Thursday, April 7, 2011

Church music

I've always had a special place in my heart for church music.  It goes back to when I was a little kid in Omaha, when my dad was the choir director of the Methodist church.  Back then I went to church regularly, and the Christmas hymns especially worked their way into my heart.

When I was introduced to the Orthodox church, the two main things which drew me in almost instantly were the solemn candlelit and incense permeated atmosphere, and the music.  The Litany of the Catechumens was the first song to really make me sit up and take notice.  I was so taken with it when I discovered its beauty that I would spend long stretches of time just strumming the main chords for it on my guitar.  Next was The Magnificat, a hymn honoring the Theotokos, followed by the third Cherubic Hymn (that's how we refer to it in the choir, as there are several versions we do which vary from Sunday to Sunday).  There are others, such as a version of Let My Prayer Arise which we sing during what I refer to as 'prostration week', a particular version of The Wise Thief which which we sing in the male choir, and the one I call 'The Pascha Song'; somber and triumphant.  Those are the main ones, and there are many others.  Of course, all of these songs have composers, but I can't remember all of those weird, tongue twisting Russian names.  Except for Kedrov - he composed the Litany of the Catechumens - and Bortniansky, who I believe composed the version of Let My Prayer Arise which I like so much, along with many others.  I may be wrong about that though.  Anywho...

A couple of months ago I had just started going back to church after a long bleak hiatus, and I was attending my first vigil in several weeks.  We started out with Psalm 103 which, according to Dax, we've always sung at the beginning of vigil.  I can't believe I've never noticed it before, having apparently sung it at least several times.  Well, I noticed it that night, and I just couldn't believe the beauty of it, imperfectly though we sung it.  I've kind of been infatuated with it ever since, and I've looked online for a good version but have only come across a few similar versions with surprise changes to my favorite chords.  Unacceptable.  So, last Saturday during vigil I snapped pictures of each page of the sheet music with my camera phone with the intention of learning each part, laying down separate vocal tracks, and mixing them together so I could hear what it sounded like from beginning to end at my leisure.

Well, last night I finally got around to trying it.  I downloaded a free piece of recording software called Audacity, along with a basic metronome program.  After spending about 10 minutes learning the program, I loaded up the sheet music in a picture viewer and got to singing.  It took about 3 dozen takes, but I finally had the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts of the fist two pages recorded, layered, and rendered as one audio file.   I've never really been a great singer - I can carry a tune, and that's about it - so I wasn't exactly satisfied with the quality of my voice.  Also, the tenor is hard to hear in some places, and at times the bass tends to overpower the other parts.  All in all, however, it was ok.  Oh, and by the way, the music for this one was also composed by Kedrov.

Today Dax posted a link to the Vivian Klochkov Orthodox Ensemble singing Psalm 103.  It was so perfect that it brought me to tears.  Hearing it after hearing mine was comparable to being shown the original Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh after seeing a crude crayon copy of it done by a fairly talented 8 year old. 

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