Music in the Orthodox Church

The first Divine Liturgy I ever attended was in 2006 and was at our parish. The first thing I noticed was that there was a beginning, ending, and lots and lots of amazingly beautiful acapella hymns and Lord Have Mercy’s in the middle. It was absolutely beautiful, but after months of attendance, I still only had a very basic grasp of how the services worked.

On one particular day when I was a catechumen, I attended daily Vespers. There were no chanters, readers or anyone else in attendance. Fr. Aidan began the service and it was coming up to when I thought a “Lord Have Mercy” typically went.

I got scared as the only participant, wondering what in the world the protocol was for a situation like this, but I hesitantly decided to squeak out a “Lord Have Mercy” by myself. Well, another petition was sung by Fr. Aidan, and I thought “gosh, I did it once…I guess I’m committed”, so I sang another “Lord Have Mercy”. By the end of the near-hour-long service, I had squawked out dozens of (likely ill-sequenced) responses as I tried to keep up with a service I barely knew.

I remember feeling so uncomfortable…I didn’t know whether I had just done the absolute right thing and kept the participant’s part of the service running, or just made all the Holy Fathers go running in disgust, hoping I would figure out my erroneous ways and never again mess up the beauty of Holy Orthodoxy’s daily Vespers service.

After the service, Fr. Aidan thanked me for singing, and kindly noted that, if there wasn’t a chanter, I didn’t need to sing the responses (I was GREATLY relieved).

He also suggested I join the choir (I remember also feeling relieved with this comment). So, I spoke with our previous choir director, started attending practices and, with her permission, eventually began participating in the choir during the Divine Liturgy.

The story thus far is about my experience, but my hope and prayer is that you make the rest of this story about you…

Why choose to sing in the choir?

Have you ever hoped for any of the following:

  1. You want to better understand the structure & flexibility of the Divine Liturgy. “Why does the Divine Liturgy seem the same, but then I hear completely different hymns most weeks?” I’m an engineer…I like structure. For me, attending choir practice and reading the hymns over and over made the Liturgy even more amazing…to see what our Holy Father’s Sts. Chrysostom and Basil the Great considered so important that it’s ALWAYS included. Also, I’m an engineer…I like creativity. What a joy to see the uniqueness of the hymns that appear on Feast days and the weekly cycles offered by The Church.
  2. You want to get to know more folks in our parish and laugh a lot! When was the last time you laughed with friends from the parish for 2 hours every two weeks? (We’re currently writing a “Cheesy Jokes for Orthodox Choir Members” book. We think it’ll be a best-seller.)
  3. You want to do more gut-wrenchingly good work. When was the last time (outside of the Divine Liturgy) you worked hard with your fellow parishioners for 2 hours every two weeks with a unified purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Trinity?
  4. You desire to use your love of music to serve the Most Holy Trinity and our parish. St. Basil the Great says “In community, the gifts of one belong to all” (taken from the walls of St. John the Baptist Monastery Refectory in Essex, England).

I encourage any of you that desire to experience these aspects in your life to come participate in choir practice with us! And, God-willing, when you’re ready, let’s get you singing with the choir during our Divine Liturgy. (If you’re not musically-inclined, I encourage you to find a role in our parish that allows you to give your best efforts and feel similar joy).

We practice every other Thursday from 7-9pm in the nave (check the church calendar for details).

And, when you get a chance, ask your current choir members…why do they sing in the choir?

Karen Morgan
St. John Choir Director