FYI: 15th International Conference on Eastern Chant: 12-15 May 2008, Iasi, Rumania

15 02 2008

Iasi, 30th January 2008, Feast of the Holy Three Hierarchs

This is an official call for papers and participation in our

15th International Conference on Eastern Chant
12th – 15th May 2008, at Iasi, Rumania

The conference will be organized by the Centre for Byzantine
Studies at Iasi
in cooperation with the Rumanian Ministry of Culture
as part of the events celebrating the 600th anniversary of the first
documentary attestation of Iasi as a medieval settlement.

The general theme of this year’s conference will be
offering a new opportunity for putting into practice results attained in
many countries during the past decade by enthusiastic
individual scholars and/or dedicated research teams. New
interesting materials in form of digital copies of MSS will be put at
the disposal of the participants to illustrate new perspectives in
obtaining deeper knowledge of notations, and their influence on
transmission, from the parallel analysis of ‘lucky pairs’ of MSS. One
of the hopes of this conference is the establishment of small
transnational teams that would be willing to work on subjects
related to verifying current interpretations of notational systems,
such as of the middle-Byzantine, znamenny, Kievan staff.

As in previous years, potential contributors are invited to interpret
this theme broadly. Submissions from other fields related to the
cultural and spiritual significance of ecclesiastical chant, such as
history, linguistics, ecclesiastical arts, theology, interdisciplinary
research, continue to be welcome. Both scholars with academic
affiliation and those working independently, as well as postgraduate
students, are encouraged to apply. A panel of three scholars will
review the submitted papers, whose acceptance will be notified in
due course on a first-come, first-served basis. Please distribute this
announcement to colleagues, and interested institutions or

Within this extended theme area two key-note speakers are invited
to address plenary sessions. Related to that, an attempt will be
made off-list to attract the contribution of a few scholars willing to
offer their knowledge in a one-day tour d’horison in general Christian
ecclesiastical culture, and specifically in musical culture and related
investigation tools, possibly modeled on the Current-Status-of-
Research-in-… type of reports, which would be meant as a
teaching-learning preamble to the conference. Should this attempt
prove successful, the duration of the conference may be prolonged
by one day.

The conference sessions will be held in the newly-refurbished,
excellently-equipped Museum of National Union at Strada Alexandru
Lapusneanu 16, and in the Gothic Hall of the Three Hierachs
Monastery, at Bulevardul Stefan cel Mare 28. As in the past, we
shall enjoy the gracious hospitality of Fr Archimandrite Clement, the
abbot of the monastery.

The main communication languages will be English, French,
German, in that order of priority. Russian and Rumanian can also
be accepted in certain cases.

Event highlights

  • The customary joint festival of church music to which, besides a
    number of Rumanian choirs, we are pleased to be able to
    announce the first-time participation of:

    1. the ISON Ensemble from Berlin, under the direction of Dr. Oliver
      Gerlach, which will give, among other appearances, a lesson-
      concert in the MISSA GRAECA;
    2. the GRAZER CHORALSCHOLA from Graz, under the direction
      of Prof. Franz Karl Praßl, will illustrate, among other musical
      traditions, particularly the archaic organum;
    3. depending on manifested interest, other representative choirs or
      ensembles from this country and abroad.
    4. Visits to MSS repositories of Iasi University Library, Library of the
      Metropolitanate of Moldavia, Moldavian State Archives, where a
      variety of MSS will be able to inform on practically the whole range
      of musical styles and notations and provide illustration backgrounds
      to current research projects undertaken in this country;
    5. A number of liturgical services given by the monks and choir of the
      Three Hierarchs Monastery of Iasi, in which guest choirs and/or
      individual participants are encouraged to join;
    6. A 2-day cultural discovery trip to a number of monastic
      establishments in Northern Moldavia and the Maramures after the

Administrative matters

Due to the limited number of places available, pre-registration will
be required. With the exception of the key-note speakers, all
participants are expected to cover their own traveling expenses. 15
places, with all other expenses (accommodation, meals, trip
expenses) covered by the organizers, have been reserved,
particularly for young scholars and researchers, and will be
allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. From all other
participants a participation fee worth the equivalent of EUR 80 (EUR
40 for students) will be required, payable into our centre’s bank
account, as follows:

EUR bank account No.: IBAN RO53 BTRL 02404205.408043.xx
Banca Transilvania S.A., Filiala Iasi
USD bank account No.: IBAN RO53 BTRL 02402205.408043.xx
Banca Transilvania S.A., Filiala Iasi

The remaining – moderate – costs for the optional meals and the
trip can be paid on arrival. Hotel accomodation can be booked via
the Internet. The costs of the trip will be announced in late April,
when the approximate number of excursion options will be known.

Please submit paper summaries of 400-500 words in length,
together with brief curricula vitae by no later than 15th March 2008.
Until supplementary information and spam-free automatic
registration procedures will be made available additionally on our
site , submissions and contact information should be
sent to:

Prof. Gabriela Ocneanu
Scientific director, Centrul de Studii Bizantine Iasi,
Strada Noua 5, RO-700377 Iasi.
+40 232 475313, +40 0746 475300

Traian Ocneanu

Director, Centrul de Studii Bizantine Iasi
Strada Noua 5
RO-700377 Iasi
Phone: +40 232 475313, 475300

Byzantine Choir of Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh performs

12 02 2008

It seems to me that the only way to go is to continue to create psaltic community; it’s the way that comes to mind to express it at this point. This simply means that “those who have ears to hear” continue to work in their corner of the world. I think one such person is Dr Nicholas Giannoukakis, the protopsaltes of the metropolis of Pittsburgh and founder and principal of the American Society of Byzantine Music and Hymnology. After a successful International Conference in Athens this past September, he organized a concert to be held at a Roman Catholic University in Naples, Florida (Roman Catholic, imagine that; I don’t think there’s ever been a visiting choir at Holy Cross!). It just now came to my attention. The reviews I’ve read have been glowing. I’m attaching the press release below.

Maybe Dr Nick can offer more background and experiences from the event?

Ave Maria University Hosts Renowned Byzantine Choir

NAPLES, FL — November 2007 — The Byzantine Choir of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh will perform a lecture and concert at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 19, 2008 at the Oratory of Ave Maria University (AMU). The department of classics and early Christian Literature is sponsoring the performance and tickets are $10 for the public and free to AMU students.

The conert will feature choral singing, reflecting the traditions and poetry from ancient Greek times through the revolutions of the 12th through 16th centuries. The choir will also perform English and French renditions of well-known hymns that evolved from the Hellenic and Byzantine traditions. Guest soloists will be George Hatzichronoglou, Archon Hymnodist of the Great Christ from Greece, and Professor Constantin Lagouros, Archon Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada), two of the most reknowned Byzantine chanters worldwide.

The choir, under the direction of Dr. Nicholas Giannoukakis, performs the Byzantine hymnography in a way that reflects the constants of symmetry and beauty of form found with the music. The pieces performed are meant to represent the living art — as birth, death and resurrection — and modern-day tradition of the Orthodox Church.

The Byzantine Choir will also chant the Divine Liturgy at 8:20 a.m. and will perform a medley of sacred and secular songs at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 20, 2008 at Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, 7100 Airport-Pulling Rd., Naples, Fla.

You can download Dr. Niko’s programme notes here.

Letter in response to Axion Estin Symposium

11 02 2008

Well, it didn’t take long to get a response from Mr Tripoulas’ commentary regarding the Axion Estin Symposium. The response speaks for itself. I suppose this is the argument for use of the organ in worship, but that’s another issue.

It just seems to me a good summary of the uneducated understanding most, at least in the GOA, have of the psaltic art. It is nothing more than an affront to the great tradition of mixed choirs imported from Greece in the 1940s. How to help them understand there really is a great tradition, a sanctified one, which is our great inheritance. Anyway… Here’s the letter:

The National Herald: 8 Feb 2008

Choirs Play an Important Role in Preserving Our Legacy

To The Editor:

As a member of the Choir of Saint Paraskevi Church in Greenlawn, New York and the mother of the church organist, I would like to respond to Christopher Tripoulas’ commentary on Byzantine Chant in the National Herald’s February 2 edition.

I most certainly agree that the need to preserve our glorious legacy is an urgent one, and it is most encouraging that the Axion Estin Foundation has been established with this goal and has been so successful. I also agree that it is even more urgent to encourage our boys and girls to participate in activities which will ensure that this legacy lives on for generations to come.

This goal is, and has been, a priority of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Musicians for quite some time. Dr. Vicki Pappas, chairman of the Forum, recently informed us that the Forum “approved a proposal from chanters to establish a Byzantine Music Chanter Training Initiative, a coordinating body within the National Forum to tie together the various schools of Byzantine Chant that are emerging in the Metropolises.”

The establishment of junior choirs and the encouragement of our youth have also been ongoing endeavors of the Forum, especially considering the language and inter-faith marriage challenges we are facing today.

It is also important to note (no pun intended) that, realistically, church choirs do have an important role to play in preserving this legacy and teaching our children church hymns and their meanings. Scholarships are available for study in religious music and liturgy. There are many examples of the continuing establishment of Byzantine choirs, including right here on Long Island.

The first organ was the invention of Ktesibios, a Greek engineer working in Alexandria during the 3rd Century BC. We also know that organs were an ancient Byzantine tool which flourished during the Byzantine Empire, in which Constantinople was the source of the greatest organs. Organs are also mentioned in the ancient proverbs and psalms about instruments.

Unfortunately, self-centered people who think they are another Maria Callas do exist, but they are found everywhere – in religious, academic and other secular circles, as well.

At Saint Paraskevi, we have a priest, a chanter and a choir director who are encouraging and supportive, and who teach. Music is divinely inspired, designed to glorify God and lead people to experience God. We must do whatever we can to ensure that this glorious legacy of ours continues.
As Saint Basil the Great said, “Psalmody – bringing about choral singing, a bond as it were, toward unity and joining people into a harmonious union of one choir – produces also the greatest of blessings: love.”

Eriphili Fay Pavlidis
Smithtown, New York

Congratulations to Axion Estin Foundation Symposium

11 02 2008

Congratulations are due to the Axion Estin Foundation for their second Symposium on Byzantine Music Education. I’ve included a commentary on the symposium that was published in The National Herald, 2 February 2008 Edition. Some of the commentary seems to ring some bells. This poor soul is stricken with the disease of love for the traditional Psaltic Art; may God have mercy on his soul!

The Art of Byzantine Chant: Music to a Growing Number of Americans’ Ears

By Christopher Tripoulas
Special to The National Herald

Last week, a three-day symposium on Byzantine Music Education took place at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, focusing on how to build a Byzantine choir. On the evening before the seminar, world-renowned chanter/musicologist Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir performed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, undoubtedly one of the world’s premier museums.

For almost one week, one of the most recognizable and traditional aspects of Greece’s cultural legacy was on display center-stage in perhaps the world’s most cosmopolitan city. When the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere and the largest urban university in the United States both decide to publicize and promote an issue simultaneously, it’s a big deal. These institutions attract the attention of people from all over the city, even the nation…and maybe, just maybe, some of the decision-makers in the Greek American Community too.

In its press release, the Met mentions that the Angelopoulos concert is presented in cooperation with the Axion Estin Foundation. It is worthy – pardon the pun – to offer the individuals comprising this organization a well-deserved round of applause. In one well orchestrated week’s time, they will have managed to do more to promote Greek Culture than many other much larger, more illustrious and better funded organizations! This is pretty remarkable when considering that this not-for-profit organization is still in its infancy, having only been founded in November 2005. During that time, it has organized two major conferences, in addition to a weekly radio program that is currently in its fourth year.

One-fourth of the foundation’s trustees and officers hold doctoral degrees. This is not noteworthy simply because these individuals possess a high level of education (there are plenty of educated clergymen out there for instance who haven’t lifted a finger to promote Byzantine music; even in their own parish). It is important because it allows bridges to be built between this living, breathing expression of Greek art and the world of academia. Let’s not forget that Byzantine chant represents a piece of the Hellenic legacy that captivates the interest of people worldwide, while holding it own in modern Greek society up until today. People can come into direct contact with this centuries-old art form, as opposed to just reading about it in history books.

This past week, we witnessed cultural diplomacy in the making. Oddly enough, the architects behind this skillful diplomatic display did not come from some powerful national federation, well-financed government institution, or even from within the “official” Church hierarchy. This ray of hope came from a group of bright young people (including second and third-generation Greek Americans) who love their heritage and use their education and cultivation to share their cultural inheritance with others.

Looking at the online list of sponsors, there are even two non-Greek, non-Christian entities who have contributed to this cause; namely, the CUNY Graduate Center Department of Ethnomusicology and the New York State Council on the Arts. If you visit AEF’s website, you’ll see a handful of recognizable names (countable on one hand) from the Greek American Community, one major ethnic Greek association, a handful of businesses, and two public benefit foundations.

With the exception of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians (which is so incongruous that it can be equated to P. Diddy, the Dixie Chicks and the NY Philharmonic singing at a taverna), there appears to be little sign of any direct contribution from Archdiocesan coffers, and even less from any Greek Orthodox parishes. All and all, one clergyman is listed on the foundation’s website. And yet, somehow, this relatively young and inexperienced organization is doing more to advance Byzantine music than most “heavy hitters” in the Greek American Community combined.

There are other organizations and chanters out there who are interested in helping this musical treasure grow and spread not only within the Greek American Community, but in American society at large. The complaint from many of these well-meaning individuals is lack of funding and lack of interest from the powers that be.

As the old saying goes “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” but for many of our churches, she’s not just singing, she’s bellowing. This historic musical genre, which contains many of the original scales of Ancient Greek music and serves as the basis for Greek (and Middle Eastern) folk music is being overlooked. We’re graduating priests that don’t know how to chant, much less care to learn. We’ve replaced the chanter’s robe and traditional Byzantine melodies with technicolor dreamcoat satin robes, sashes and pipe organs. In some places, church sounds more like the seventh-inning stretch at a baseball game or a dinner party at Castle Dracula. Even the priests who do care are afraid to do anything to change things because they don’t want to insult the wife of the Parish Council President who sings in the choir and thinks she’s the second coming of Maria Callas.

Isn’t it paradox that the largest Greek Orthodox Community in the United States or many Orthodox cathedrals throughout the country won’t even perform one Sunday liturgy with the traditional Byzantine hymns (the ones that the world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art and the City University of New York find so interesting)? When was the last time any comparable institution wanted to present an exhibition on Greek European choir music? The answer is probably never, because such a thing doesn’t exist. It’s like mixing beer and wine. Each element has its own unique history, but just because you put them together, doesn’t mean the concoction will work.

One well known church used to hold fundraisers so it could broadcast its Western-style Sunday liturgy (complete with organs…peanuts and crackerjack) on a Greek-language TV station! No viewership? No duh? I’m willing to wager that interest in Sunday morning soccer games suddenly skyrocketed during that same period. Let’s not forget the famous Patriarchal liturgy at Madison Square Garden (don’t feel bad if you missed it, this is bound to happen at some similar engagement) when European sheet music toting choirs did their utmost to deconstruct Byzantine hymns that generations upon generations of Orthodox Christians almost innately know how to sing. It was like Tschaikovsky disassembling La Marseillaise in his 1812 Overture. Obviously, the phrase a cappella is not in their vocabulary.

Despite growing international recognition, it seems like the art of Byzantine chanting will continue falling on deaf ears in some places. For those that realize its importance, one step in the right direction is to start bringing children to the chanter’s stand, and not only inside the altar. At some point, most kids outgrow being altar boys, but they never outgrow being chanters. This is also a marvelous way to improve children’s knowledge of Greek and expose them to some of the finest literary and musical masterpieces in world history.

For the moment, the funds and real support do not seem to be coming from the Church administration. It’s up to foundations like Axion Estin, individual parish efforts, and the tireless labors of Byzantine musicologists to preserve and promote this historical treasure. The good news is that these individuals seem to have gained the ear of major American institutions. Maybe as interest from universities, art institutions, and conservatories grows, more and more decision makers in the Greek American Community will start to listen too.