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The Role of the Orthodox Parish Choir (and the Purpose of this Blog)

I grew up in a grab-bag of (mostly) mainstream Protestant denominations, and sang in the choir of every church I attended (except for the cult, but that's a story for another day and considerably stiffer beverages). When your mother is an organist, you grow up in the choir, period. The story was the same in every place: the choir rehearsed on Wednesday or Thursday nights for about 90 minutes, and on Sunday mornings we strapped on our robes, led the congregational hymn-singing and sang a more or less fancy anthem shortly after the sermon (and if we were feeling particularly fancy, we might sing a second one during Communion). For the rest of the service, I sat in my chair or pew and did what everyone else was doing: tried to pray, tried to look like I was praying, wondered how long-winded Pastor So-and-So was feeling that day, thought about what I hoped to have for know. Church stuff, amirite?

Then, at 23, I fell up the stairs into the Eastern Orthodox faith, and that was the first day of the rest of my life. Within about a month, I'd been pulled into the choir, and thank God for that — literally, thank God for that. Eventually I learned that it was somewhat unusual for a catechumen to sing in the choir; priests who frown on it usually do so because they don't feel that a person who isn't yet in sacramental communion with the Church should have a leadership role in worship. I'm not about to tell anybody else what to think, but I am extremely grateful that my catechist not only allowed it, but inspired it. He was a capable musician and great music lover, I was a graduate music student, and the choir needed a boost: that's all there was to it.

It wouldn't be completely fair to say that this is when my catechesis truly began, but...almost. Our theology is in our hymnography, and I had it right in front of my face at every Vespers service and Divine Liturgy. Far from inhibiting prayer, having the words right there helped me learn far more effectively than I otherwise would have, and that learning continues to this day.

During this time, I wasn't just learning about Orthodox theology and the Eastern Christian phronema; I was also adapting to a drastically different liturgico-musical paradigm: one in which the choir's role was greatly expanded and centralized. Furthermore, I experienced a new approach to choral membership, choral preparation, music literacy and cheironomy.

Ultimately, the Orthodox parish choir serves two purposes: to glorify almighty God, and to create a prayer book that the faithful can read with their ears; that's what this blog is about. Welcome!

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