It’s been so long since I have written that I couldn’t even remember how to access my account. Thanks to the reader who posted a comment recently, thus encouraging me to write again. Life has been very busy since I last wrote. Two moves (one across state lines), a pregnancy and a new baby!
If I actually want to use this space and have posts once in a while I will probably have to become more laid back about my posts. I am a perfectionist and often send my posts to my husband to read before publishing them. He is a much better writer and grammarian than I am and so this often leads to lots of rewriting and reworking. It doesn’t help that that was my style during my school days either. But…I have three young children and am trying to work on iconography in addition to the chanting things that I do. So, I am going to write this post and publish it– to the dismay of my husband!
Although I found the “Glory to Thee” podcasts helpful after awhile I decided that I wanted to focus on learning to read Byzantine notation more and so I stopped after I had done the fast versions of the eight tones. Around that time, one of my friends from the Byz. Choir of Pittsburgh moved to DC and started to give lessons. I went to a few but then pregnancy and the 45 minute drive each way got to me and I decided to study on my own and go to him with questions. In the spring of 2012 I started to be able to read well enough to chant some from Byzantine notation for matins. I was using music that was a transcription of Kazan’s work. I was amazed to find how much more “authentic” I sounded just by reading from Byzantine notation instead of Western notation. My reading proficiency was still mediocre (it highly depended on which tone) but I started at least chanting the Evlogetaria, Praises, and a few other things from Byzantine notation. Part of the problem was locating the music for other things as well as getting it in the same translation that my priest was using. I never talked to him to see if he minded a different translation.
In August I had my third baby and she is very easy going and a wonderful sleeper. We also moved back to Pittsburgh in October so we have been very busy. Now that I am in Pittsburgh and not teaching the piano in the evenings I have started to chant with the Byzantine Choir of Pittsburgh, headed by Stephen Esper. He is giving lessons once a week. His lessons have been structured much different than the lessons that my friend in DC was giving. My friend in DC went through the chant manual and taught all of the symbols for jumps, rhythm, and ornamentation before delving into any particular tone. Stephen had us start reading a hymn in tone 1 right away. He had us chant on “la” instead of using parralege and he explained each new symbol when we encountered it in the music. I found that I enjoyed this way of learning much better. My friend Laura is learning with me as well. I have been working with her on the side to make sure that she is prepared for the lessons. I feel as though if this way was my first exposure to the music it would be difficult. Our lessons have been going well–on the easier side for me–but I am still learning new things. It isn’t very enjoyable to learn if things are too difficult anyway, is it?
Part of the reason that it has been so long is that I started working on a new website for the games that I have been working on. I have been developing materials and games to teach Byzantine notation but I don’t have anyone to test them out with except for Laura and my own children (ages 3 and 4). I have found that my 4 year old was able to learn some of the notation symbols fairly easy with my method (one up, stay the same, one down). She has also learned the Greek scale. Based on my work with her and Laura I am developing short phrases that slowly teach new symbols, and added more and more of the scale as we go along. I started out generically on ni but then after about 15 phrases I switched into tone 1.
In conjunction with the games and materials I would also like to record some music for teaching purposes. I would like to develop it along the lines of the Suzuki method. Of course, I don’t want to record myself, so this will take some time. First we need to determine what hymns should be taught and then get them recorded by experienced chanters. As I am still in my chanting infancy, I am not entirely certain where to start. I have talked to some of my more experienced chanter friends and so have a starting point, but I feel the need of more expertise.
Stephen has all of his new chanters chant the ison during services while they are still learning. I find that I really like being able to do this because it takes the pressure off of learning. I still practice the music ahead of time but it would take me close to 2 hours to practice all of the music for matins (we chant all of the Kathismata, stichera and verses from the praises). So this allows me to only practice some of it. Besides, they tend to chant at a fast pace, so even with practice it is still difficult to keep up.
There are two things that I have gained from my lessons with Stephen. First, I think it is beneficial to learn the notation within the specific tones, not just a Western sound C scale. Second, I think that there is value in having beginners learn the ison from the beginning. I am not sure exactly how I will add this second part into my curriculum yet. My impression is that many people have difficulty holding a pitch steady while another person is chanting the melody above them.
I am gaining so much more from Stephen and the other chanters. Chant really is something that one absorbs. I know that I am learning a lot just by being a part of the group. I know that this method that I am developing will take a lot of work and a number of years (or decades) but I dream of a curriculum that can make chanting more accessible to people converting to Orthodoxy, mission churches wishing to have quality Byzantine chant, and even children. I would love to have a children’s Byzantine choir someday.
Well, the baby is waking up. Hopefully I can begin posting at least every week or two with my progress. Sorry for the bad grammar, incorrect spelling, and bad flow (that’s for my husband). Until next time…