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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Holy listening' for Easter

Hear the sounds of Orthodox worship

Holy Week and Easter have inspired some of the greatest sacred music ever created. For example, the following familiar works from the Western Christian tradition are available in many excellent recordings: J.S. Bach's Easter Oratorio and St. Matthew Passion and Franz Josef Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ.

Less familiar to most of us is the Easter music of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which includes extremely moving liturgical music. Eastern church music is distinct and has always adhered closely to its origins in monodic chant of only one melodic line.

Orthodox tradition frowns on musical instruments to accompany singing because they are regarded as a distraction. The human voice is the appropriate instrument for liturgical music, which is simple — even austere — and serene. When polyphony (many tones) appears, harmonies are often striking and unusual to our ears. The singing is generally in the form of a dialogue between the priest and the chorus, a call-and-response pattern. Bells are the one instrument with an important role. Bells of various sizes and shapes punctuate the liturgy, especially to announce, introduce or conclude a service or section. They may be solemn or joyful, as the occasion warrants.

Why not consider taking some time during Holy Week for "holy listening." Experience the power and majesty of Haydn or Bach or other Western masters through a recording or, if you're fortunate, a local performance. But also ponder the mystery and purity of the Orthodox tradition.

To cite one example, Melodiya, a well-known Russian label, has an inexpensive older series called "Russian Choral Music." Two of its CDs are Music of the Passion and Russian Easter. Costing less than $10, they can often be found in the "bargain" sections of music stores. They're also available from www.amazon.com.


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