Issue #3 - August/September, 2001


Dear Readers: We would like to thank all of you for the kind letters and e-mails weíve received since the first issue of The Tuning Fork came out. It is clear you are copying and distributing the newsletter because we have many more names on the mailing list than we did in the beginning. This is very encouraging. However, as with all publications that are fairly new, we need your help in order to create future issues. Do you have an article thatís just sitting around waiting to be published? Do you know someone who does? Well, blow the dust off of it and send it to The Tuning Fork. Articles should be approximately 650 words long, single-spaced. Send it to us as an e-mail attachment (preferable) or in hard copy form to the address on the first page. Donít forget to include a brief autobiography so we can tell everyone who you are.


Epiclesis - (Greek:  "invocation"), in the Eucharistic prayer (the anaphora, meaning the prayers that begin with "A Mercy of peace..."), the special invocation of the Holy Spirit; in most Eastern Christian liturgies it follows the words of institution - the words used, according to the New Testament, by Jesus himself at the Last Supper - "This is my body... This is my blood..."

Akathist Hymn Ė (Greek Akathistos: "Not seated") A devotional poem or chant praising the Theotokos, dating from the 7th century AD. It is sung in Orthodox churches during Great Lent and during the Dormition Fast 1-15 August. The verses of the poem in the original Greek are an acrostic, i.e., the first letter of each verse is a sequential letter of the alphabet.

Scale Ė a series of eight notes in a pattern of whole-steps or half-steps. The pattern determines whether the scale is major, minor, chromatic etc. The seven are 1 = doh, 2 = re, 3 = mi, 4 = fa, 5 = sol, 6 = la, 7 = si. Doh is also the 8th step.

Major Key - A tonal center based on a major scale in which the half steps occur between the 3rd and 4th steps (mi and fa), and the 7th and 8th steps (si and doh). Generally said to produce a happy uplifting mood.

Minor Key - A tonal center based on a minor scale, which is a major scale with the 3rd, 6th, and 7th steps (mi, la and si) are lowered one half step. Generally said to produce a sad or anxious mood.



By Doreen Bartholomew

What the Priest Can Do

   Itís no exaggeration to say that the support of the priest can make or break a choir and director. Itís no good at all for the director to try to improve the quality of music in the parish if the priest will not support the directorís decisions. Priests and directors need to communicate openly and honestly about whatís good about the music and what needs to be improved, as well as how to go about implementing a plan to improve it. One of the ways the priest can help is by telephoning the choir director and discussing the forthcoming services. As we all know, our services can be extremely complicated and it helps to set up a "plan of action" between the two people who will have the most to think about. Decide ahead of time how you will do things and who will do them. If there is anything that will be added or omitted, make sure each of you understands exactly what will be done. Go to your choirís rehearsals occasionally and see what they are doing. Keep in the loop and let them know you support them in their efforts.

How the Parish Can Help

   One way the parish can make a big difference is by giving the directors and choir members the education they need. Add to the parish budget the funds necessary to send the director to a few classes to improve his or her conducting skills or bone up on sight singing. Invite an instructor to come and teach the choir a bit about proper breathing and vocal technique. There are any number of people out there who would be willing to come and help out in this regard. If this is not possible, maybe the parish could pay for or help the director and/or the choir members pay for classes in sight singing or vocal training. The sound of a singerís voice (and, in turn, the sound of the choir) can be improved greatly if the singers are using their voices properly.

   Parishioners should remember that choir members and directors need encouragement. Itís not an easy job and a simple "thank you" or "the music was nice today" can go a long way.

Some Useful Sources of Knowledge

   All this being said, where can directors and choir members go to learn more about singing and music? Check the local community collegeís continuing education program. Sometimes you can find classes on sight singing (also called Musicianship or Solfege), music theory or vocal training. Sometimes the local high schoolís adult education classes include practical music courses.

   For those who want a more structured approach, there are the music classes at Holy Trinity Monastery held over the course of two weeks each July. I must admit I am a bit biased since I graduated from this school in 1999. You get an excellent background in music theory and sight singing here. In addition to these two classes they also offer classes in the 8-tone system of the church, Slavonic, typikon, (rubrics), music history, rehearsal technique, vocal production and choral conducting. At the end of the three years you are certified as a choir conductor and/or reader. If you donít plan to get the certificate, taking individual classes can be arranged. You donít need to speak Russian to take classes here; they are all in English. You donít have to be an expert in music to appreciate the classes; one year there were two people who didnít even read notes. In fact, you donít even have to be Orthodox, everyone is welcome and everyone will get something out of the classes. The bottom line is that anyone, whether you are just remotely interested in church music or determined to get the certificate, can take these classes. Itís good for all levels, all interests and makes a big difference in the way you approach the music in your own parish.

   If you live in the New York area, St. Vladimirís Seminary regularly holds their elementary conducting class in the evening. This class is designed for people who want to learn the proper way to conduct, the beat patterns, the pitches to give for the various tones used in the services. The instructors are very good and when I took the class we even had a session where we were videotaped. Youíd be surprised at how many extra hand movements you make that youíre not aware of. I enjoyed the class immensely and highly recommend it.

   In addition to this, every spring St. Vladimirís Seminary holds their Summer Institute. The music section can be quite informative.

   Finally, check your local church newspapers for announcements on the one-day seminars for church musicians. These may not be very long, but they can be very interesting and productive.


We welcome your questions about singing and church music.

Q: How do I teach/learn a piece of music in a hurry? Are separate section rehearsals the best way? Section rehearsals are useful if choir members do not read music well, but they are not enough. Similar options for learning the notes are using a keyboard to review individual parts, having choir members take the music home to learn it, and listening to recordings of the music to be learned. All are useful but must be reinforced with plenty of practice by the choir as a whole to hear and sing the music as a choir, not as a conglomeration of voices and parts.

Q: How can our choir learn to sing the Tones from text? ("How do I get to Carnegie Hall? " "Practice, Practice, Practice!") Start with the "easy" Troparion/Kontakion tones: 1, 2, 4, 8. First, select a troparion in each tone as a memory device; then, observe and learn the pattern of repeated musical phrases that the Tone consists of. Finally, practice applying each tone to various texts, observing and learning how the patterns repeat and adjust (using "bridge" phrases) to different texts. Remember, there are different Tones for Prokeimena, Stichera (Lord, I Call and Aposticha), as well as for the Canon, so our choirs have lots of work to do


Some Common Problems for Singers

Here are five problems that both professional singers and amateurs have to deal with:


  1. Poor posture Ė proper posture is essential to produce a beautiful and rich sound. You can't sing well if you are slumped over in your chair or standing on one hip.
  2. Poor breathing and lack of breath support Ė without good support for the breath you will find you get tired faster and your throat will hurt. Try to keep your chest area expanded. The roof of your mouth needs to be raised slightly when you reach for the higher notes.
  3. Hard glottal attack on notes Ė beginning a note with this type of start can cause nodules to develop on your vocal cords.
  4. Poor tone quality - aim for a tone that is clear and resonant. Most of the problems with tone and pitch (going flat) can be corrected by breathing more often. So remember, if you need to breathe more often to achieve this, then do so. This kind of clear tone will have sufficient intensity to project across the largest room.
  5. Poor articulation Ė this is very important. Try to exaggerate your pronunciation a bit. It may sound strange to you, but it doesnít to the listener. Make sure you pronounce the "d", "t" and other consonants at the ends of words.

Correction: Regarding the link we provided in our last issue for the menologion, we have been informed that St. John the Wonder Worker has moved to its own domain and the link is:

Web Page: While surfing through the internet, I came across a web page that has free music theory lessons. There are 25 lessons, which include a quiz with an answer sheet. There is also a link to a list of musical definitions. It seems well organized and easy to use. The hyper link is:

Reading Notes and Reproducing Intervals - a music workshop to be held on September 29, 2001 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, at Holy Trinity Church in East Meadow, New York. This workshop's goal is to give choir members the skills they need to read music and begin to distinguish between intervals. The cost of $5.00 covers all materials. Checks should be made payable to Holy Trinity Church and mailed to East Meadow Workshop, 38 Pearl Street, New Hyde Park, NY 11040. For further information you may send e-mail to (please put East Meadow Workshop as the subject line) or telephone 516-437-5760.

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