ABOUT ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHANT
Chant is a form of purely vocal music that serves a written text. The words are intoned using a limited scale, and melodic formulas are used to emphasize certain phrases, words, and syllables. In chant, the music is shaped by the text, as opposed to secular songs, in which the music takes a fixed melody and has equal or greater artistic importance than the text.
The purest form of chant is monophonic, that is, there is a single melodic line. Byzantine chant, the official music of the Greek Orthodox Church, is often duophonic, having a melodic line accompanied by a lower droned tone (isokratima) which reinforces the base tonality of the modes. A melodic line could be harmonized homophonically with chords and still be considered chant, but it would no longer be Byzantine. There is a certain style (or yphos) associated with Byzantine chant. This style has a unique vocal character and includes much ornamentation, vocal inflections, and precise micro-tunings of scales. The yphos is generally employed by chanters trained in the art of Byzantine music, which has its own unique notation. Western harmonization destroys the yphos.
Obikhod and other Slavonic chants are harmonized but bear little resemblance to Byzantine chant, although their predecessor, Russian Znameny chant, is historically founded on the Byzantine. The text remains dominant and the harmonies are homophonic using simple melodic formulas with occasional recitatives on block chords. Contrapuntal polyphony and complicated chord structures, along with the use of organs or other instruments, as found in Western European church music, is still considered to be inappropriate in Orthodox churches.
Congregational chanting is becoming a more important part of Greek Orthodox worship, and represents a return to an ancient Christian practice. The music of New Byzantium Publications is aimed primarily for the use of lay choirs and congregations. It is based upon Byzantine music theory, but it can be chanted in a Western vocal style using staff notation, familiar to lay choirs and congregations, using the modern even-tempered scale. It is simpler and more straightforward. However, this does not preclude its use with the proper yphos and classical style. We also provide our English translations in Byzantine notation.
We do not wish to discourage the study and practice of traditional Byzantine chant. It is a great art with a great legacy in the Greek Orthodox Church. However, in the absence of classically trained chanters, some parishes have the need to use Western-trained musicians as their chanters. This website is partly intended to help such people to used their known skills to chant in a more traditional way, and to provide them with resources that will allow them to execute the role of chanter to the fullest possible extent. It may also be the basis of continuing one's education in traditional Byzantine music.