Thursday, March 10, 2005

Musical Muttonings

Have had a comment to my last post on my Xanga site, asking, "What is a Triodion, and what is an Octoechos?" Worthwhile answering in a separate post.

The Octoechos is the weekly prayer cycle of the Orthodox Church. It was set up in the eighth century A.D. by St. John of Damascus, and consists of an eight-week cycle of musical "moods" -- not to be confused with the do-re-mi scale of Western culture -- used for praying liturgical prayers. The closest you can come to this structure in Western culture is a knowledge of the "ecclesiastical Modes," the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian scales, and their "plagal" tones -- I must admit to being a little fuzzy on what constitutes "plagal," but it seems to be a fifth above the "base note," or tonic, of the original Mode. So for example, Dorian mode begins on the key of D, and on a piano you would play an octave starting on D and going straight up, without any sharps or flats. In Byzantine Church music, that's Tone 1. We'll be in Tone 1 in two weeks -- this week is Tone 7, known in the Greek Church as "varis," or Grave. (I don't know why -- it doesn't strike me as all that somber! But it is considered somber enough that in the week following Pascha, when all the Tones are sung one per day, Tone 7/varis is the only one omitted -- too "grave" for Paschaltide.)

The Triodion is based on the Octoechos. Again, the basic 8-week melodic structure is used, but it adds prayers that are particular to Great Lent, the 40 days preceding Pascha.

So what does all this have to do with me? As a church musician and former choir director, I like to sing my prayers, and I also went to great pains and expense to learn all of this, so I don't want to forget the melodies. I also like my prayers to be portable -- when I'm on the go, I still want to be able to say them. So, last year, I took the basic Octoechos prayers I purchased at a monastery and entered them into my computer, in a format consistent with a Franklin Covey Compact Day Planner (, and every week I take out the previous week's Octoechos and insert the new Tone. Now I'm doing the same for the Triodion/Lenten cycle -- entering it into my computer and printing it out, week by week. Fortunately, the Triodion is already available online, so all I have to do is format it and print it out (which takes considerable effort anyway, since what's online is in modern English, and I prefer liturgical English). I'll do the same, God willing, with the Pentecostarion, which is the cycle of prayers from Pascha/Easter through the week after Pentecost.

Hey, we all have a compulsion of one sort or another. Mine's more harmless than gambling.

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