Father Justin Patterson of the OCA uploaded the video above to Facebook. It is the Paschal troparion sung to Appalachian harmonies, but conforming to tonal rules of the Slavic Orthodox. It was sung at a music workshop at the All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, meeting in Atlanta in July of 2015. He filmed it and is aware that I am using it on this post.
I listened to it. I fell in love with it. I played it over and over and over, delighting in the melody and harmonies. I had tears in my eyes a couple of times. And, I found myself wishing and wanting an entire Divine Liturgy setting to be written using this type of harmonic/liturgical structure. We speak about how the Orthodox celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the language of the people who have been evangelized. We do not as often speak about how the Divine Liturgy has melodic settings that, over the centuries, have adjusted themselves to the culture in which the Church has grown. One only has to listen to the difference between the Mount Lebanon choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Arabic, a Greek monastic choir on Mount Athos singing the Divine Liturgy in Greek, and a Russian Orthodox choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic to hear the differences. Throw in the Romanians, the Serbs, the Africans, etc., and anyone can hear that the tonal principles of Orthodox music have found creatively different expressions in different cultures over the centuries. In all cases, the Divine Liturgy is carried out in a respectful fashion, but the melodic and harmonic structure varies.
In the long run, I hope that an American tonal / melodic / harmonic structure develops that reflects something of our heritage as a nation and a culture. While I know that there are various melodic traditions that have entered what became the USA, I think that the Appalachian religious harmonies lend themselves quite well to adjusting themselves to the tonal traditions that we have received from the various jurisdictions. The video above shows what can happen when efforts are made to compose using that type of harmonic structure.
I should mention that this is not merely an attempt to be American, as though it is not quite as good to be Arab, Greek, Slavic, etc. Rather, many cultural studies have shown that people in a culture respond best, and understand best, music that is written in their heart melodies and harmonies, that is in melodies and harmonies that reflect the music that they learned as children. When we compose musical settings of the Divine Liturgy that both respect and honor what we have received, yet express it in melodies and harmonies with which we grew up, we contextualize the Church in the same way that we do when we adjust the language of the Divine Liturgy to the language that is spoken by the people of a particular country. When the music we hear matches our heart music, it is easier to hear and understand the words that are being chanted.
Well, enough philosophizing. Enjoy the troparion above, and join me in prayer that a full setting may yet be published to the honor of God and the spiritual profit of the Church.