Issue #2 - June/July 2001

Here are some useful comments we've received from our readers:

In my observation of different choirs I find two things, which I consider major problems. 1. Some singers' lack of knowledge of even rudimentary music theory, 2. Lack of feeling to what is being sung. The choir directors complain of singing flat, yet they spend very little time in analyzing why and taking corrective action. The lack of understanding of music contributes to the singer going flat. Some singers have only one-decibel level when they sing. This means to me that they do not have the feeling for words or music. - Bill Nasiuta

It's great for our choir people who do not know the English equivalent of Russian terminology. - Matushka Irene Dutikow

I am a voice teacher and children's choir director. There is a lot of attention being given by the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians to building children's/youth choirs. Perhaps articles dealing with young voices might be good. - Genie Leussis


Kontakion Ė a liturgical hymn that gives, in an abbreviated form, the meaning of the feast of the given day.The Kontakion is sung after the 6th ode in the Matins canon and also on Sunday, after the Troparion.St. Romanos the Melodist is considered to be the most important hymnographer of the Kontakion.

Theotokos Ė A Greek term used for the Mother of God. It means "God-Bearer." In the Russian Church theSlavonic term Bogoroditsa is used, in addition to Theotokos.

Theotokion Ė also known as a Bogoroditchin, it is a hymn to the Mother of God, which praises or refers to her. The Theotokion is usually sung or read after "now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."

Note Rhythm: You can tell how many beats a note gets by the time signature (see Issue #1). If the time signature is 4/4, then you know that the quarter note will get one beat. That means the notes will have the following rhythms: quarter note = 1 beat, half note = 2 beats, whole note = 4 beats . How many beats do you think the eighth note would get? If you guessed one-half beat, you were right. Try to figure out how many beats each note will get if the time signature is 2/2. How about 3/4?


By Doreen Bartholomew

Responsibilities of the Director

Many choir directors are directors because someone handed them a tuning fork and said, "Here. You do it". At that point they had no musical training, they were just there when someone was needed. Thatís fine, but years later they are still conducting, still have no music training and have never thought about getting some. It is the responsibility of choir directors to make sure they get the education they need to carry out their job in the most efficient way possible. This means learning the basics of music theory, the order of the services and how the music fits. All directors, whether theyíve been doing it for years or are just starting out, should take an elementary conducting class to learn the basic method of conducting, the beat patterns, the eight-tone system of the church, etc. Itís very important because only an educated director can teach the choir the music they need to know and implement organized and productive rehearsals.

Rehearsals are, as everyone knows, an indispensable part of the musical life of the parish. As said in the previous issue, choir members who do not come to rehearsals should not sing in the choir. These are tough words, I know. I also know that in most choirs this rule cannot be enforced. Sometimes our most loyal choir members are those that have voices like chalk screeching on a blackboard. We need to remember when faced with this kind of situation that compassion and kindness should always take precedence over perfection. Sometimes just switching someone to a different vocal part will take care of this problem because his or her voice wonít stick out as much.

It is the directorís responsibility to make sure rehearsals are held, preferably once a week, and that all choir members know about them and come to them. One of the ways a choir director can make sure the choir members know about rehearsals is by telling them. This may sound silly, but I can assure you there are directors out there who constantly forget to tell the choir about rehearsals and then complain when no one shows up. Make a written schedule and post it in a conspicuous place, then tell your choir about the rehearsal. If your choir has someone who doesnít understand English very well, make absolutely sure they understand when and where rehearsals are to be held. Remember, communication is the key. If the parish has a monthly bulletin, ask the priest to print a rehearsal schedule in the bulletin. Before the bigger holidays, why not send out a letter to choir members outlining a rehearsal schedule and the time of the services. It might be a good idea to include copies of any new music you will be doing so choir members can go over it before they get to the first rehearsal. It is your responsibility to make sure the choir is aware of these things.

There is nothing more frustrating to choir members than a director who is disorganized. The director should always have a rehearsal schedule, even if itís only in their head. Know what youíre going to do and have everything ready before rehearsal begins.

Directors need to be organized, super organized. Itís not easy to do so many things at the same time and keep yourself on track. This means that services should be thought out ahead of time and the little details planned out. I find the best way of doing this is to look at the service book, and go though the whole service in my head, with all the prayers and responses. I think you will find that many of the little things that happen, such as the things the choir sings in response to the priest, are not marked in the book. Mark them in so you have a complete record of everything that goes on and make sure you and the priest are working from basically the same text. All the different pitch patterns should be memorized or written down on the sheet music for quick reference. The order of service should be clear and the transition between music and reading should be smooth and organized. Try to decide ahead of time who will read what. If a director does this in advance of the day of the service, the musical aspects can improve greatly.

Remember, the choir director should be the role model for the choir members. Show them with your actions how you expect them to behave on the cliros* or in the choir loft. Just because the parishioners canít see you doesnít mean you can do whatever you like. More importantly, voices carry far when a choir is in a loft and the people down below can hear you loud and clear. A choir in a loft must make sure they are especially quiet.   (continued next issue)


We welcome your questions about singing and church music.

Q: How can I warm up my choir in a short period of time? I need all the time I can get to go over music at rehearsals.

A. Warming up the voice is so important. After all, you warm up your car before you put it in gear and take off, the same should apply to your voice and a few simple vocal exercises can make a big difference in the group sound. Try doing some scales on different vowel sounds. Make sure your choir is singing and not screaming the notes. Exercises in dynamic levels should also be done, as well as practice coming in and cutting off together. Have them sing softly gradually getting louder and then gradually getting softer again. After all, if your music starts piano and then has a section that is forte, if youíre already singing forte in the piano section how can you possibly get even louder without damaging your voice? You could also have them practice singing words like "Spirit" and "Lord", making sure the Ďt" and "d" are clearly heard and that everyone is saying it at the same time. These exercises donít all have to be done at every rehearsal, but do a few each time. In a 2-hour rehearsal, spend about 15 minutes doing some warm ups.

Q: Do you know of any links to Troparia and Lord, I Call stichera for saints. It's difficult to find them and they are always listed in the rubrics. - T. Tjoa


  1. After asking around, I've come across with three sites you might want to access. The first is the web site of the Monastery of St. Andrew. These have the translations of Fr. Ephram Lash and can accessed at . The second is a bit more problematical because it involves downloading a free computer program called Menologion. Go to and follow the directions. Thirdly, you can access the text for the current day by going to the website of the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery. That page is . I hope these are of some help to you.


  We welcome (and solicit) input from choir directors and other interested people with expertise to share. One such expert from whom weíve solicited input is Walter Shymansky, a well-known and beloved figure in Orthodox church music. The son of mitred archpriest Walter Shymansky, later Bishop Peter of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, he began his church music studies in the 1970ís. He has served as choir director in Clifton and Newark, New Jersey, and as conductor of the famous Capella Russian Male Chorus for 10 years. Now living with his wife Mary in Cohoes, New York, he has been choir director there and founder of the St. Andrewís Brotherhood Choir. He is a wonderful asset and willing helper to other church musicians. He can be reached via email at Here are some tips from Walter:


  • One goal for each choir is to learn the services they sing. The starting point for learning is the order of the service. Each choir member should be aware of "what comes next" in the liturgy, including the changes that occur with feast days. The choir director needs to assess the level of knowledge and the learning needs of the choir and then work from that level. One way to learn the order of service is for the choir to see it written out each week and gradually put it in their heads. As an insert to this issue is a format for this purpose.

  • The role of page-turner should rotate on each stand. The page-turnerís job includes preparing ahead of time so that the director does not need to issue unnecessary instructions during the service.


  • Every choir member should understand that he or she is needed, no matter how many people regularly sing in the choir. This means that choir members should notify the director when they are going to be absent for a service or a rehearsal. Itís very frustrating to plan a liturgy and learn at the last minute that critical voices will be missing.





1. GREAT LITANY _________

2. 1st ANTIPHON _________1

3. LITTLE LITANY _________

4. 2nd ANTIPHON _________

5. ONLY BEGOTTEN SON _________

6. LITTLE LITANY _________

7. BEATITUDES _________2

8. COME, LET US WORSHIP _________


10. HOLY GOD _________3

11. PROKEIMENON _________

12. ALLELUIA _________

13. AUGMENTED LITANY _________


15. CHERUBIC HYMN _________5


17. FATHER, SON & HOLY SPIRIT _________

18. CREED _________

18. MERCY OF PEACE _________6

20. IT IS TRULY MEET _________

21. LITANY Bf LORDíS PRAYER _________

22. LORDíS PRAYER _________

23. AFTER LORDíS PRAYER _________

24. SPECIAL HYMN _________

25. BLESSED IS HE _________

26. COMMUNION HYMN _________7

27. WE HAVE SEEN/LET OUR _________8

28. BLESSED BE THE NAME _________9

29. GLORY, NOW & EVER _________



[1] For some feast days the first and second antiphons will be different.

[2] For some feast days the Beatitudes are replaced by the Troparion of the feast interspersed with verses.

[3] On the feasts of the Cross, this is replaced with "Before Thy Cross". On other feast days this is replaced with "As Many as Have Been Baptized".

[4] On Saturdays and certain other days during the year the Litany of the Departed is inserted.

[5] On Holy Saturday this will be replaced with Let All Mortal Flesh

[6] During Great Lent and on some other days during the year, we celebrate St. Basilís Liturgy. This means the Mercy of Peace is chosen by the director should be a bit longer because the priestís prayers are longer. If your parish has the custom of reading these prayers aloud, it is probably advisable to not do a longer Mercy of Peace.

[7] In addition to the usual Communion Hymn for Sundays, there may be additional ones added.

[8] During the Paschal season, We Have Seen the True Light is replaced by Christ is Risen. In some parishes it is the custom to do the Pascal Liturgy throughout the entire season of Pascha.

[9] If there is to be a blessing or any other short prayer it can be inserted between the second and third time we sing Blessed Be the Name. When the special blessing or prayer is finished we sing Blessed Be the Name for the third time and then continue with the ending of the Liturgy as usual.



Holy Trinity Monastery, Summer School of Liturgical Music will be held July 1-14, 2001. Classes include History of Russian Church Music, Music Theory and Musicianship, Choir Conducting Techniques and Practicum, Voice Class, Liturgical Performance Practice, Church Slavonic, Liturgics for Choir Directors. Individual classes can be taken. For the full course load, the cost is $800, which includes tuition, room and board. Please make all checks payable to Holy Trinity Seminary. For more information, please contact Fr. Andre Papkov at (315) 894-6274 or You can also access information at

St. Vladimir's Seminary will hold their annual Summer Institute during the week of June 24-29, 2001. This year's theme is The Ministry of Healing. Participants follow one of two main tracks: Pastoral Practice or Liturgical Music. All students attend the main lectures each morning, followed by pastoral seminars and sessions focusing on issues pertaining to parish and family life. Participants in the liturgical music section divide into groups for singing and conducting, as well as for developing special skills. Further information may be obtained by phoning St. Vladimir's Seminary (914-961-8313) or by going to their website: and following the link under "upcoming events."

The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir is looking for singers, especially men. Formerly known as the New Jersey Deanery Choir, it was established in 1997 under direction of Aleksei Shipovalnikov, and is composed of singers from the Tri-state area. The choir's repertoire includes selections from the three schools of Russian church music. If you would like more information, please contact Carol Wetmore at or 973-786-5149.

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EditorsCarol Wetmore & Doreen Bartholomew

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