Posts tagged music
March 2, 1865: Fr. Agapius Honcharenko served the first public Orthodox Divine Liturgy in New York. Way back in 2009, I wrote a pair of articles about that liturgy; click here and here to read them. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that Honcharenko had celebrated the Divine Liturgy at least once in New York prior to March 2 — on January 6, which was Christmas (December 25) according to the Orthodox calendar in the 19th century. But the March 2 liturgy was the first public liturgy. Rev. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church and one of the most prominent Episcopalian clergymen of his day, wrote of the liturgy in his journal, “This 2nd. day of Lent was a memorable one, because the Liturgy of the Eastern Church was sung in Trinity Chapel, at 11 A.M. This never occurred before so far as I have heard, in any Anglican Church. Bishop Potter was to have been there, but backed out, and went down to S. Paul’s instead, to the noon day communion.”
February 28, 1904: Barbara MacGahan died in New York. A native of Russia, MacGahan was the widow of a famous American war correspondent, and she became a renowned journalist in her own right. She was the principal founder of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (later Cathedral) in New York City, and she played an important role in the Russian Mission until her death. In MacGahan’s day, a disproportionate number of the Orthodox in America were men. And the status of women in turn-of-the-century America was certainly far more restricted than it is today. I mean, today, we don’t bat an eyelash at the thought of a woman chairing a parish council, but such a thing was probably inconceivable more than a century ago. It was in that world that MacGahan became a major player in the Russian Mission, right at the time when it was expanding beyond its original focus of Alaska. Barbara MacGahan may have been the most influential woman in the early history of American Orthodoxy.
February 28, 1914: The choir of New York’s St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral performed at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson. Some of the robes worn by the choir members at this event have survived, and are held at the OCA archives in Syosset, NY.
February 27, 1915: St. Raphael Hawaweeny, the Syrian Bishop of Brooklyn, died. What can be said of St. Raphael that has not already been said? How about this quotation from Rev. T.J. Lacey, a notable Episcopalian priest who had a strong affinity for the Orthodox Church:
Bishop Raphael was a master-builder. He laid strong enduring foundations, gathering a large constituency and acquiring valuable property for the congregation. He was a man of wide education and keen intelligence, a master of many languages. He possessed rare gifts of administration, and was unselfishly devoted to the spiritual and material welfare of his people. His death, in 1915, deprived the Syrian Church of a strong leader.
February 28, 1937: The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop Bohdan Spylka was consecrated by the Greek Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou.
UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I said that Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky returned to Russia on February 27, 1914 (so, the day before his cathedral choir performed at the White House). But my fellow SOCHA director Aram Sarkisian informed me that this was incorrect — actually, Hotovitzky was present at the White House concert, and he left for Russia on March 12. The reason for the error is that March 12 is February 27 according to the Old Calendar. We’ll make note of Hotovitzky’s departure in a couple of weeks, when we get to the actual anniversary.
Also, I originally said that the choir concert was on February 29 (the date reported by other sources), but as Aram points out, 1914 was not a leap year. The concert actually took place on February 28.
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Last week, we published the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. Today, we’re running Part 2, on “The Sunday School Session.” Gelsinger begins by talking, in minute detail, about how a Sunday School session should take place. He then allows himself to meander into topics of more general interest — language and music. We’ll run Part 3 of this mini-series next Thursday.
The law of our Orthodox Church requires every Orthodox Christian to attend all the Services on Sundays and on other holy days. Therefore, the members of a Sunday School cannot be excused from attendance at the Divine Liturgy, the most important of all Services. And since the work of the Sunday School cannot be done well if the pupils are tired and restless, it is better to have the Sunday School meet before the Liturgy rather than after it.
There is still another reason why the Sunday School should meet before the Liturgy. The Service of the Orthros (Matins) is much neglected among us, in spite of the fact that in importance it ranks next to the Liturgy itself. It is in the Orthros that we find the special meaning of any Feast most fully and elaborately expressed; and it is in the Orthros that we find the greatest variety of hymns by the Church’s most inspired poets and musicians. This Service is neglected in America mainly because many of our people are so lazy and slack that they cannot endure to spend more time in Church than is required for the Liturgy; and some of them complain that even the Liturgy is too long. Under present conditions the only hope of bringing the Orthros back into use is for the Sunday Schools to take over the responsibility for singing it, — a responsibility that possibly could be shared with organizations of young people beyond Sunday School age, such as the Orthodox Frontier Club. But the chief responsibility for the Orthros should be laid upon the Sunday Schools; and as the Orthros precedes the Liturgy, it is highly desirable that all our Sunday Schools at once begin to have their sessions before the Liturgy if such is not their custom already.
The following Schedule is suggested as a guide in planning the Sunday School Session:
- 9:45 — Secretary of the School must be in his place.
- 9:45-9:50 — Teachers get their Class Roll Books and other supplies from the Secretary of the School.
- 9:50 — Teachers must be in their classrooms.
- 10:00 — Pupils must be in their classrooms.
- 10:05-10:10 – The Secretary of the School visits each class to collect the Class Roll Books and the offerings, and then returns to his place to make out his report for the whole School. At the First Warning Bell messengers from the classes will bring him the offerings and the names of pupils who came in after roll call; at that time he will change the Absence marks for those pupils in the Class Roll Books to Tardiness marks, correct the entries for offerings, and bring the report into final form.
- 10:05 — Instruction begins in each class.
- 10:35 — First Warning Bell. Instruction ends, and each Teacher sends a messenger to the Secretary of the School with the names and the offerings of the pupils who have come in since Roll Call. The messenger may go from the Secretary to the place reserved for his class in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:40 — Second Warning Bell. All classes march to Assembly, each class going quietly to the seats reserved for it in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:43-11:00 — Assenbly, directed by the Superintendent (or by the Priest).
- 11:00 — Procession of the whole School, class by class, into the Temple for the Liturgy.
The following program is suggested for the Assembly:
- The Trisagion Prayers, recited by some pupil appointed by the Superintendent. The School should join in for the Lord’s Prayer at the end.
- Recitation by members of different classes. (Memory Passages for which prizes are offered, summary of the Lesson taught in a class, quizzing of pupils by the Superintendent, or any other drill that is truly helpful and not contrived merely for display.)
- Secretary’s Report.
- Birthday Greetings. (Pupils who have had birthdays recently may drop into the Birthday Treasury as many pennies as they are years old. While they put in their pennies the School congratulates them by singing the Many Years for them.)
- Comments and announcements by the Superintendent.
- The Trisagion Prayers recited by the whole School in unison.
- Procession of the whole School, by classes, into the Temple for the Liturgy. Each class is led by its Teacher, and the Teachers are required to stay with their classes until after the dismissal of the Liturgy.
Whenever possible, the Sunday School should enter the Temple in time to sing the Great Doxology and its Troparion (“This day salvation for the world is come”); after which the Priest begins the Liturgy of the Catechumens).
The Trisagion Prayers and the Memory Passages referred to in the program suggested for the Assembly are printed in another part of this book. We are printing also a separate book of music so that our Sunday Schools may have something to sing; for the time has come when we must get rid of every book, every hymn, and every influence of any kind that is not Orthodox absolutely and exclusively.
Until a Service Book with music appears, the Parish Priest should teach the young people as many hymns as possible in the language of the Parish (Arabic, Greek, Slavic, or whatever the language may be). It is very bad indeed for the different Parishes to sing different English translations instead of waiting for a standard English text approved for permanent use. Anyone who has even a slight understanding of our Orthodox Church must know that our Church Services cannot go on without the original languages, and must realize that a Parish will surely die if its young people are not taught to sing in the language of their parents. A standard English translation, prepared at the University of Buffalo and accompanied by the necessary music, is ready for publication; but even when it appears many things will still need to be done in the original languages. To translate all our Service Books into English suitable for public worship, and suitable for singing, will take years of work. Meanwhile our young people must learn to sing in the original languages as well as in English. They should learn to sing in English only such things as have been approved by proper authority as suitable to remain in permanent use everywhere.
The program for Sunday School leaves little time for instruction in singing. Occasionally the Assembly period may be so used, but singing is so important in our Orthodox Church that it really deserves and requires to be developed in a program of its own entirely separate from that of the Sunday School. Accordingly, in every Parish at least one evening a week regularly should be set aside for instruction in music.
We must not forget that our Orthodox Tradition forbids the use of musical instruments in Church Services. This is a rule which we should be very glad to obey, for obedience to it brings rich reward. No Parish that uses an organ or any other musical instruments in its services can ever have good singing. The use of a piano or organ to help people learn to sing something that is new to them is often good, and sometimes is even necessary. But it is one thing to use the piano for teaching, and quite another thing to get people into the habit of depending upon the piano so much that they cannot sing without it. Far better to teach without a piano or organ at all than to develop a habit of dependence upon an accompanying instrument. One of the greatest glories of our Orthodox Church is our music, all of it composed for singing and none of it intended for any musical instrument. Our children inherit with their Orthodox Catholic religion the grandest music ever heard on earth; and they should begin to know the delights of that inheritance as early in life as possible.
I’ve been looking through a borrowed copy of Fr. Michael Gelsinger’s Orthodox Hymns in English, published by the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1939. This is a significant work, and Gelsinger’s hymns are still used to this day. I’ll write more about this book in the future, but I found the following paragraph, from the Introduction, to be especially interesting:
Other religions in America have hymnbooks containing six hundred or more melodies; Orthodoxy in English, though rightfully heir to the grandest and richest score of music in existence, would only with difficulty command as many as fifty melodies. Our lack of Orthodox hymns that can be sung in English has already encouraged the use of substitutes: rumor tells of Parishes that use Protestant hymnbooks, — in one case, at least, the Billy Sunday collection; and in another a book of “Pentecostal Hymns.” Can we calmly face a future which might add “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere” to the treasures of Orthodox devotion?
No, Gelsinger answers: “It is, of course, as unthinkable as it is unnecessary that we should permit any such development.” His answer? Translate Orthodox music from all the traditions — Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc. — into the English language.
Every tradition of our Orthodox music should find a home in every Parish in America; for American Orthodoxy inherits the music of every national Orthodox Church abroad. It is usual to say that our children will all be Americans together; but that is only one face of the truth. It is equally true that each of our children as an Orthodox Christian is as much Russian as he is Greek, as much Greek as he is Syrian, as much Syrian as he is Bulgarian or Rumanian: for he is the rightful heir of everything Orthodox that has ever entered this country.
Here, Gelsinger sounds a lot like Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Fr. Leonid Turkevich before him, and like countless people today. But back in 1939, Gelsinger’s views were pretty cutting-edge. They had a substantial influence on the development of American Orthodoxy in the decades that followed.
Last week, I wrote about the introduction of organs into Greek churches in America, but I didn’t really know why they were introduced. Thanks to David Mastroberte, we now have a plausible explanation: someone specifically set out to popularize organ music.
That man was George Anastassiou. Courtesy of Mr. Mastroberte, here are Anastasiou’s own words, from a Greek hymnal called Αρμονικη Λειτουργικη Υμνωδια (published 1944, reprinted 1960):
I am convinced that I first introduced the organ in our Churches in America with the musical cooperation of ever-memorable artist and musical [sic] Spyridon Saphrides upon my arrival in America and my appointment as precentor-choir leader of the Greek Church of St. Sophia in Washington at the time of the progress and reformatory presidency of Mr. T. H. Theotokatos, lawyer and at that time teacher of this community in the year 1921. Later I introduced it also in New York and in other places by special musical-historic lectures, descriptions in our Greek press, and by special teaching in the choirs of our communities, which I formed, and lately in the beloved Greek city of Florida, Tarpon Springs, where there is played today, in that very beautiful cathedral church of America (as it is called today by all the Greeks and Americans by reason of the Pan-American celebration of Theophany services every year) an organ of great value electrically, microphonically, megaphonically, and with chimes, on the great singing tower, the bell tower of about 100 feet in height of this Greek Church of St. Nicholas in Florida, called the Greek singing Tower of America.
And thus, and in time, the organ of Greek invention became the valuable leader and coadjutor of our choirs and in America for the elevation of the Divine Worship and for our reunion through our choirs (which, I am convinced, I first introduced in America), with the ancient Greek Byzantine greatness of our church.
This makes sense. Anastassiou mentions the musician Spyridon Safridis, who, according to Nicholas Prevas, was hired to be the first musical director of Annunciation Church in Baltimore and introduced “European music” into that church.
The Anastassiou story suggests that parishes weren’t necessarily trying to just Americanize by adding an organ — they were also trying to be more “Byzantine,” at least according to Anastassiou’s interpretation of history. David Mastroberte writes, “In earlier paragraphs, Anastassiou claims that the organ was invented by Greeks at Alexandria, was used in the ‘Hebrew church’ and was even employed by such great saints as Athanasius and Basil the Great. He also mentions its use in the narthex of Hagia Sophia, and its subsequent introduction into the West via Byzantium.”
I’d love to learn more about Anastassiou, Safridis, and their efforts to spread organ music in Greek churches. All this was taking place during the 1920s — the era of the Royalist / Venizelist and Old / New Calendarist schisms among Greek Americans. If I may hazard a guess, I’d say that the Venizelists were more inclined to adopt the organ, and the Royalists were more likely to resist it. But I don’t know for sure. It would also be interesting to know whether there was any connection between Anastasiou’s efforts in 1920s America and Abp Athenagoras’ introduction of organ music on Corfu at the same time — that is, did Anastassiou inspire Athenagoras in Corfu, or were the two unconnected until Athenagoras came to America?
Many, many thanks to Mr. Mastroberte for providing this information.