Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If you can't chant/sing...don't

OK, I know that's a really unpopular and even mean-spirited thing to say especially to people in church. Well, hopefully, you don't actually come up to people and say something along the lines that they need to shut their mouths during the chanted/sung portions of the Divine Offices and Liturgy. But let's face it--not all people are gifted to sing and when you don't know how or you just lack the ability, the singing sounds, well, bad. There's no other way to put it.

I'm blessed to have a decent voice and I have put it to use for the glory of God. However, it has also made me quite snobbish when it comes to those who have not quite the abilities I have when it comes to the execution of hymns at the Divine Services. I seem to conveniently forget that not too long ago, I was a beginner at learning the byzantine modal system. I would frequently move from mode to mode without thinking about it, I would flatten or sharpen a note at inappropriate times, I would give the wrong drone note, etc., etc.. But I've developed and I've devoted a great amount of my time to honing my art for the glory of God and I tend to get irritated when others who want to chant feel that they can skirt preparation or practice simply because "it's enough" that they want to chant and that they don't have the extra time. To them, I say make time.

Executing Byzantine Music well involves far more than reading notes on a page. You have to know the "ethos" of the music as well. Let me put it to you this way. I play bass guitar as well. I've played a number of songs on bass across a lot of different genres. However, one song just completely eluded me. It was "La Grange" by ZZ Top. It's a good fun song. The notes are easy enough, not fast and can be learned through one sitting. But for the life of me, despite knowing the notes, the rhythms, the changes, etc. I could never get the FEELING for that song. I'd be playing the right notes, but it never felt right. I didn't understand the ethos of that particular song. Such with country music. I don't like it. I can play the notes easily enough but I can't get into it so it falls falt every time. Such is with chanting in the byzantine style. If you are able to read the notes on the page that's one step in the right direction, but if you don't know mode 1 differs from the plagal of the fourth mode, then you're not going to be anchored well in the music resulting in you switiching from mode to mode.

Being a chanter takes a lot of work and I do mean a lot of work. So if you can't do it, don't feel bad. It's just not your gifting.

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