ISSUE #6 April-June 2002


  We wish you a joyous Paschal Season and encourage you to use the renewal of the season to make plans for improving your church singing skills. Consider where you’d like yourself and your choir to be by Pascha in 2003, and start now to prepare yourself with improved skills and knowledge. Tell us what The Tuning Fork can do to help – via the feedback form on Page 4.



Dynamics - (1) signs that indicate the loudness or softness of music; e.g. f = loud, p = soft, mf = medium loud. (2) the actual loudnesses and softnesses themselves.

Phrase - a musical sentence that lasts a single "breath", with a beginning, end, and a clear shape, usually melodic. Phrases in music are most often four or two measures in length

Triad - consists of three notes (the root, the third, and the fifth) on top of one another and all on either lines or spaces. The bottom note is the root, the middle note is the third and the top note is the fifth. When choir directors give pitches for "plain" litanies, most often they are giving them in the form of a triad consisting of the notes F (root), A (third) and C (fifth). These notes are given from the top down (fifth, third, root).

Kathisma Hymn - A Kathisma is a division of the Psalter (Book of Psalms). During the reading of the Kathisma the congregation may sit (Kathisma means "seat" in Greek). The Kathisma Hymn is sung immediately before or after the Kathisma reading.



 Tips on Phrasing and Pronunciation

By Carol Wetmore

The Orthodox parish choir is responsible to convey "essential doctrines" of the church, but it sometimes seems to me that our American parish choir tradition prevents us from clearly conveying the meaning of the words we sing. Consider the following:

  1. Much of the music we sing was written for a language other than English. Music written for other languages has emphases and phrasing for those languages. Translations are seldom "perfect," and they must preserve the doctrinal message. As a result, our translated hymns are fraught with emphases on unimportant words, and places where the music pushes us to breathe in the middle of words and phrases, leading us to interrupt and destroy the message we’re trying to convey.

  2. We sing a capella (without ‘help’ in the form of instrumental accompaniment), one of the mostdifficult of musical endeavors. A group of people must sing together unassisted by instruments; our efforts to do so are exposed. Inconsistent sounds, ragged starts and stops, irregular tempos, and other mistakes are obvious to the listener.

  3. The English language is hard to sing beautifully and clearly. It has potentially unpleasant vowel sounds such as the nasal "ow" and the "eeeee" like chalk on a blackboard. Some of our parish choir responses and hymns seem to exploit those sounds: how many times have you heard, "Noowww lay aside," "Lord have Merceeee"?

  4. The volume of music and the complexity of services sung by the parish choir seem to militate against work on basic pronunciation and phrasing. It’s all we can do to develop a good liturgical repertoire and prepare for feast days. Rehearsal time for choral technique seems an unaffordable luxury.
  5. Choir directors and members may be pressed into service with little or no training. They may spend most of their time trying to master the order of service instead of listening to their choirs and working to correct choral flaws.

Here are a few tips for dealing with those daunting problems:


  • Sensitize yourself to problem sounds. Common errors can often be corrected by just a few techniques. For example:

    • Use "dark" vowel sounds, which are achieved by relaxing the jaw, slightly pursing the lips, and making a larger space toward the back of the mouth. This makes the following happen.

Instead of

Use this



Mer-ceeeeee (nasal)


Grannnnnt (nasal "an")


Nowwwww (feline "ow")



    • Give short shrift to consonants, especially r’s and l’s. Avoid at all costs the heavy "r" in "Mercy." Flip the "L" in "Let us who mystically…" off your tongue quickly. Avoid singing, "Buh-lessed are…" in The Beatitudes.


  • Look ahead of where you’re singing at all times. "Eyes right!" is a good motto for choir singers. This helps us sing whole ideas, not just words and it prevents page turn crises, as well as surprise Hard Words.
  • Think the words you’re singing and breathe according to the words, not the music. This is the heart and soul of "phrasing." Breathe where the words tell you to, not the music. A choir or section should never breathe together in the middle of words or between an article and its noun ("Receive the [gasp] Body).

  • Strive to emphasize important syllables and words; de-emphasize the less important. "The" is never an important word.

  • Be sure that your eyes are on the director at least at the beginning and the ends of hymns. Better yet, learn the music well enough to watch the director most of the time. The results will be audible!

Following those tips will help individual choir members, but it’s also important for the whole choir to work together on achieving a consistent sound. When in doubt, ask the director to illustrate the desired sound or phrasing.



Q: How can I tell what voice part I should sing? I think I’m a soprano, but sometimes the alto range is more comfortable

A: We asked Mark Bailey to answer this question. Mark serves on the faculty of St. Vladimir¹s Orthodox Seminary, where he conducts and teaches composition, choral leadership techniques, and voice. He is also the Artistic Director of the Yale Russian Chorus. Here is what he said. "Most often, a person, in comfortable conversation (not nervous etc.) speaks about a tone or two lower than the middle pitch of the singing voice, which is where the range is determined (of course, someone like Beverly Sills had almost a baritone speaking voice while being a high coloratura soprano, so it doesn't always work). Therefore, finding a person's range means finding the middle voice, those few notes within the range of a fifth or sixth that come out naturally with relative ease and good resonance. As a person approaches the upper range, the vocal coach can sense (and hear) the extra concentration of air needed to make those notes sound properly (and the same type of adjustment going lower as well). Where that effort takes place indicates the bridge, and exactly where that lies determines the person's range. There's probably no good way a beginner can figure out range without going to a voice teacher/coach to get tested, which should take about five minutes."




So, the big service is here and you’ve developed a whopper of a cold. What do you do? The germs that cause colds are always around and constantly washing your hands only makes you wrinkly and avoiding contact with others is simply not possible. The best defense is to keep your immune system strong by eating right, drinking plenty of fluids (two liters of water per day is recommended), sleeping (at least six hours each night) and exercising for better circulation. Staying warm is also an important factor. In frigid conditions, your body works hard to retain heat. Dressing in layers, with a hat, waterproof boots and a scarf allows your body to focus energy on fighting off incoming infections. However, stress, of all the causes of illness, is number one. Juggling work or school with rehearsals and services, eating on the run with zero sleep, disrupts metabolism and forces the body to run on adrenaline. Anxiety saps vitamins, dehydrates, and leaves you vulnerable to whatever is around. That’s why colds always arrive right as your preparing for the holiday services. Adopting healthy habits now will pay off in spades in the future.

Now let’s pretend that, despite your best efforts, you’ve come down with a nasty, aching, head clogging cold three days before an important service. To minimize the effect a cold has on the voice you’ve got to act quickly. Keep in mind that congestion –mucus -- is what your body produces to flush out toxins. Over-the-counter medications (antihistamines) dry up congestion but prohibit the necessary house cleaning. They also dry mucous membranes, like your vocal chords, which will cause you to lose your voice. So, reach for the decongestants as an absolute last resort. If you have time, instead of squashing the symptoms, help speed up the process. Flood yourself with water and real juices to thin the congestion, lubricate your chords and flush your body. An important benefit of hydrating is that it may keep a cold from reaching your lungs. Throat clearing and coughing, which normally accompanies a cold, is very irritating to the vocal chords. The delicate membranes in and around the larynx become swollen and rigid, which is why your voice gets so deep and restricted. Inhaling steam will help loosen congestion in the lungs as well as soothe the vocal chords. Gargling with warm salt water will also help draw phlegm away from your larynx.

To reduce the swelling and get singing again, you’ve got to vocalize (warm up). Low volume, barely audible, humming is a great way to start. Let your larynx choose the pitches. It’s better to stay with one single note (whichever is most comfortable) than to push or force the range. Allow plenty of time for your voice to loosen. Rushing the warm-up when you have a cold will greatly reduce the longevity of your voice and make conditions worse the next day.  (



Summer School of Liturgical Music – to be held June 30-July 13, 2002. The full program consists of three summer sessions, at the end of which graduates will be certified as choir directors and/or readers. Course offerings are History of Russian Music, Music Theory and Musicianship (solfege), Choir Conducting Technique and Practicum, Liturgical Performance Practice, Church Slavonic, Liturgics for Choir Directors (Typikon). Instruction is given primarily in English. While knowledge of Russian is helpful, it is not essential for study. A non-certification track is offered to those who are seeking enrichment in the area of Russian Orthodox Music, but do not wish to be certified as a director/reader. Tuition, room, board totals $800. Checks payable to Holy Trinity Monastery. For more information, please contact Fr. Andre Papkov at 315-894-6274 or

St. Vladimir’s Summer Liturgical Institute of Music and Pastoral Practice – will be held the week of June 23-28, 2002. This year’s them is Orthodoxy in America Today. This year’s summer Institute will devote special attention to the wide range of issues – from Orthodox unity to parish liturgical practice and participation in national life – that face pastors, choir directors and singers, as well as the faithful in America today. Detailed information may be found on the St. Vladimir’s Seminary webpage,

PSALM, Inc., Annual Meeting – will occur at the end of the St. Vladimir’s Summer Liturgical Institute, on June 28 and 29. This organization’s mission is to bring Orthodox musicians together to increase knowledge. The 2002 Annual Meeting will include interactive opportunities to explore and shape PSALM’s projects, which include a web-based musical resource program, as well as music publishing and PSALM Notes, a biannual publication of articles on Orthodox liturgical Music. For info:

Antiochian Archdiocese 17th Annual Sacred Music Institute, July 24 – 28, Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center, Ligonier, PA. Agenda includes workshops in Byzantine Chant, pitch-giving, conducting, and phrasing. This year’s program is dedicated to the memory of Raymond George. Additional info and registration forms accessible at


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Carol Wetmore
Doreen Bartholomew


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