The Sound of Music’s Environment


I’m a church musician, an engineer who has worked in acoustics, and a former resident of southern California, so a post called Recreating the sounds of an ancient Greek church in LA caught my eye. I found it interesting from a technical point of view because it touches briefly on some electronically-based acoustical control techniques that I had worked with in the ’70s. Also, some of the aesthetic points relate to a paper Mrs. Hoge and I presented at the Audio Engineering Society Convention in LA in 1979 (when she was still Miss Potter).

As a church musician, I found a comment by one of the Orthodox chanters to be insightful.

“The primary purpose of the music is not to create enthusiasm or to bring attention to itself, but to be of service to the prayer and spirits of the congregation,” said Dimos Papatzalakis, speaking in Greek.

He was one of the chanters at the LA event, where the music took center stage in the absence of religious imagery. “The priest, the congregation and the chanter are forming one body in raising their voices and prayers to God,” he said.

Orthodox music has evolved slowly over the millennia, and it does powerfully direct a congregation’s mental and spiritual focus in a way that 21st-century praise bands miss.

8 thoughts on “The Sound of Music’s Environment

  1. Back in the early ’80s I was on a Bell Ringers trip to Cambridge, and one of the CoI churches we rang in was shared with a Russian Orthodox congregation. We arrived during a service and listening to the cantor was one of the more spiritual moments I have ever had in a church.

    I had an acquaintance years ago who was not happy about going to a Catholic service which he felt should allow him to feel part of a 2000 year old tradition and getting “Howdy, Jesus!”.

    Church music for me is a profound part of the service, and crappy music just makes it so much harder to try to reach towards the divine. Different people do react differently to do music, but Bach, Tallis, Byrd, and other musicians seem to have been much more successful than the modern bunch in helping people pray.

    • I tend to think there was a lot of crappy church music 250 years ago too. It’s just that the crap didn’t survive 250 years of filtering.

      In another 250 years, someone will be complaining about that crappy modern church music while pining for those old time hymns from the early 2000s.

      • Quite possible. There is some good modern stuff out there.

        Though I just can’t imagine a Catholic church in 1750 with a fiddler or two leading a rousing chorus of something that sounds like a drinking song as the congregation heads up to receive communion. But I may be wrong. My church history stops somewhat earlier than that.

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