Posts tagged music
As regular readers of this website know, I am particularly interested in the “Americanization” of Orthodoxy in the New World — things like clergy appearance (beards vs. shaved faces, cassocks vs. collars), pews, church music (organs and mixed choirs), early converts, the use of English, and so forth. Today, I’m going to talk about organ music.
A disclaimer, up front: I am not an historian of church music. In fact, I’m not particularly musical at all — I don’t sing in the church choir, don’t play an instrument, and can’t even read musical notation. However, I’ve become reasonably adept at picking up a phone and asking questions, and by now, I’ve accumulated enough information to have a general sense of when organs became popular in Greek churches in America. Like so much of what I write, this article is merely an introduction to a topic, rather than the last word. Hopefully, five years from now, we’ll know a lot more than we do today about the history of Orthodox music in America.
There seem to be two general theories about how organs became popular in Greek-American churches. These theories aren’t mutually exclusive, and taken together, they sound pretty darned convincing. The first theory is similar to the pew theory — that early Greek communities bought existing Protestant or Roman Catholic church buildings, inherited the previous church’s organ, and adopted it for use in the Orthodox church. Of course, it has the same problem that the pew theory has — namely, that most early Greek churches were actually built by the Orthodox community, rather than purchased. Also, the chronology doesn’t fit: as we’ll see, organs were typically added to existing Orthodox churches, rather than introduced when a building was acquired.
The other theory is that Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, who took over the Greek Archdiocese in 1931, was a big fan of organs and encouraged their use in America. In his 1976 book From Mars Hill to Manhattan, Fr. (later Bishop) George Papaioannou wrote about Abp Athenagoras and organ music:
Athenagoras was a lover of music. His ministry to the people of Corfu, who had and still retain the reputation of being the most musically inclined in Greece, encouraged him to introduce a revolutionary idea into the Orthodox worship. That was the use of the organ. His people enthusiastically endorsed the idea, but the Church hierarchy condemned it as a terrible unorthodox innovation. From the official publication, St. Spyridon, 1928, we are informed that a case was brought against him in court by members of the Holy Synod for having introduced into the church a musical instrument that was foreign to Orthodox tradition. Athenagoras refused to yield to the Synod’s pressure, claiming that a similar musical instrument had first been used by the Byzantines in the Church of St. Sophia. A renowned church historian and liturgical scholar, Fr. Constantine Callinikos, came to Athenagoras’ defense, advising him not to give in and continue his praiseworthy policy of upgrading the Orthodox worship. Athenagoras ignored the demands of his fellow hierarchs and apparently the case was dropped because the organ continued to be used in the services at the Cathedral of St. Spyridon. Today, St. Spyridon’s in Corfu remains the only church in Greece to include the organ in its services.
Be all that as it may, Abp Athenagoras did not introduce organs into Greek-American churches. Oh, he certainly contributed to the spread of organs, but well before his arrival in 1931, Greek churches in the United States had begun to adopt the instrument.
The first organ ever used in American Orthodoxy was actually in the very first Orthodox church in the contiguous US — Holy Trinity in New Orleans. I was rather shocked to learn that the New Orleans parish introduced an organ way back in the 19th century. This is from Elizabeth Cumings, “Where it is Summer in February,” in the journal Music, April 1895: “In the tiny Greek church far down the Esplanade is an American melodeon with a fine American squawk of its own.”
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the melodeon:
A melodeon (also known as a cabinet organ or American organ) is a type of 19th century reed organ with a foot-operated vacuum bellows, and a piano keyboard. It differs from the related harmonium, which uses a pressure bellows. Melodeons were manufactured in the United states from 1846 until the Civil War era. While it was sometimes used as a substitute for the pipe organ in small churches, it was primarily used in domestic settings.
It seems like the New Orleans parish introduced this organ sometime between 1885 and 1895. I’ve seen a few descriptions of church services there from the mid-1880s, and they seem to suggest (but don’t say outright) that the music was acappella chanting.
I don’t know why the New Orleans parish added an organ. It’s just a theory, but perhaps it had something to do with the priest, Fr. Misael Karydis. We know that he was obsessed with building a flying machine, and if he fancied himself an inventor and tinkerer, he may have been intrigued by the innerworkings of an organ. I’m not sure whether the New Orleans church kept using the organ after Karydis died in 1901, but if they did, they would have been an anomaly. Excepting New Orleans, I have yet to find a Greek church with an organ prior to the 1920s.
St. Sophia’s in Washington, DC didn’t have an organ in 1908, when the Washington Herald (11/1/1908) said, “Not a note of instrumental music accompanies them, for in the Greek Church it is forbidden.” But by the early 1920s, the parish had added an organ. From the Washington Post (4/8/1923): ”On this Greek Easter Day the choir of St. Sophia’s, L and Eighth Streets, N.W., is of unusual interest, there being only five Greek Orthodox churches in the world having mixed choirs and an organ.” (Earlier this year, I spoke with the current priest of St. Sophia’s, Fr. John Tavlarides. Fr. John has been there since the 1950s, and he told me that he actually stopped using the organ in 1967. It is now only used for occasional wedding processions.)
The Washington church had an influence on its Baltimore neighbor, Annunciation. From Nicholas Prevas’ House of God… Gateway to Heaven:
By the mid-1920’s, choirs and organs accompanied the Divine Liturgies – a departure from customs in the homeland where this type of music was considered a ‘western innovation’ and not typically used. Historically, up to this point, only the psaltes (cantors) sang the responses to the priest during religious services. In April 1923, however, records show $50 was paid to host a Greek church choir from Washington, D.C. Their performance must have been impressive.
Soon after, the spring 1923 general assembly approved the ‘installation of European music’ with organ accompaniment and hired Spyridon Safridis as the first music director. Within a few months, a small choir was singing liturgical hymns for the first time in the church on Homewood Avenue. The community was slowly adapting to American culture though not without objections. The following year, after many debates, parishioners voted at the general assembly meeting on March 9, 1924 as to whether or not this type of music should be kept in the church. The music remained and by the mid-1930’s a vibrant choir of voices complemented liturgical services at Annunciation.
We’ll discuss the question of mixed choirs in a future article. For now, it’s enough to note that organs were beginning to grow in popularity in the mid-1920s. The innovative priest Fr. Mark Petrakis, who had introduced pews in St. Louis, oversaw the addition of pews, an organ, and a mixed choir to Ss. Constantine and Helen Church in Chicago. From the parish history: “In 1927, George Dimopoulos, a talented chanter and choirmaster, organized a choir that included women. The choir was accompanied by an organ. Pews and an organ represented a departure from traditional Greek churches and a movement towards Americanization.”
Holy Trinity Greek Church in San Francisco had added an organ by at least 1925. When Abp Athengoras arrived in 1931, the majority of Greek churches still didn’t have organs, but the instruments were not totally unheard of. After 1931, and throughout Athenagoras’ tenure as archbishop, many more Greek churches introduced organs. This was certainly with the encouragement of Athenagoras, but he was not the originator of the practice.
I don’t have a clear answer to the question, “Why were organs introduced into Greek churches?” However, it seems like the parishes that introduced organs did so with the conscious desire to “Americanize.”
“Self righteousness. Self assuredness. Emphasising unity of administration. Not understanding the importance of Church music. The Freemason Conspiracy Theory. Aggressiveness…..”
The other day, I happened upon an online discussion of Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and his dislike of Isabel Hapgood. One commentator, whom I would credit if I knew his/her real name, said, “I understand that Fr. Nathaniel Irvine is called the ‘Prophet of American Orthodoxy’. Reading his quotes, all I can say is mores the pity for American Orthodoxy.” When asked to clarify, the commentator offered the above list of criticisms: “Self righteousness. Self assuredness. Emphasising unity of administration. Not understanding the importance of Church music. The Freemason Conspiracy Theory. Aggressiveness…..”
I found this response to be intriguing, in that it largely parallels the critiques that many of Irvine’s contemporaries would have offered against him. Was he self-righteous and self-assured? Having read a huge number of his writings (both private and public), I would certainly call him “confident,” but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say he was those other things. He did stake out a position and fight for it; what’s striking is that he usually turned out to be right.
Take the “emphasizing unity of administration” critique. Nowadays, more and more American Orthodox Christians realize that unity of church administration is extremely important. Shoot, it’s not just American Orthodox Christians — the recent Chambesy decision indicates that the Mother Churches agree, and, frankly, “unity of administration” is enshrined in the ancient canons themselves. Back in Irvine’s day, many (and probably most) American Orthodox Christians would have said that unity of administration was not really important. Ethnic and nationlistic interests were just too strong then, and only a few (such as Irvine and St. Tikhon) really got the picture. I find it odd that someone today would criticize Irvine for emphasizing administrative unity, but it would have been an unsurprising critique a hundred years ago.
“Not understanding the importance of Church music”? Isabel Hapgood certainly would have agreed with that one, but Irvine’s own response to Hapgood shows that his position was rather nuanced. He did, in fact, understand and appreciate the importance of music in the Church, but he didn’t think it should take precedence over missionary and pastoral efforts.
“The Freemason Conspiracy Theory”? I have yet to print Irvine’s entire letter against Aftimios Ofiesh’s consecration, but I can tell you that Irvine speaks from experience, having had problems with a Freemason bishop’s divided loyalties when he was an Episcopal priest. Come to think of it, that’s why Orthodox priests (and laity) are not allowed to be members of secret societies — such societies divide one’s loyalty, which should be to God and the Church.
I particularly like the “aggressiveness” critique, because, of course, Irvine was aggressive. Aren’t all prophets? Prophets speak the hard but necessary word to the people of God, and to people in power. They do so without regard for their personal well-being. This is why I referred to Irvine as a “prophet.” I didn’t mean to equate him with the Biblical prophets, but rather to illustrate (perhaps too dramatically) that he was one of those rare individuals who could see what was wrong and what needed to happen, say what needed to be said, and care not a bit about the negative consequences to himself. Irvine was “loud,” as he himself admitted; at the same time, he spoke “lovingly,” with the aim not simply to attack but to correct. He pushed for the use of English. He rebuked Syrian parents for keeping their children out of church on Sundays, and for letting them attend Protestant and Roman Catholic services rather than Orthodox ones. He spoke out against the beloved Isabel Hapgood when she claimed that a good choir was worth more than twenty “little new parishes,” and he argued against the consecration of Aftimios Ofiesh, who would indeed prove to be unworthy of the episcopate. Irvine may not have been right one hundred percent of the time, but he was right pretty darned often, and you can bet that if he were alive today, he’d be just as vocal and just as polarizing.
Last week, I posted Isabel Hapgood’s 1915 article in which she begged Archbishop Evdokim, “Please let us have a splendid choir!” She said, in part, “The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.”
The whole article is well worth reading, as it gives a fascinating insight into Hapgood’s personality. And it was a personality that Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine could not stand one bit. Irvine, who was always ready to defend Orthodoxy against any and all threats, responded forcefully in a lengthy reply to the editor in the next issue of the Vestnik (Messenger, September 23, 1915). I’m reprinting that letter — entitled, “The Choir and the Church” — and afterwards, I’ll offer some comments.
I am sure I would be untrue to both my priesthood and citizenship if I were to remain silent and not respectfully protest against the unchurchly and unpatriotic letter written by Miss Isabella F. Hapgood and published in our official magazine — the Russian Orthodox American Messenger of August 20th (Sept. 2d) of this year.
Miss Hapgood says, “The Cathedral Choir, properly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your (the Archbishop’s) Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes.” This statement is a gross insult both to the Archbishop and to the whole Orthodox Priesthood in the United States. I refrain from speaking my full mind in reference to the blasphemous insult to the Holy Ghost whose voice is heard in every “little new” parish through the Right Hand of the Incarnation, namely, the Priesthood.
Such a letter, my beloved and learned friend, has already done harm. I noticed this insult to the priesthood myself last Sunday, but since then others have called my attention to the fact, — men outside the Orthodox Church.
Our Archbishop was not called by the Holy Ghost to consecrate Choir Leaders for roving Singing-Bands to help and please new Orthodox churchgoers — “Episcopalians” and Protestants in general to whom Miss Hapgood refers. The thoughtful of such respectable Bodies believe that, he came to America for a different purpose, viz; to oversee and represent the Mother Church of Christendom and perpetuate her Priesthood as well as see that, Houses of Worship were erected all over the land in which the Doctrines of Jesus Christ were preached.
Music is a luxury, but the “Bread of Life,” distributed through “twenty little new parishes,” is a necessity.
Christ and His Holy Apostles went forth, and sent forth their representatives, without Singing Bands to tickle “itching ears,” or please the sensual — Eternal Truths were the Themes then: — “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” — Salvation alone through the Blood of Jesus Csrist [sic]. — Repent and believe the Gospel. Except ye are Baptized, and eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Son of God ye shall not have Eternal Life. Today, the Themes are as necessary as ever.
Music is a grand expression of the feelings of the heart, — but it can, even in sacred art, be the generator of sensuality. Every cord [sic] whether minor or otherwise falling upon unconverted ears can suggest to the unsanctified souls the evil passions of this fallen nature. Who dares to deny this? Is our beloved Archbishop to be used as a medium of this world — devised, secular or sensual plans just for the sake of commercialists? I doubt it. He is too true and noble an Ecclesiastic to be misguided by Miss Hapgood in such an important matter. He is too loving a Chief Pastor to “let the falsehood spread that one good choir is worth twenty little new parishes.” Why, Oh, why, was such a letter as that of Miss Hapgood’s published? It is easier to spread an error than to correct it. The evil is done. The Orthodox are made a laughing stock to the pious Christians of both Protestant and Roman bodies. We have elevated Music above the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, – Miss Hapgood’s Musical heresy; — we have done it to the extent, at least, of publishing her letter.
Besides, please remember, Miss Hapgood is a Protestant. We do not desire to be ungracious, but there is not an Orthodox in America who would presume to dictate to Bishop Greer or any of the Protestant Episcopal Hierarchy that they should retard the growth of the parochial system and substitute a Musical propaganda instead.
We have in the United States, and especially connected with St. Nicholas Cathedral, Orthodox ladies capable of doing any thing, that is of any practical use, for the advancement of the Church. It would be ungallant to mention, in print their names, — but I can compare them with the ladies of any other portion of the Church in Christendom. Let us give them a chance to show what they can do. Let no overestimated wings of the outside world lower down upon their talents and over-cloud them. They are extremely modest for the reason that they are not in their native land. Yet I may assure them, as an American citizen, their adopted home needs such lov[e]liness and depth as well as lady-like sensativeness [sic] as are manifested in both them and their daughters who are being raised up in our midst.
But there is another point against, which I am solemnly protesting — Miss Hapgood’s unwarrantable statement as follows: — ["]For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia.” This, indeed, is not so. Why suggest that, so serious, of which we are doubtful?
America, as a Government “by the people and for the people” has always listened to “favorable remarks about Russia”; — has always looked upon Russia as her sincere friend, and has ever felt grateful to that great Empire for it’s [sic] silent yet impressive influence, in her behalf, at the most crucial times of our national history. Any learned reader of political history will recall what Russia did with her ships and guns, long ago, in solemn silence, in our waters when nations, more akin to us in blood, were only too anxious to see our Union disrupted.
We must draw a vast distinction between jingoists and Americans, between a Judaically subsidized press which has often mis-represented Russia to us and us to Russia, and that of the real thought and writings of intellectual and broadminded citizens. We too, must learn that, when a Unitarian President of the United States signed the abrogation of the Treaty between Russia and this country at the instance of the Judaically-influenced Congressman who was Chairman of the “Committee on Foreign Relations” that that President and that Congressman, as well as that whole Administration, were wiped out politically. And if, today, that Treaty were in existance [sic] the abrogation of it would be voted down in Congress like if it were the suggestion of an evil genius. We Americans love the Slavs. The revelations of despotic acts in their great Empire are no darker pages in history than what is goign on in the United States at this moment under mob law and grafters. We have nothing to boast over Russia. That great and mighty Empire consecrated to the service of the Blessed Trinity may not have stamped on her coins “In God We Trust” yet her sons and daughters have engraved upon their hearts the love of Jesus Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom which, alas, cannot be said of us as a Nation. When our star is waning Russia’s will be high in its meridian.
A few words more. I love music. But I may add, — never can any church choir equal a great organization such as the “Boston Symphony” or any other body so constituted of thoroughly trained Artists and Professionalists. A church choir is made up of members of mixed ages to lead in devotional exercises. A musical organization, such as Miss Hapgood requests, is for a wholly different matter — purely commercial purposes, however otherwise it may advance the Art of Music. They can neither be compared nor interchanged.
I dare not express my opinion of Miss Hapgood’s egotistical sentence — “I am going to be frank. There is no one else who can tell you (Archbishop) about the American public and the conditions connected with concerts as well as I can.”
I am afraid that our beloved Archbishop will be tempted after we have begun to revere him, to make preparations to leave us. Who would like to stay in a country where there was but one (lady) out of 100,000,000 souls that knows all? Shame, shame, shame on America! Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar. This time it must not be a trifling gold watch and chain but a diadem of gold beset with most precious jewels. By this time, I take it, — several copies of the Messenger are on their road to Russia to prepare the way for the presentation. I beg of the Orthodox ladies not to grow jealous. It is their own fault and in fact the fault of all of us that we are still ignoramuses. Why have we not had a few talents given to us, — one at least?
I remain, my Very Rev. Brother,
Faithfully and Lovingly Yours,
Ingram N.W. Irvine
A couple of comments. In this letter, Irvine juxtaposes a woman he obviously views as snobbish and prideful with the quiet, modest women from the Cathedral. I have no reason to think that Irvine was a misogynist, but he did apparently feel that Hapgood was being quite un-ladylike in her bold approach to the Russian Archbishop. Furthermore, Hapgood bears at least some resemblance to Emma Elliott, Irvine’s former Episcopalian parishioner who used her connections to have Irvine defrocked by his Episcopal bishop in 1900.
There may also have been a touch of jealousy. “Miss Hapgood will have to get another reward from the Tsar,” Irvine sarcastically remarks. He, after all, had given his life to Orthodoxy and was doing thankless work among immigrants, while Hapgood was receiving international acclaim and living comfortably. And it has remained so to this day: Hapgood is practically a household name among American Orthodox Christians, despite not being Orthodox herself, while Irvine, whose work was at least equal in significance, has been almost completely forgotten.
On Wednesday, I posted a collection of quotations from Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Among them was this, on the famous translator Isabel Hapgood: “That vixen Miss Hapgood. What a liar — she has damned the Church for years.” Over on our Facebook page, Michael Beck asked the very reasonable question, “What was his deal with Isabel Hapgood? I’ve never heard anyone mention her with anything less than praise.”
Today, Isabel Hapgood is remembered by Orthodox Christians for her groundbreaking translation of the Service Book. But she did more than that — she was a prolific translator and writer, with multiple books and countless articles to her credit. She was trusted by some of the leading Orthodox churchmen of her day — St. Tikhon, Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, Constantine Pobedonostsev (the Ober Procurator of the Russian Holy Synod). And yet, she was loathed by Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine, which is especially ironic given that Hapgood and Irvine were the foremost advocates of the use of English in the Orthodox Church.
Or maybe it isn’t so ironic. Very often, the leaders of a given movement will be rivals. In England a generation earlier, the two great leaders of Anglo-Orthodoxy, J.J. Overbeck and Fr. Stephen Hatherly, opposed one another and had very different views about what Western Orthodoxy should look like. It’s likely that the same sort of rivalry existed between Hapgood and Irvine. It probably didn’t help that Hapgood was a well-to-do Episcopalian (exactly the sort of person Irvine tended to clash with), while Irvine had converted to Orthodoxy and was working in the trenches, teaching Sunday School and so forth.
We can get a sense of that rivalry by reading public letters written by Hapgood and Irvine on the subject of the St. Nicholas Cathedral choir. Today, I’ll print Hapgood’s letter, which appeared in the Vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) on September 2, 1915. Next week, I’ll publish Irvine’s reply.
I said a little to you yesterday about the Choir and the Concert. I did not say all that was requisite to give you a thorough understanding of the situation.
I am going to be very frank. There is no one else who can tell you about the American public and the conditions connected with Concerts as well as I can.
I paid the $50 you gave me to the Management of Aeolian Hall, to bind the contract for the hall on the evening of Dec. 21 next, for a Concert by the Choir. I have the contract, signed and binding.
The first concert which the Choir gave, Feb. 1, 1912, was successful, although there were only six men. The two concerts of the following season (the pay concerts), November 1912 and March 1913, were greater artistic successes, and finally established the reputation of the choir as the most unique and remarkable organization in America. There were eight men on these last occasions — the precize [sic] number indispensible to counterbalance the twenty-one boys. Twenty-one boys and eight men constitute the very smallest choir which can appear, successfully, before the American public; and they must all be perfect.
A newcomer to America does not realize what a musical centre New York is. The very best musicians in the world come here: the wealthiest, most widely-travelled, most musical, most cultivated people from all over this Continent come here, to attend the Opera and the great Concerts. Our public know what is the very best, and insists on having it. Now that there is little or no occupation for musicians in Europe, our choice here is unlimited.
If an organization, like a Symphony Orchestra or a Choir, can win the approval of the public, it can count upon a full well-paid audience year after year. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, for instance, gives a series of concerts here every winter. The same subscribers buy the same seats every year. No seat can ever be bought by anyone else — unless perhaps, when death, illness or absence throws one or two on the market. In that case, there are a dozen applicants, who are only too happy to pay ten or fifteen times as much for one seat, at a sigle [sic] concert as the subscriber paid for the entire series! Those concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra are considered the greatest events of the musical season in New York.
Of course, the popularity of the Conductor has an immense amount to do with this. The public realized that the perfection of execution and interpretation are due to his brains and training.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has existed for many years. Your Cathedral Choir has existed a very short time. Nevertheless, the Choir has made immense progress along the road to the same sort of fame, popularity and prosperity as the Boston Orchestra enjoys. Last winter it could not give a concert, as you know. If it now gives a concert less good than those of two years ago — its career is ended, so far as the musical critics and the best public are concerned. “That Choir is the most wonderful thing in all wonderful musical New York!” one musician said to me. “And it is all due to that wonderful Leader — it is his wonderful brain,” said another (the Secretary for over thirty years of a famous New York Chorus). As you see, we have the elements of a neat public future — a Choir and a Regent beloved by musicians, critics and public. If we ruin that magnificent foundation, it will take years to re-build it; and it may prove impossible to re-build it at all.
So much for that side of the question.
I now wish to repeat to you, with great emphasis:
The Cathedral Choir, propertly constituted large enough, is immensely more important to your Church and Mission in this country than twenty little new parishes. It is particularly important at the present grave crisis in World affairs. For the first time in history (I think), America is willing to listen to favorable remarks about Russia. Everything which can strengthen that favourable inclination is very precious. There is nothing which can exert so great an influence on the best, most influential part of the public here as can a splendid Cathedral Choir. There is nothing which can win more friends for your Church. The Roman Catholics are very powerful here, and the Orthodox Catholic Church needs every favorable influence it can secure, to combat prejudices in that quarter, and among the so-called “Protestants”. A prejudiced person who hears the Cathedral Choir will (if it is really fine), wish to know about the services of your Church which have inspired such music, such singing, such interpretation of spiritual emotion. They will become helpful friends of Russia and of your Church. Look it what the Choir has done for you already among the Episcopalians!
If we can give only one Concert in a season (and, in view of the fact that the Church songs cannot be diversified with solos by famous foreign singers, by piano concertos, or anything else, one good concert is all we can confidently plan, w[e] ought to be able to ask somewhat higher prices. We have never actually sold all the tickets, so far, it is true. But we have secured some of the wealthiest and most musical people in town for our friends, as well as the musicians and the critics, as I have already said. On that foundation we ought to grow more successful.
Please let us have a splendid choir!
Next week, we’ll print Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine’s reply.