A couple of posts ago, I wrote about how old liturgical dance is. At that time, I had traced at least one strand of it to Spain in either the late 1400’s or early 1500’s.
But, since that post, one of the readers of this blog pointed out to me what I did not know.
The Ethiopian Orthodox do have liturgical dance (some say para-liturgical dance) as part of their Liturgy. The video above gives one example of this dance. [See the correction in the replies to this post. The video pictures a para-liturgical dance of the Ethiopian Orthodox that takes place only on feast days and only outside the Liturgy.]
As best I can tell, the change from early period chanting to the use of drums
and liturgical dance began with one of their saints, who lived in the 6th century, Saint Yared. Under Saint Yared, Ethiopian music (and dance) and the Zema, the chant tradition of Ethiopia. Saint Yared composed five volumes of chant. [Again, see the replies to this post were it states that only chant and drums are used during the Divine Liturgy.]
It is interesting to note that during the sixth century, Eastern Orthodox chant also entered a period of development that lasted until the 1200’s. In the fifth century, the kontakion, a long and elaborate metrical composition, shows up in Syria, and by the sixth century, Saint Romanos the Melodist composes multiple kontakia. Thus, in various part of the Mediterranean Orthodox world (whether Eastern or Oriental) the sixth century is a time of great compositional change.
By the second half of the seventh century, the kanon form is developed, think Saint Andrew of Crete. Saints John of Damascus and Cosmas of Jerusalem further develop the kanon form in the eighth century. This is where you get the nine odes that we regularly sing during Orthros and some other times. I could go on with further developments, but I will stop here.
To get back to my original thought, however, the sixth century was a time of great musical creativity when entirely new forms were added to the original monotonic repertoire. In at least one section of northern Africa, this also led to the incorporation of dance, and even drums, as part of the Divine Liturgy.
It is all too tempting to say that we can ignore the addition of drums and liturgical dance because it was by Oriental Orthodox. However, we may need to be cautious in saying that. We also were adding stuff that was not there before. And, if you look at my earlier post on the sixes of Spain and watch that video, you will see a certain dignity in their presentation that is also present in the video above.
So, be careful about how you speak of “inappropriate additions” to the Divine Liturgy. We have our additions as well. I still find it odd to have people arguing that the Slavs were wrong for shifting their tones to western four part harmony. First, that has been over for several hundred years. But, second, it is the pot calling the kettle black because the Byzantines sing kontakia, kanon, and modes that were not part of the Early Church period, but only came up during the Medieval period. Frankly, in America I would rather hear western harmonies than hearing chanting that is hard to learn to reproduce because the grace notes and chromatic scales used are foreign to our ears.
[Despite the corrections to this post, I still think my main point is made about being “careful about how you speak of ‘inappropriate additions’ to the Divine Liturgy.” Chant among both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox entered a period of ferment and compositional creativity in the sixth century. In this sense, we need to be cautious about how we speak of the changelessness of Orthodoxy to not make it a changelessness that would render the compositional creativity of these centuries to be suspect.]