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Congregational singing?


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#1 Christopher M. Bryan

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:08 AM

Hi everyone. I am an interested outsider, and because of circumstances I have been able to attend the liturgy in parishes from a couple of different traditions, one Ukrainian and one Greek. In the Ukrainian church, all of the singing was very simple and it was not out of place for the congregation to join in with the choir. In the Greek church I attended for the first time last Sunday, on the other hand, the singing was much more beautiful but performed by a solo cantor while the congregation remained silent. So I have two questions:

1) Is the custom for the congregation to sing (or not) consistent across national traditions, or does it depend on individual parishes, or what?

2) I understand that singing isn't the 'be all and end all' of worship. However, I have a 4-year old daughter, and I think she found it difficult that there wasn't more active participation. Do you have advice for parents of small children? (She does enjoy kissing icons and lighting a candle, and having a piece of the blessed bread at the end!)

I hope to ask these questions to members of the Greek parish, but I would like to know the knowledge and advice from this online community as well. Thank you very much!

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 12:06 PM

I am a member (the cantor actually) of a Carpatho-Russian parish. We have a long tradition of congregational singing, although many of our parishes have choirs. Our parish does not have a choir and so far no desire for one. We all sing, mostly to try and drown me out I suspect. Our style of music is rather unique, called "plain chant" or "prostipenje"

I was a member of an Antiochian parish in CA that was militantly congregational singing as well, St Matthews I believe (it was many years ago). The majority of the parishes I have been a part of or visited did have choirs. St. George Antiochian in DC usually started Divine Liturgy with cantors until about the second antiphon when enough choir members finally showed up to take over the singing…

Herman the congregationally singing Pooh

#3 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 12:25 PM

Basicaly I think that the Greek Church has more chior singing and the Salvic more congratulation. However this is differnet from parish to parish. My parish has a choir but for most of the hymns anyone can join in as well so the choir leads and it is up to us to follow if we want to so most of the regular hymns like the Great Doxology is sung by the choir and the congregation.

#4 John Konstantin

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 12:29 PM

Another way of looking at it is if someone enjoys singing there is no earthly reason why that person should not stand at the Choir and sing. In that particular church there is only one cantor as there is no one else either able, confident or willing to augment him. When he is not there, the priest asks if I will cover for him and on those Sundays I will ask a blessing from my priest to go and assist in York.

The tradition in that particular congregation is that only Orthodox members should be at the Choir so that might prohibit one in the short term. I do not think it is a hard and fast rule but more of a preference. In my Romanian parish I was allowed to sing at the Choir before I became Orthodox and other churches follow this too.

I realise this doesn't answer the congregational singing aspect but hopefully it shows a manner in which one can contribute vocally.

#5 Anthony Stokes

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 01:05 PM

Christopher,
the short answer is that the tradition of congregational singing is not universal. You'll find it more in Slavic parishes than Greek. But even then, not all Slavic parishes practice it. The Carpatho-Russians and Old-believers are the main churches that do full congregational singing, often with no choirs at all.

Many Russian churches just have a choir that might do more complicated choral music.

In the OCA here in America, many of our churches are a mix. I have two different choirs. We lead the singing of the people. For some pieces, the entire congregation joins in, for some they just listen. There are always a few things that they can't sing because they change every week.

The Greeks have 2 main traditions. Byzantine chant is not really a congregational singing method, but you will find parishes where everyone sings certain things, like litanies, the Trisagion hymn, plus they recite the creed and Lord's prayer together, while the Russians sing them.

The Greek choir tradition is actually going away in some parishes and being replaced with chant. The choirs are typically led by an organ, and some of the people will sing along as well.

Also, and this is probably not true of all of them, but many Greek and Antiochian churches, and I'm sure some Russian too, don't usually have kids stay in the church. Here in the US, most Greek parishes have childcare during the service, and the kids just come in for communion. I have a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 10 month old, so I know it can be difficult to get them involved. Singing is a good way, so if that needs to be involved in a choice of parishes, it might be important to look at.

Sbdn. Anthony

#6 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 01:07 PM

In a recent argument about the place of singing in worship on a listserv for Orthodox music, a difference arose in the meaning of "congregational singing." Some people took it to mean that the congregation sings everything, while others took it so mean that the congregation sings something. Both are more common now in the U.S. than they were years ago, but while the latter is fairly common, the former is still rather rare.

The evolution of singing in the Church is rather complicated, and so it's hard to maintain that any one practice is "the tradition." There is plenty of evidence from the Fathers that the congregation did sing in the early centuries, and some very traditional churches like the Ethiopians and the Malabar Indians do still have the congregation sing everything or almost everything. But appointed singers did appear fairly early, and the singing of the people was eventually suppressed in the Byzantine era, partly because the music became more complicated and partly because the singing of the people, especially of women, was considered immodest and impenitential.

Many choir directors still resist singing by the people. Those who are professional musicians seem to be the most resistant. But there is a growing awareness that singing is spiritually beneficial and a natural part of Christian worship, which is characteristically dialogic.

#7 Christopher M. Bryan

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 09:00 AM

Wow, thanks everyone for the thorough answers.

John K., it's good to know that singing isn't deliberately restricted to just one or two people. The melodies and inflections Martin sang last Sunday were really wonderful, and I look forward to acclimating my ear to them :)

From an outsider's perspective, I think a balance between simpler congregation singing and more elaborate cantor/choir singing is a good thing. I look forward to delving deeper into the world of Orthodox music. Thanks again, everyone.

#8 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 11:41 PM

I have attended Greek parishes where nobody in the congregation sang. I now attend a Greek parish (after having moved to another state) where most in the congregation sing.

#9 Donna Rail

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 02:23 AM

I attend a Greek parish. It seems to be a pattern, in our church, that the people don't start joining in on the singing early in the liturgy, but as it gets further along, they do join in. By about halfway through, it's pretty active. (I like to sing the whole time.) :)

#10 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 06 June 2013 - 11:20 PM

I was talking about congregational singing with my wife the other day.  In the late 1990s, she attended a church in Moscow where the priest was the closest disciple of Fr Alexander Men and there was congregational singing (as well as a vibrant and joyful community).  There was, she says, an amazing closeness and love among the faithful which was enhanced by congregational singing.  All this was suppressed by Moscow Patriarchate about 2000.  There seems no reason why such singing should not be done, and we may recall that it was introduced in Milan by St Ambrose.



#11 John Frangos

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 12:31 PM

A really important and urgent topic - thanks for raising it.

I don't have any answers just wish we could engage our children in the liturgy as much as possible!

The congregation recites the creed, and Our Father together. The congregation are spectators for the remainder.

#12 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 03:16 PM

The congregation recites the creed, and Our Father together.

 

This is as far as it goes in Russia though the tunes they sing to are boring stilted things with a steady beat.  In England, we use the Rimsky-Korsakov tune for the Our Father - the English words fit it very well.






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