I think it’s a great day in the music world when a recording of Byzantine Chant makes it into the Billboard top-10. So, first I want to congratulate my pals at Cappella Romana for hitting #8 today on the classical chart with their recording “Good Friday in Jerusalem“! Perhaps it’s funny that a Jewish dude is happy about a recording of music for Good Friday. After all, the story from whence it came is not particularly kind to my people. Still, gorgeous music is gorgeous music no matter what tradition spawns it,
“Good Friday in Jerusalem” is a magnificent recording. It is acoustically stunning and has a very solid foundation in scholarship. Singing early music is not simply a matter of reproducing pitches. It is very much the product of study and research, at least when done well. This I say because the techniques, intonation, vocal style, and performance practice is variable and subject to much speculation. You can’t just grab a page of neumes and chant away. Eastern Orthodox, more than most early music, takes a lot of research.
I remember being in music history classes in the 70s and the pride i felt in understanding the parts of the early Catholic Mass and the divine offices. But, the fact is, everyone with a degree in music has to study that. We think we know a lot about early Christian music but, guess what? We are not as smart as we may think. Indeed, we do study a lot of church music… WESTERN Church music! But, when I look back at my old music history text books, I see not more than a few pages on the other half of the early Christian world… EASTERN church music.
It is important to remember that, just like we Jews have both a European Ashkenazi Jewish civilization and a different but equally compelling Middle Eastern Sephardi tradition, the history of Christianity includes both Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. They are not the same and the Eastern tradition is not as well-known. But Eastern Orthodox music, with its microtonal tunings, sometimes less consonant interval relationships, foundations in both rhythmic and melodic “modes”. and characteristic drones, or “isons”, is at least as interesting as (arguably more interesting than) its western counterpart.
Cappella Romana’s “Good Friday in Jerusalem” is a superb example of just how lovely this music can be. It was recorded in a Church at Stanford and engineered by some clearly acoustically savvy members of Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). It was created, structured, and directed by UBC Musicologist and CR Artistic Director Alexander Lingas, And it was sung by a very talented subset of a very talented and multifaceted vocal ensemble. In short, it is one of the best recordings of Byzantine church music you’ll find.
Definitely worth a listen. Personally, I want to see them get their Grammy! Check it out.