Address of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
Pan-Orthodox Symposium of the International Society for Orthodox Church Music
June 23, 2018
Christ is in our midst!
Introduction. It is a great blessing to be here in Minneapolis with all of you for this year’s Pan-Orthodox Symposium of the International Society for Orthodox Church Music. I was actually very eager to participate in some manner in this gathering since I have a personal life-long obsession with music and a particular love for Orthodox liturgical music. In this, I am fairly certain that I am not much different than all of you who have gathered here in the beautiful Saint Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, a community that is a testament – visually, liturgically, and musically – to the most robust expressions of our Orthodox faith in North America. It is within such a context that the other important elements of Orthodox life – pastoral care, participation in the holy mysteries, preaching, and education, among others – can most effectively blossom. And I am grateful to the Rector, Archpriest Andrew Morbey, together with all those who assist him in his pastoral ministry, for their faithfulness and zeal in their witness to the Twin Cities and to all of us.
The Four Pillars. In addition to my own personal interest in music, the development and encouragement of the liturgical arts is a key component of my Four Pillars, which is a document I have prepared for distribution to the Church in advance of this year’s All-American Council in Saint Louis. This document is intended to serve as the framework for a long-term vision for the Orthodox Church in America. The first of the four pillars – which also include stewardship, relations with others, and outreach and evangelism – is the spiritual life. Each pillar, in turn, is composed of several sub-sections, and a key component of the spiritual life pillar is our liturgical and sacramental life, with a particular emphasis on the importance of liturgical music.
Crisis and Hope. It is my observation – and I believe that of many others – that there is a serious musical crisis on this continent which has diminished the power and impact of our Orthodox witness. This is reflected in the difficulties many of our parishes face in identifying and training choir directors, cantors, and singers, a difficulty compounded by the loss of musical education in our broader culture. At the same time, I do not believe that this is a cause for panic or anxiety. Although the musical crisis may loom large, I am confident that it is no match for the force which is found within our Orthodox liturgical, hymnological, and musical heritage, which of course arises out of the treasure of our Orthodox patristic, scriptural, and theological foundations which we have received from the Holy Trinity and in our communion with God. We, as Orthodox Christians, have a responsibility and a duty to share the healing message of the Gospel with our broken and hurting world, and other than a pure heart full of love, there is no stronger way to accomplish this than through music. It is conferences such as this one that provide us with encouragement and the hope that, with God’s grace, this is not an impossible task.
Ancient and Modern. I was particularly intrigued by the theme for this year’s Symposium: “Ancient and Modern Creativity.” “Ancient” and “modern” are terms we hear frequently in Orthodox circles, often in the context of polarized debates in the broader fields of theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality. We are always trying to find the contemporary and practical applications of our ancient faith within our modern existence and we don’t always seem to agree on how this is to be accomplished. The more modern among us perceive the ancients as “reactionary,” and the more traditional among us see the moderns as “progressives.” And before you know it, we are debating whether the Democrats or the Republicans will win the November elections, rather than being drawn to deep repentance and prayer in our hearts by seeking the eternal life offered by Jesus Christ.
Creativity. It seems to me that it is the final word in our theme—“creativity”—that has the potential to provide a way through such polarization. In our Orthodox circles, creativity often has the negative connotation of self-willed independence, a fleeing from sacred tradition, innovation that leads to escape. There is somehow an underlying sense that creativity is modern, hence bad. But we cannot ignore the reality that creativity – as implied by our theme – can not only be both ancient and modern but is a foundational reality of our very existence. After all, did not the Holy Trinity create the universe and all of us in the beginning? Did not Solomon use creativity wisely in rendering judgment in the case of the two women who each claimed to be the mother of a child? Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was creative in the manner in which he brought people to repentance and shattered the reliance on external forms of the Scribes and Pharisees – but above all, He was creative in the manner in which he brought salvation and eternal life to a world that was expecting another type of salvation. Creativity is found in the councils of the Church, in the defense of icons, and in the development of our liturgical music throughout the ages. Creativity is not an innovation, but rather the fruit of the Holy Spirit active in a human heart. It might even be argued that creativity is the foundation of our Tradition, since the handing down of the revelation that came through Jesus Christ is not accomplished by means of dragging and dropping files or uploading the truth to the cloud for access to everyone.
North America. It is not my intention to lecture on the topic of creativity, and we will be participating shortly in a panel discussion on the theme during this Symposium, so there will be an opportunity to hear some more learned reflections on this subject. I also see from the schedule that many of the presentations over the past days have been offered from the perspective of particular local cultures or national traditions, but with an emphasis on how those traditions are incarnated here on this continent. In this vein, I thought I might offer my own brief reflections on our native musical context here in North America.
Minneapolis. For this particular symposium, we find ourselves in the United States, in the State of Minnesota, and even more specifically in the city of Minneapolis, which is a stronghold of the Orthodox Faith (at least in our humble understanding of a stronghold) in a historically Lutheran environment. This historical environment has, of course, evolved over the years, and although I cannot claim to know the fullness of the broader life and culture here in Minneapolis, my suspicion – based on a certain atmosphere that seems to be floating around this neighborhood in particular – is that there is not an insignificant number of “nones” and “dones” in this locality. In other words, it is a melting pot of a multitude of traditions both ancient and modern, reflecting the multinational character of this continent.
Multinational Character. Musically speaking, the multinational character of our life in North America is part of a long historical development of which we are all inheritors – whether we like it or not – in which all of us are striving to preserve, teach, or create liturgical hymns and to learn, train, and inspire others in all of the sacred arts associated with this thing we call Orthodox liturgical music. The beautiful performance from Yphos that we participated in last evening is a good example. At the conclusion, the director, Protopsaltis John Boyer, said to me: “it was a lot of work.” And I suspect that it was a lot of work, not simply because of the technical difficulties of setting English texts to Byzantine melodies and tones, but also because this work is taking place in America with a musical culture that is itself a symphonic mixture of native American songs, Puritan plain chant, blues, tin pan alley, jazz, Gershwinn, and the latest surprise album that just dropped from Beyoncé and Jay Z. This is the context in which we, as Orthodox Christians, are called to be creative.
Parallels. I am not a liturgical or musical scholar myself, so I have nothing academically comprehensive to contribute to this gathering. Many of you will have certainly done more serious study of these topics. Nevertheless, I thought I might offer a few reflections on a historical period that might not be too far removed from our own. This historical period is the early years of the settlement of this continent, in which I have an interest personally as relates to my own ancestors, who arrived on these shores (or should I say “those shores” since we are closer to the West Coast than to Hingham, Massachusetts,) in 1638 on the good ship “Diligent.” Although I do have some records that relate to my own family’s use of music, and even liturgical music, I will focus today on some points outlined by Richard Crawford in his book, America’s Musical Life – A History, which I am currently reading. My reflections are by no means comprehensive, but I am uncovering some interesting parallels between the early centuries of the colonization of the New World and our own situation as Orthodox Christians in the 21st century. And I think that these parallels might not only give us encouragement but perhaps even point us to some guiding principles.
Native American Music. Our Orthodox Church in North America had its beginnings in Alaska with the arrival of Saint Herman and his seven monastic missionary companions in 1794. The Russian fur traders had been there already and would have certainly been around in 1787 when William Beresford took some notes on the singing of the Natives of the Norfolk Sound near Sitka. There are, of course, no recordings of these early songs, nor is there much written record of native music, other than some descriptions by colonists. Nevertheless, there is a tradition of Orthodox native singing that survives to this day, a tradition that flowed from those beginning days when the native songs which connected human beings to the heavenly realm and captured the various myths of origin were eventually joined in some unknown manner with the Russian liturgical singing. In the midst of this, there were the efforts by those such as Saint Innocent to translate Orthodox texts into the various native languages—Yupik, Aleut, or Tlingit, among others.
Spanish, French, and English Missionaries. Later, there were other waves of development. The Spanish in the South and the Southwest brought the Roman Catholic liturgy with its tradition of a cycle of services, elaborate vocal polyphony, organs, and the Latin language, spreading this through an expanding network of missions. The French in Canada and the Northeast also brought the Roman Catholic liturgical and musical tradition, but via more isolated colonial outposts. Finally, we have the English Protestant developments in New England, with the Puritan and Reformed rejection of the rituals and perceived sensual excesses of the Roman Catholic Church and an emphasis on the word rather than on music as an art. All of these have given us quite a mix, and it is in this mix that we now have the challenge of bringing our own Orthodox mix of polyphony, monophony, Slavic, Byzantine, Romanian and Prostopinje chant.
Psalm Books in English. One of my hobbies is collecting Psalters, both in the ancient languages and in English translation. Of the latter, there are many. While the frequent calls for a common Orthodox English translation of the Holy Scriptures and all liturgical texts are certainly noble (and perhaps even attainable), there may be a creative benefit to making do with what we have. This was exhibited in last night’s performance and detailed in Professor Richard Barret’s introduction, in which it was explained that each composer made us of a particular English translation – with the implication that somehow these various translations were providentially fitted to the particular creative use of the traditional chants that they were being wedded to. This is perhaps in keeping with a longer tradition relating to the Psalms in particular here in North America.
Development of Psalters. In 1564, the first Protestants to arrive were French Huguenots, who attempted to found a colony on the Atlantic coast of Florida. They would have likely had with them a copy of the Geneva Psalter (1562) which contained the psalms in the vernacular and set to tunes written for congregational singing. The Florida Indians liked these melodies and continued to sing the psalms in French, even after the Spanish had massacred all the French colonists, as a way of testing whether strangers were friendly (French) or not. Around the same time, Anglicans would have brought with them The Whole book of Psalmes, Collected into Englishe Meter (Sternhold and Hopkins, 1562), which also served as a congregational song book until The New Version of the Psalms of David (Brady and Tate) came out in 1696. The former became known as the Old Version after the New Version came out and was characterized by the turning of the psalms into a form of popular poetry using the same simple verse structures found in popular ballads of the oral tradition.
Spare and Plain. The Pilgrim’s Puritan influence brought a focus on the Psalms and on the “spare and plain” singing of hymns. In 1612, The Booke of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Meter (Ainsworth, 1612) provided a book-sized and portable version of the Psalter in which unaccompanied tunes were provided for each psalm text so that they could be sung directly. There were only 39 tunes for the 150 psalms. There is then an interesting development in the Puritan world which sees a deemphasis on the music and an emphasis on the texts. This is certainly in keeping with our own Orthodox understanding of the primacy of the texts. But in the North American context, there then followed a decline in the musical context, for example with the Bay Psalm Book of 1640 (which was the first full length book published in the colonies) which provided a better translation of the Psalms but further reduced the number of melodies to five and were used simply as a means of delivery.
Lining Out. The effect on the musical life was significant. By the 1640s: melodies were simpler, the repertoire of tunes became smaller and musical skill waned as only one singer was necessary for leading the singing. The practice of “lining out” became more prevalent as a means to preserve congregational singing. There is of course a parallel here in our Orthodox tradition of the canonarch – itself a fluctuating practice within the history of Orthodox liturgical singing. Just as there are debates today about the practice of using a canonarch, so there was in the New World a reaction to the practice of lining out, which arose in the 1720s. This led to the great debates surrounding the Old Way of singing versus Regular Singing.
Old Way versus Regular Singing. The lined-out style of singing led to complaints that the “rules” of musical notation dear to the Puritans were being neglected, and that the authority that the lead singers exercised was leading to idiosyncratic interpretations that then became cemented and confusing to people. It was the Reverend Thomas Symmes who recommended the use of “Regular Singing” which would basically normalize the singing that had become a little too “free.” The criticism of the Old Way became quite strident at times:
“Where there is no Rule, Men’s Fancies (by which they are govern’d) are various: some affect a Quavering Flourish on one Note, and others upon another which (because they are ignorant of true Musick or Melody) they account a Grace to the Tune, and while some affect a quicker Motion, others affect a slower, and drawl out their Notes beyond all Reason; hence in Congregations ensues Jarrs and Discords, which make the Singing (rather) resemble Howling.” Another Regular Singing advocate even suggested that a woman’s miscarriage was caused by “the ungrateful and yelling Noise of a Deacon in reading the first Line of a Psalm.”
The Desert Fathers. Here, I would like to make another jump, this time back to the time of the Desert Fathers. The history of music, whether in North America or in our millennial Orthodox journey, is fascinating and multifaceted. But in all that complexity, there is also the reality that music has a deep impact on us as human beings and reaches us particularly in the heart. As another illustration of this, and as a certain parallel to the previous story, I would like to read to you a story from the desert fathers concerning Abba Pambo.
Abba Pambo sent his disciple to Alexandria to sell their handiwork. This disciple spent sixteen days in the city, as he told us. At night he slept in a room in the church, in the aisle of the holy Apostle Mark. After he had observed the liturgy of the church he returned to the elder. But he had also learned troparia [in Alexandria]. The elder spoke to him [after his return]: “Son, I see that you are disturbed. Were you beset by a temptation in the city?” The brother answered: “Father, we spend our days here serenely and we sing neither canons nor troparia. But when I came to Alexandria I saw the choirs in the church and how they sing, and I became very sad that we do not sing canons and troparia.” Then the elder said to him: “Woe to us, my son! The days have come when monks turn away from the enduring nourishment which the Holy Spirit gives them and surrender themselves to singing. What kind of contrition (kataniksis) is that? How can tears come from the singing of troparia? How can a monk possess contrition if he stays in the church or in his cell and raises his voice like the lowing of the cattle? For when we stand in God’s sight we must be most contrite and not presumptuous. Monks have not come into this desert to place themselves before God in pride and presumption, to sing melodic songs and make rhythmic tunes, to shake their hands and stamp their feet. Our duty is to pray to God in holy fear and trembling, with tears and sighing, with devotion and vigilance, with modesty and a humble voice. See, I tell you, my son, the days will come when Christians will destroy the books of the holy Evangelists, the holy Apostles and the inspired Prophets, and they will rip up the Holy Scriptures and compose troparia in their place.
Although the reaction of Saint Pambo may strike us as somewhat extreme (and I would point out there is hardly a monastery today that does not sing troparia and canons), still this shows that there were times when singing itself was not held in high regard, at least for a certain segment of the Church.
Some Implications for Orthodox Music Today. There is an interesting passage from The Ladder of Divine Ascent by Saint John Climacus. Although this is a preeminent text for monastics, it has important applications for the lives of all Christians. One such application is a passage in Step 15 (On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat). In this step, Saint John shares a story that was told to him about Saint Nonnus, the Bishop of Heliopolis, who had attained an extraordinarily high degree of purity. This man “on seeing a beautiful woman, thereupon glorified the Creator; and from that one look, he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction in one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown.’”
But Saint John goes on to say something remarkable. He adds:
Let us be guided by the same rule in singing melodies and songs. For lovers of God are moved to gladness, to divine love and to tears both by worldly and by spiritual songs; but lovers of pleasure do the opposite.
Here we are introduced to an important element: that of the attitude and disposition of one’s heart, whether one is singing or looking or doing any other activity. In other words. it is not so much the kind of music that is sung that is important, but what is in our heart.
Conclusion. This instruction provides a foundational principle for our theme: to look at the attitude of our heart first and foremost, rather than dwelling on the external impulses that act upon us. Especially in our age, we tend to spend much of our time responding to external stimuli. Music is a particularly powerful stimulus, often touching us very deeply and on many levels—spiritual, emotional and psychological. I would like for us to not get too stuck on the external expressions but rather try to understand what is happening in our hearts. What we should focus on, in all the work that we do in this beautiful field of liturgical music, is to keep our minds and hearts focused on the purpose of our worship: to learn contrition, to grown in humility and to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit in our worship of God in Trinity.