Introduction to the theory and practice of Byzantine Chant


(Project held on Saturday June 2 and Sunday June 3 2001, at the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, by Iosif Bena)


The purpose of this project was to introduce Byzantine chanting to a group of parishioners of some of the Romanian Churches in Los Angeles.

This was done with two goals in mind. First, it was hoped that some of the participants would continue (either on their own or through further seminars) to learn Byzantine chant, and  become involved in the chanting ministry of the Church. Second, it was hoped that those who are not planing to become chanters would increase their understanding of and love for Byzantine chant, which would enable

them to better participate in the services of the Church.

            About 10 people attended the whole or parts of the workshop. Most of them were young adults.

The teaching was done both in Romanian and in English, since there were a few participants who could not chant in one or the other.

            Iosif was involved with planning and leading the project. The teaching and singing was done by him in collaboration with Costin Popescu (who will start attending Holy Cross this fall).

            Before the project Iosif prepared a tape with representative melodies of the several tones he wanted to introduce the participants to (8,5,1 and 4), and prepared a 10-page handout with the texts of the melodies to be taught. He also talked on the phone with the director of the Boston Byzantine Choir (Charlie Marge) and asked him question about the methodology he wanted to use, and the format of the class.

            The original plan was to teach a few melodies in a tone "by the ear", and after these melodies were mastered by the participants to cover the theory of the tone with those who knew music. Iosif expected the students to be familiar with a few melodies on each tone (such as the Evloghitaria, the Resurrection Troparia, or the Troparion of the Cross), to learn the other melodies and get a feel for the tone. For this purpose the melodies he chose were very similar, emphasizing the unitarity of each tone.

            He started teaching in this way, but soon he realized that most of the students had very little familiarity with any Byzantine melodies. On the other hand most of them knew music quite well. Therefore, he changed the teaching strategy. He made copies of the music scores and used them instead of the texts he prepared. Also, he went more deeply into the music theory of the chant.

            Because of the lack of exposure to Byzantine music, Iosif realized that his original wish of having the participants "chant from the newspaper" by the end of the workshop was not realistic, and he settled for a more modest goal - introducing them to Byzantine music and giving them a few ways to continue further on their own. Nevertheless, some participants learned the tones quite well and chanted at the Vespers and Matins services for Pentecost. On the following day after the Divine Liturgy a large part of the participants went to a barbecue after which Iosif reviewed some of the songs taught the previous day.

            Since there was a lot of interest in this workshop (from the participants and from 6 other people who could not participate), Iosif plans to continue it in the Fall.