Unmercenary Sacred Music

Choir Practice Resources

November 23, 2003

Parishioners Present:

Sloan, Emilie, Troy, Cindy, Sevasti, and Mike.


On the Sunday of December 7, we will be having a baptismal divine liturgy. Next week we will be talking about how that is done and some of the theological and liturgical elements involved. This week we will look at some of the music we will need to know by December 7.

Lesson: The Musical Pulse

When we sing liturgical music, it is important to be mindful of the pulse. With most music that we encounter, this is automatically provided by the meter. For example, John Phillip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever is in cut-time or 2/2. A pulse occurs in every measure. The pulse is fixed for marching. Each foot falls naturally on this constant pulse: left, right, left, right, left, right....

However, our music is typically not metered. Yet we still need to feel a half-note pulse. The anaphora that we have been doing has suffered from a lack of coherent pulse. As we saw today, I directed the singers to feel a quick two-beat pulse and to BREATHE together on the "Holy, Holy, Holy," and the result was an immediately better execution. If we breathe together, we all have the pulse automatically internalized. When we do not breathe together, each singer has her or his own pulse, and we struggle to have a corporate pulse. Without the pulse we are singing syllables that have no apparent connection to one another. With the pulse, we are singing sentences that move forward in a horizontal direction towards the end. The outcome is then that the text is heard clearer (no muddiness caused by competing pulses) and is more compelling to sing and listen to.

As we try to encourage the congregation to sing along, especially on those elements that are clearly responsorial, we need to have this pulse ever in mind even when we have extended beats; in such a situation, we are adding a half of a pulse to the music; it is not a legato or lengthening. With a clear pulse in mind, when the extended beat is encountered one can return to the principle down beat more easily. When practicing it would not even be without merit to tap one's foot. Since the music we are dealing with is multi metric, using a metronome unfortunately would not help. Look and listen to this "Holy, Holy, Holy." The red dots are the pulses and the blue slashes are the subdivision of the beat. Look for the extended beat in the third line with its two blue slashes.

Once we have a good feel for the pulse, we can then work on being more expressive by modifing the pulse though retarding or accelerating depending on what the text calls for. This is where the director or a skilled lead cantor steps in and adds interpretation. But without understanding the basics of pulse and breathing together so that there is ONE pulse from the first note, the music will feel and sound forced like an soft object being pushed through a hole that is just a little too small. With good pulse we can put energy into our liturgical music. This becomes ultra-critical for liturgical pieces that are responsorial like litanies and antiphon refrains. A refrain needs to be sung with gusto. Compare it to any peppy pop-song with a catchy refrain. Does the refrain drag? Or does it compel you to sing along? For example, the R.E.M. song, "It's the End of the World as We Know It" has a structure not unlike our antiphons. It has a rectotono set of verses (i.e., it is sung on a single tone for the most part) and a melodic refrain. Go to any college social gathering where this song is played, and you will hear a large number of people immediately join in on the refrain. Few ever remember the verses, but all remember the refrain. [For those unacquainted with this piece of music, you can down load the iTunes plug-in and then listen to a sample at the iTones Music Store ]. I have heard people sing this with gusto even in a state of considerable intoxication. It should then follow that in our ecclesiastical sobriety, we should be able to and desire to sing our responses to God with at least as much enthusiasm. I think we all would prefer to sing joyfully and powerfully, "O Son of God, Who rose from the dead, save us Who sing to You," rather then hear others out-sing us with "it's the end of the world as we know it."

As a final note, we have seen that breathing together helps establish the pulse; in addition to this, memorizing the music can also help. When we sing the same two "Lord, have mercy" responses Sunday after Sunday, we no longer should be staring down at a music stand. Since many of the things we sing do not change each week, memorizing is not out of the question.

New Music:

Carpatho-Rusyn Litany Responses: For the last three months, we have been singing these responses through-out the liturgical services. Moreover, we have been singing them in their original monophonic form. Now that we are fully prepared to sing them in unison at any moment, the time for singing them in four-parts has become a reasonable variation. However, when there are not enough people present to sing all four parts, it is imperative that the unharmonized, unison form be used.

Galician Litany: This set of litany responses, like the Carpatho-Rusyn, is built upon the melody found in the soprano; therefore, it can be sung a unison, or with just the soprano and alto parts, or all four. On "Lord, have mercy" be a aware that the first melody is repeated twice. So when we sing a liturgy, we sing #1, #1, #2, #1, #1, #2, etc.

"As Many As Have Been Baptized": This element replaces the trisagion at certain feasts that traditionally may have been days when baptisms were celebrated (or had been celebrated the night or day before): Christmas, Theophany, Lazarus Saturday, the Paschal Vigil of Holy Saturday, Pascha, and Pentecost. It is also used when baptismal divine liturgies are served. The following setting is based on a Galician setting. Although the meter is not shown, a 2/2 meter is implied. The purpose of imposing a fairly strict pulse and tempo is because of the liturgical function it serves. The trisagion and its replacements serve as a sort of completion of the little entrance and movement to scriptural readings. The clergy process to the high place (the back of the apse in the altar area) and the reader goes up for the blessing. Thus, it accompanies literal movement. Moreover, when "As Many As Have Been Baptized" is used in the context of a baptism, it accompanies the triple procession around the baptismal font. A clear pulse to march around the font should help the procession.

The Entrance Antiphon: This setting of the entrance antiphon combines a plain chant verse with a melodic refrain that would be used with festal and daily antiphons (For a full example of this used in the liturgy see Galician Chant: Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom).

Tone 2 Typika: We again practiced more of this setting introduced on November 2. If you would like to hear a complete execution of this setting and the above entrance hymn go to the USM Audio directory

The file called Typika has the two typika psalms and the beatitudes. Enarxis contains the three psalm antiphons, the entrance antiphon, the troparion and kontakion for tone one, and the trisagion. Both of these files are very large; therefore, I suggest you download them directly to your computer, especially if you do not have a high-speed connection. This was a recording done at St. Vladimir's using two mixed choirs of four singers.

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