILH.

6Ibid., 122-123.

7Ibid., 125.

8Ibid., 113.

9Salva nos, Domine, vigilantes, costodi nos dormientes: ut vigilemus cum Christo, et requiescamus in pace. This antiphon is common to both Roman and Anglican compline or night prayer.

10 That is, when St. Basil's liturgy is not part of a vigil vesperal liturgy.

11 Assuming we exclude those items that are spuriously called antiphons by less official documents or uninformed sources.

12 Johann von Gardner, Russian Church Singing, Vol. 1, (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press: Crestwood, 1980), 32.

13Ibid., 48-49.

14 Oliver Strunk, "Byzantine Office at Hagia Sophia," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 9-10, 181.

15Ibid., 184.

16Ibid., 185.

17Ibid., 185.

18’Ελέησον με, κύριε.

19Σωˆσον ‘μâς, κύριε.

20Ibid., 182.

21Typikon, Sîest' Ustav, 4. "pervuju kathismu: Blazhen muzh, pervyj antifon: vtoryj zhe i tretij antifon pojem na glas dne."

22 "Choirs" in this case means the congregation.

23 Adapted from Robert F. Taft, Beyond East & West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Washington DC: Pastoral Press, 1984), 158.

24 "have mercy on us," "have put on Christ," or "And Your Holy resurrection we glorify" depending on whether the trisagion hymn or one its replacements is sung (As many as have been baptized or Before your Cross).

25 Henry G Lidell and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon: New Edition. Oxford: Claradon Press, 1977, 165-166.

26 Ibid.

27 Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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