Byzantine Music School
Among the numerous initiatives that His Eminence has carefully and graciously planted here on Australian soil since His arrival, is the Byzantine Music School of Australia. It was officially opened in Melbourne (early 2020), with branches now open in Sydney and Adelaide.
The main objective of this school is to educate the faithful who are able and willing, to actively participate in our Orthodox Worship. This active participation is a process, or a journey which involves various stages and elements that are continuously being cultivated.
One of the many beautiful things along this learning journey, is that, it is not only about learning to read this centuries old musical notation. What follows is the progressive understanding of the God inspired words in the hymns that this music embellishes. And in turn, this understanding of the content offers us the tools to grow and strengthen us spiritually, to face our struggles of this current harsh world.
Two of the most empowering themes that are overwhelmingly repeated again and again in our Orthodox Hymns, is God’s infinite Love and Great Mercy. When a person actually identifies deeply within themselves with God’s Love and Great mercy, every temptation in our spiritual warfare can be overcome, even the extreme temptation of hopelessness which is so common and prevailing in this modern and materialistic world, which I believe our spiritual fathers can testify numerous examples in their loving care of their flock.
From our hymns, the Church teaches us how the Saints have overcome the struggles of living in a world of earthly cares and temporary achievements. This is not easy, but it is worthwhile.
From the Scripture readings and hymns that we learn to chant in our communal services, we can learn how we are to live in this world; how to cultivate our relationship with God, with each other and with all creation.
Like any art, learning byzantine musical notation cultivates also the relationship we are to have with our selves. Our talents and virtues will be tested, such as Patience, Perseverance, Hope and Courage, among others.
When we cultivate ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, naturally the Church also is strengthened, and sanctified, all in preparation of the glorious second coming and meeting of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In this light, His Eminence, as our good shepherd is concerned for his flock, and acts accordingly for our needs and our salvation. His initiative in planting the Byzantine Music School of Australia, aims to prepare chanters, who will not only serve the current needs and responsibilities in our church services, but also to inspire a desire in the faithful, for a more active choral participation in our liturgical worship.
All branches of the Byzantine Music School of Australia are collaborating together, with a common vision, mission and curriculum.
The Vision of the Byzantine Music School of Australia is to preserve and pass on the Eastern Orthodox Ecclesiastical Music tradition as part of our Orthodox worship of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Byzantine Music School aims to educate and empower students to acquire and demonstrate Byzantine Music skills that will support them, as life-long chanters, to participate in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church.
Future goals of the school will be looking into expanding this learning program. Other than the regular weekly lessons, to also include:
- Educational seminars.
- A student choir, for participating in various Liturgical Services throughout their learning journey
- A children’s curriculum, which could also include the Orthodox Schools of the Archdiocese.
Another important aspect of this learning journey is the Spiritual formation of students, which is beyond simply learning to read the music.
As students progress in their chanting abilities, their focus will slowly broaden and begin to become more aware of the content of the hymns. They slowly become immersed in Orthodox theology, and traditional hymns which are more than simple pious songs.
One can find numerous examples of Orthodox dogma (as in the Hymns for Pentecost, and all the feasts for the Lord and the Theotokos), significant historical events (as in the feasts of Ecumenical Synods), spiritual encouragement (as in the feasts for commemorating saints who continually intercede for us throughout our lives). The Church in Her Wisdom teaches us through the hymns (among other numerous tools), how to cultivate our relationship with our Creator, our relationship with each other, and with creation itself.
The curriculum is divided into three stages, beginners, intermediate and advance.
The textbook Byzantine Ecclesiastical Music (by Basilios Psilacos) is being used in the beginners’ level (and also useful through the following years of the students’ learning journey, is published by St Andrew’s Orthodox Press, and is available for purchase from the main Archdiocese bookshops in Sydney and Melbourne.
The beginner level aims to give the student in their first year:
- A foundation for reading the Byzantine musical notation…
- An ability to chant by heart simple standard melodies from the regular Divine Liturgies…
The intermediate level aims to give the student, over a two-year period:
- The ability to chant specific melodies (what we call “prosomoia”) that have a set melody that many hymns actually copy…
- The ability to read musical notation for traditional hymns in all the musical modes that we hear every week (in our Saturday evening and Sunday morning services).
During this level of the learning journey, the students will be able and encouraged to chant at the analogion along with experienced chanters who follow the traditional melodies in our services.
The advanced level aims to educate the student over two further years, for becoming capable in fulfilling the various responsibilities of the chanter. This will cover the basic content and elements of the foundational church sacraments and services throughout the liturgical calendar.
Students, upon successfully fulfilling all curriculum requirements, which includes a strong attendance record (around 80%) and exams at the end of each year, will receive a formal certificate of completion from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
After their graduation, students will not be left on their own, since we also aim to offer post-certificate short seminars & workshops, as ongoing development for active chanters.
With the blessings and vision of His Eminence our Archbishop, we hope that this will be a God-pleasing project that will inspire and encourage many to join this beautiful journey of active participation in our Orthodox services, all for the Glory of God and our salvation.