The musical arrangements offered on this website are based on three main principles. First, that the translations should be accurate. Second, that the music should be the best of the Russian tradition available and suitably adapted to the English text. Third, that proper provision should be made for antiphonal singing.
With regard to translations, it is a sad fact that many of the published English translations of Orthodox liturgical texts are deficient in terms of simple accuracy. My experience with the variable parts of the services indicates that with even the best-known translations not much more that a third of the verses are accurately translated; a further third or a little more have one or more significant errors; and the remainder are so bad as to be unsuitable for use. Even the better translations need to be checked very carefully for typographical and other errors. In the arrangements that I have done I have endeavoured to provide translations that are acceptably accurate, and I would be happy to be notified of any errors in translation.
The translations are in general based on the Greek text, but this has been checked against the Slavonic. Where there are minor differences and the Slavonic represents an intelligible and acceptable variant then I have followed the Slavonic. Sometimes the Slavonic is useful in indicating which of a number of possible alternative translations available should be chosen. Where the Slavonic is totally different from the current Greek text I have followed the Slavonic. Only where the Slavonic is clearly in error have I followed the Greek rather than the Slavonic (one phrase that comes to mind is a Saint being described in the Slavonic as "a river of the world" in place of the Greek "a river of peace").
When it comes to arranging music for English texts there are two areas of concern. First is the choice of melody to be used and second is the adaptation of that melody to English text so that the text can be heard clearly and understood when heard. To facilitate the latter point it is my practice to work on translation and musical arrangement at the same time, so that where choices can be made in the translation it is possible to choose the one that works better in practice.
For the choice of melodies I have gone back to the older Russian sources. Where Znamenny ("Great Chant") melodies exist I have adapted them. Where standard melodies ("Podobny") are appointed I have used them, mainly the simpler non-znamenny versions (such as those given in "Sputnik Psalomshchika") as these are easier to fit over a set of verses. In other places I use the simple chants of the Kievan or "Greek Chant" traditions in their older forms, which are rather more melodic than some of the later harmonized versions that have come into common use.
Arrangements of Znamenny melodies are not easy to do. It took me more than thirty years of intermittent use of Znamenny in Slavonic to gain sufficient feeling for how the music works to start adapting it to English text. The arrangements that I have done are not a slavish forcing of the English text to the original melody, but a slightly freer adaptation of the source melody to the English text. The differences in phrase length between Slavonic and English require some omissions of musical fragments and some insertions of additional material. Sometimes the different order of phrases in English seems to require a corresponding re-ordering of the music.
Most of what I have provided here gives indications for antiphonal singing. This is an ancient practice of the Church, and is easy to do with even a small number of singers. Singing antiphonally not only reduces the workload by half for the individual singer, but reduces the stress level even more as it allows time for finding your next verse while the other choir is singing their verse.
I shall endeavour as time allows to expand the material provided here. I am also happy to receive advance requests for settings of particular texts.
For a more extended discussion of these issues, click here.
Copyright © 2007, 2008 Archimandrite Kyril Jenner