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Liturgical Singing 15

Part 1


By Gerasimos Koutsouras

The sacrament of Holy Communion is the most significant rite in Christian worship. It is therefore important that the hymnology and music with which the rite is couched and decorated, appropriately demonstrates the honor and value that Orthodox Christians would ascribe to it. However, current practice in some Greek Orthodox Churches throughout the world, presents various problems that need to be addressed. It is therefore the purpose of this article to outline those problems associated with the current state of the koinonikon (communon hymn) in Greek practice and to propose appropriate renditions based on the work of Conomos, Phountoules, Taft and Papagannes. This article will argue that the hymns associated with Holy Communion should conform to older and more ancient forms of musical practice, insofar as the current structure is not upset.

Function of the Koinonikon

The koinonikon is the hymn that is sung during Holy Communion. Its role is to provide a suitable textual and musical accompaniment to the sacred rite of the Eucharist. Indeed, the entire service builds up to and climaxes at Communion. The liturgical context therefore of Communion is meant, on the one hand, to prepare the hearts and souls of the people to receive the Holy Gifts and, on the other, to express and articulate the people’s feelings of edification and gratitude to God. Regrettably, current trends testify to a deterioration in the liturgical practice of this important item – to the extent that the original meaning and symbolsm of Communion is largely undermined.

Problems with current practice

Solo chanting. In churches that follow Greek practices, the koinonikon is sung by a solo singer in the ‘papadikon’ style of chant. (The papadikon style of chanting is characterized by the application of long, extended musical phrases to relatively short texts. They are called papadika, literally ‘the priestly ones’ because they usually constitute musical cover for the priest, who is taking considerable time in the preparation of a liturgical item. The term papadikon is used interchangeably with the term melismatic, perhaps not correctly.)

In spite of the brevity of its text (usually a half-verse from the Psalter), the syllables of the text are set to extended, florid melodies that draw the hymn out into a seven to ten minute performance. The performance of koinonika generally requres a level of chanting skill not found in every parish, even in Greece. If the soloist has poor knowledge and skill in the Byzantine musical tradition (as is often the case), the text becomes blurred, the singing monotonous and the congregation loses any sense of meanng in the words. In such cases, the only person n the Church gratified by the koinonikon is the chanter himself. The entire procedure is frequently exacerbated by the chanter’s insertion of nonsensical syllables (te-ri-rem) into the psalm verse.

Tererismata, otherwise known as kratemata, are musical compositions which do not use words but rather syllables such as te-ri-rem or ne-na-no. Kratemata (literally holding on) are often appended at the end of a melody either to take up time or to serve as a muscle digresson or tangent. Corresponding to the western syllables tra-la-la, tererismata have been the tools by which composers could produce musical compositions free from the constraints of words and flowing with a regular rhythm (as opposed to the tonic rhythm of Byzantine ecclesiastical music). As such, kratemata are little different from secular artistic music, lacking in spiritual and didactic purpose. They thus constitute a departure from the fundamental element of ecclesiastical music, that is, the appropriate balance and harmonious marriage of words and music (λόγος-μέλος). Attempts to justify the use of kratemata with theological language (that they are like the words that the Virgin Mary used as lullabies to the baby Jesus or that they are like the incomprehensible singing of the angels that apostle Paul heard) mask the fact that they are essentially free musical compositions written since the 14th century and mainly in the post-Byzantine period. St. Nikodemos was unequivocally against them.

To be continued.

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