Advice for Singers/Chanters in the Orthodox Church

Tatiana V. Yanovskaya

Choir Girls-by: Tatiana V. Yanovskaya

– Always get the Priest’s blessing before directing the Choir.

– When teaching this music to a choir or other chanters, know at least the melody well enough to sing it by yourself. If possible, learn the bass part (if you are female, then learn the bass part in the alto range.)

– Unless specified, using a unison “Amen” is preferable.

– Before having a choir sing this music, play the audio file for them so they get a keener sense of what they are trying to create.

– Do not over-direct this music. Begin together, end together, and provide accents points and small motions with the hand which indicate steady movement. Don’t over use the down-beat.

– When using the music for Liturgy, in many cases, by using the same numbers for each piece (i.e., First Antiphon #1, Only Begotten #1, etc.,) you can often keep stylistic continuity throughout the Liturgy which is imperative for proper Orthodox Liturgical worship.

– Try to maintain the right spirit even at the expense of the perfect musical execution.

– Always strive to take/keep the same pitch as the priest/deacon for the Amen’s and Litanies.

– As obvious as it sounds, when you make a mistake or get mad at someone (even maybe going so far as to yell at them) say you are sorry before receiving communion or at least before you leave the Church building.

– Try to make the choir/chanters sing quieter (about an 8 or 8 and a half on the volume scale.) This music is much more delicate and requires a different approach, being melody and text driven rather and harmonically driven by chord structure. Hence, it is imperative to ask others to be more sensitive to this, to sing with more attention on listening to others all the while focusing on the words and CONVEYING THE MESSAGE! Choirs/Chants are famous for singing for themselves!

-Try to maintain a feeling of forward movement (line) in this music at all times…even for slower, quieter things. The choir/chanter is attempting to facilitate the movement of the congregation towards the Kingdom of God. Therefore they must be committed to what they sing, committed to actively conveying the message of which they sing, and they must remember to focus more on others (in the choir and congregation) rather than on themselves. The best choir members are the best listeners. Always remind others in the choir that listening is a skill that can be developed to an amazingly high degree (just consider the ear of a Symphony conductor.)

– Most people do not move their mouth enough when they sing. Encourage a feeling of exaggeration in the movement of the mouth which will actually sound normal to those who hear and facilitate text transmission.

– Remember, if the music is not alive it is dead. There is no middle ground here. Keep it moving with a lot of life, energy, and interest. If you are interested, others who listen will become interested. If you put a lot of energy into singing, others who hear will get a lot of energy out of what they experience.

– The goal is not: “What a great Choir,” but rather, “How beautiful the service was today!” The best choirs and chanters are those who are invisible, blending in with the icons, the priest, the vestments, the Gospel book, Orthodox dogma, etc.

– If we sing with the heart, peoples minds and hearts will be changed by what they hear.
Our words really only have transformative power when they come from our heart.

– From the Old Testament times, worship has always had an element of sacrifice. Without it, our worship is still-born and could possibly be fruitless. Do not be afraid of the pain which makes us like unto Christ. Do not be afraid of the level of commitment it takes to become a good singer/chanter. God deserves our best and effort and sacrifice in this process are essential.

– The goal is Christ, not perfect music. If we love Him and do what we do out of love for Him and as a sacrifice for Him, we will be blessed and can find salvation through it. Effort and good will are absolutely essential…musical perfection is not.

– It is not so much what we sing (which is still very important, albeit secondary) but rather how we sing what we sing and with what disposition of heart.

http://www.orthodoxtwopartmusic.org/otpl14.html

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1 Response to “Advice for Singers/Chanters in the Orthodox Church”


  1. 1 Mary Lowell February 10, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Excellent point and so little heeded in our church singers who often misunderstand the goal of church singing, dissipating into shouting contests or too precious attempts to be a stand alone voice using the rest of the singers as backup. This kind of self-absorption in singers, especially sopranos and tenors, may win a “Wow, what a beautiful voice you have!”, but destroys worship of God in favor of worship of self.

    “Try to make the choir/chanters sing quieter (about an 8 or 8 and a half on the volume scale.) This music is much more delicate and requires a different approach, being melody and text driven rather and harmonically driven by chord structure. Hence, it is imperative to ask others to be more sensitive to this, to sing with more attention on listening to others all the while focusing on the words and CONVEYING THE MESSAGE! Choirs/Chants are famous for singing for themselves!”

    I offer my thoughts on the same subject at: http://hexaemeron.org/htms/newsletter_ss07_tong.htm


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