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Choral Corner #24: What is the Kliros?

The kliros is the area of the nave (the area west of the iconostas) where the choir stands; the term also refers to the podium and analogia (music stands) found in that location. Kliros comes from the Greek word for “clergy”, a reference to the fact that in the early Church, non-celebrating clergy stood in this area during services, while the singers originally stood on the ambo, which (at the time) was an elevated pulpit in the center of the nave. As Slavic

liturgics evolved in the centuries following the Baptism of Rus’ (988), the singers gradually moved from the ambo to the areas to the right and left of the Royal Doors, forming two choirs that sang antiphonally (back and forth), much

as the seraphīm singing in Isaiah 6:3. Interestingly, some Russian churches included elevated galleries in the western nave, but they were reserved for women with children, or sometimes for the ruling prince. The choir did not sing from these rear lofts. As liturgico-

musical scholar Dr. Johann von Gardner writes, “The positioning of singers in this fashion enabled them to function as co-participants in the service, rather than as ‘musicians’ who ‘accompanied’ the service. Direct contact existed between the singers, readers, clergy, and to some degree, the congregation.”*

*Johann Gardner, The History of Russian Church Singing, Vol. II, p. 78

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