Tips for Cantors
by Fr. Bohdan Hladio
Singing in Church and leading congregational singing is an art. Ukrainians, through centuries of worship, have developed both a varied and complex array of liturgical music. The music presented in this course is typical of that used in Central and Eastern Ukraine, as well as some parts of Volyn’. It can be sung congregationally (led by a single cantor or a group of cantors) as well as by a choir.
Certain selections, generally those used at every Liturgy, are easily learned and sung by all the faithful. Other selections such as tropars, kondaks, and other hymns such as the hymn “All of Creation” (the hymn to the Theotokos appointed at the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great) which are used less often, might be sung sung only by a trained cantor or choir. In both cases it is imperative that a cantor and/or choir members know the melodies well, be well prepared for every service in advance, and sing in a manner which will be spiritually edifying to those listening and easy to follow for those who wish to sing along.
Most of the melodies included are given in four-part harmony. For the faithful who do wish to sing along (and this is highly recommended!) it is imperative that they never sing so loud as to drown out the voice of the lead cantor or choir. For those who wish to harmonize, it is imperative that they never attempt to harmonize unless they know the melody well.
Absolute and Relative Pitch
When singing responses in Church we do not follow “absolute pitch”, but relative pitch. In other words, the written notes are there to indicate the melody and the intervals, but not necessarily the pitch of the note being sung.
For example, no matter what key a particular hymn or response is notated in (and in general, for convenience sake they are notated so that the range of the melody remains within the five-line staff), the goal is to reflect the relative intervals. As to the actual pitch a particular response or hymn will be sung on during Liturgy, this will depend on the vocal range of the priest, the cantor, and the choir or congregation. The melody is the melody, no matter what actual note we begin on.
Exclamation and Response
Much of the Divine Liturgy consists of a “dialogue” between the priest/deacon and the faithful. This “dialogue” becomes much more meaningful and natural when besides the words exchanged the musical tonalities of the priest and the singers are matched.
if the priest is intoning a litany or exclamation on the tonic note do (i.e. F in the key of F, G in the key of G, etc.), the response of the “Amen” or the first “Lord, have mercy” will normally begin on the 3rd above, or the note mi (A in the key of F, B in the key of G, etc.).
This interplay between the priest’s and the cantor’s singing, when conducted properly, contributes to a pleasant aesthetic experience on the part of the faithful, and makes congregational singing much easier and more enjoyable.
The note values (i.e., quarter, half, whole) given are only approximations, indicating which syllables of text are given emphasis. In general, the notes are written as quarter-notes (short), half-notes (longer), or whole notes (longest) used as needed. As with pitch, the note values are relative, not absolute. Using a metronome to help establish the rhythm of the hymns and responses will not only be useless, it will destroy the character of the music.
Ideally the tempo and rhythm should flow from the text in an organic manner. It is very important that responses and hymns not sound rushed (as if we’re in a race to see who can get to the end of the Liturgy fastest!) nor be dragged out so as to sound like a dirge. A tempo which permits all present to both sing along comfortably and understand all the words without suffering through a “pregnant pause” before the next word or phrase is sung is ideal.
The Eight Tones
Regarding the Eight Resurrectional Tones, the Kyivan musical system actually includes 16 different melodies:
- one for the tropar/kondak,
- and one for the prokiemen of each tone.
In addition, the Vesperal (stykhyra) Tones are different from the Resurrectional Tones (with the exception of tone 5), to give a total of 23 different melodies.
A qualified cantor will know all these melodies by heart, and know how to sing the various festal tropars, kondaks and prokiemena using these melodies as a guide.
In order to successfully do this it is necessary to understand the “construction” of the tones. They are composed of musical phrases which repeat, occasionally preceded by a special introductory phrase and/or concluded by a special ending phrase.
- the Tone 1 Resurrectional Tropar melody is very simple, consisting of two musical phrases which are repeated, always ending on the 2nd phrase.
- The tone 4 Vesperal melody is more complicated, having three introductory phrases, followed by three (repeated) regular phrases, and a special ending.
Each tone has its own particularities and beauty.
It is our hope and prayer that this course will contribute to greater knowledge about our Divine Services, greater joy in the singing of our Divine Services, and a true spiritual and Liturgical renewal among all our faithful.
Sing praises to our God sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
(Psalm 46: 6,1)