Hymnal Project

The singing of “paraliturgical hymns” – popular devotional songs – outside the Liturgy is a significant and beloved part of our Church’s tradition. A small appendix of these songs was included in our previous Divine Liturgy book, and several additional collections were published over the years. Unfortunately, the new hymnal which was announced at “forthcoming” in 2006 never materialized.

With the consent of our bishops, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute is undertaking the project of preparing a new hymnal for our church, to be submitted to the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission when it is complete. This hymnal will include hymns to the Trinity, to the Mother of God, and to the saints, chosenfrom material traditionally used in our church, printed with music and set for singing in various languages as appropriate.

Of course, there are a variety of issues to consider. Which hymns should be included?  If there are several translations or melodies in circulation, which one(s) should be used? Would it be appropriate to provide literal (non-sung) translations for traditional Carpatho-Rusyn or Magyar hymns when our current English translation is a very free one?  And so on.

As part of  this project, we will hold several meetings over the next year, as well as a public “hymn sing” on Sunday, October 2, at Saint John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Munhall, PA. My goal is to complete a draft hymnal by September 1, 2017.

If  you have suggestions for this project, please comment below!

If you would like to assist in this project or contribute on a continuing basis, please write to mci@archpitt.org.

Notes from the Cantors’ Meeting of May 22, 2016

All serving cantors of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh were invited to a meeting on Sunday May 22 at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh. The meeting was not recorded (to allow for frank discussions) but I did make the following notes to share with cantors who were not able to attend.

What is the singing like in your parish?

“We have two full-time cantors, each with a cantor in training, 2-3 assistant cantors and about 10 trained epistle readers. We have been singing the Our Father in the tone of the week, and the parishioners are now familiar with the samohlasen tones (tone 3 is still challenging).”

“In one of our priest’s parishes, only the A settings are used, and the people would like more variety.  We do have some homeschooling families and would like to offer classes for them.”

“Our priest now covers three parishes, one of which has been without a cantor for some time. But one of the other parishes has had a strong singing tradition, and old old professor always prepared books with music, so our transition to the new book was not hard.”

Is there a time you attended the Liturgy and the singing was the best?

  1. Last liturgy by our previous pastor; very heartfelt
  2. Easter Sunday

What do YOU need to do a better job as cantor in your parish?

  • We’re all awaiting release of new materials that match the green book (Holy Week, etc) – this year people were really happy with the new Holy Week / Annunciation books.
  • Help with pitch matching – especially with priests or deacons are not regulars.  (But  if the priest or deacon are ALL over the place, it may be better for the cantor to just pick a pitch and stick with it.)
  • Guidance setting a good tempo – sometimes our priest sings very fast.
  • Better instructional recordings: sometimes the recording is too fast to master initially. We may need to have set s of recordings, one slower and one at normal speed. Recordings in several different pitch ranges would also be good.
  • Books or instructions for when the bishop makes a visitation

Discussion of what the MCI offers and how the program has developed

Funeral books are not yet available; a class on the Parastas was recorded and put on the MCI website. Recent evening classes were held in Pittsburgh; we may also have regular weekend or evening classes in Youngstown or Johnstown if there is interest.

We need to assess this year’s Holy Week music, and review Christmas and Theophany books. Anyone who has specific suggestions based on this years’ Holy Week / Annunication books should send them to mci@archpitt.org.

The MCI online program, including ear training, will be free for the rest of the year.

Other observations from attendees:

  • Music on website should be recorded by a single voice as well as by a choir.
  • When a parish shrinks, the untrained voices are more noticeable. We need ways to counter this and help the people  sing together.
  • Cantors can use training in how to use a microphone when one is present.
  • People really like the paraliturgical hymns at the opening incensation, especially the ones based on the day’s readings. The Marian Hymnal is still widely used; we need a new. comprehensive hymnal.
  • Once music is learned, going to books with text only can help you focus on the words. But the settings need to be predictable; the cantor can’t keep changing how they are sung.
  • We need cantors who are leaders, and the people generally follow – we don’t need soloists.
  • We need cantors who are comfortable with what they are singing.
  • We should start having regular spiritual reflections at classes – perhaps a regular retreat? Discussion: retreat should not be right after Pascha – perhaps September or October. One day is the right length – seminary is a good location.
  • We need ways to get cantors together socially / professionally:including singing together, so we know who the other cantors in our area are.  Perhaps hold an annual moleben and panachida for cantors.
  • We should have a list of serving cantors (though privacy is an issue) and a group of cantors willing to lead singing at important events, priests’ funerals, etc – holding practices in advance.
  • Volunteerism is great, but should we encourage stipends for cantors in parishes that can afford it. Cantors’ work should be acknowledged better as important to parishes.
  •  If the people have words in front of them, those are the words that should be sung

“Ask me anything” (challenge from MCI director Jeffrey Mierzejewski)

  1. Liturgy in our parish is always an hour and a quarter; friends tell me theirs is done in 30 minutes. How is that possible?  (Explanation of “low liturgy” – fortunately this is rare in our church.)
  2. What is happening with parishes that are still not using the green book?  (Answer: some parishes, especially those with elderly or long-serving pastors, take longer to adopt anything new.)
  3. Will there be official Vespers books? (Answer: most of Vespers has already been released, between the green book and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.  A proposed Vespers text from the Inter-Eparchial Liturgical Commission is with the bishops.
  4. Which way is the wind blowing on Slavonic these days?  (Discussion of combining English and Slavonic. Some cantors commented that they could use help learning correct pronunciation and meaning of words for those occasional circumstances when their pastor or parish wanted something sung in Slavonic.)
  5. Has the MCI given any thought to working with the Office of Religions Education on materials for ECF classes? (Answer: Yes.) In further discussion, it was noted that children can learn sections of the Liturgy, and lead the singing of them.  In one parish, children lead the antiphons and Communion hymns. We should consider teaching liturgy and singing at altar server camps.

As you can see from this summary, the discussion was wide-ranging, and many of the detailed suggestions will be incorporated into Cantor Institute initiatives in the remainder of the year.

Meeting of Archieparchial Cantors

On the afternoon of the Sunday of All Saints, May 22, 2016, a meeting of the cantors of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh will be held at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary, 3605 Perrysville Avenue, Pittsburgh, from 2-5 PM. Each parish within driving distance of Pittsburgh is asked to have at least one representative at the meeting. A dinner and social gathering will follow; please bring a dish to share if you plan to stay for the meal.

Three-day Cantor Workshop in Pittsburgh

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute will hold a 3-day workshop for new cantors at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh from July 5-7. This intensive course will introduce beginning cantors to the fundamentals of church singing and chant leadership. The course is also open to bi-ritual clergy who wish to improve their knowledge of our plain chant.

A limited amount of lodging is available at the seminary for those coming from outside the Pittsburgh area. Cost for the course  will be $100, and an additional $125 for those staying overnight. Watch this website for more details, or contact MCI director Jeffrey Mierzejewski at (412) 735-1676 or mci@archpitt.org.

New Hymns for Pascha!

Christ is risen!

Brother Augustine of the Byzantine Franciscan friary in Sybertsville, PA put together a collection of Paschal hymns, and has graciously allowed the Metropolitan Cantor Institute to post them online. There are hymns in both English (using the current translations of our church) and Slavonic, and include some choral settings as well.

Paschal Hymns

May they contribute to our joy in this Paschal seasaon!

Holy Week and Annunciation, 2016

This year, the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) falls on Great and Holy Friday. When this happens, the hymns for the eve of the feast are added to the celebration of Vespers with Divine Liturgy on Great and Holy Thursday, and Vespers with the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on the evening of Great and Holy Friday. This is the only time a Divine Liturgy is ever celebrated on Friday of Holy Week.

The bishops of the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh have promulgated a pair of books with music to be used at these services. Copies of these books are being provided to each parish. On March 3, a two-hour presentation on these books and the music they contain was given in Pittsburgh. Here are the audio recordings of this presentation, for those who could not attend or see the live Internet feed of the presentation.

The Inter-Eparchial Liturgical Commission has recommended that parishes which celebrate Matins for Great and Holy Friday (the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels) include the matins Gospel of the Annunciation (Luke 1:39-49,56) between the seventh and eighth Gospels of the Passion, and add the commemoration of the Annunciation to the final dismissal. The MCI has prepared a leaflet with this recommendation.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Music for Holy Week and Annunciation – IMPORTANT

This year, the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) falls on Great and Holy Friday.  When this happens:

  1. The service of Vespers with Divine Liturgy on the evening of Great and Holy Thursday includes hymns (stichera) for the eve of the Annunciation.
  2. The service of Vespers on Great and Holy Friday has a Divine Liturgy added  to it, and there are hymns and readings for the Annunciation as well as for Great Friday.

In 2005, our bishops provided books for these services; unfortunately, the results were not what they could have been because

  • the materials were supplements, directing priests, cantors, and faithful to switch back and forth between the usual Holy Week books and the supplements
  • there was a mix of old translations, and the new ones that would be promulgated in 2007
  • new music was released with very little time to prepare

Over the past year, the Inter-eparchial Liturgy and Music Commissions prepared complete service books for these two services, matching what is in the green Divine Liturgy books for the two Divine Liturgies, and for the Annunciation. The translations are consistent throughout.  That means that for a small number of stichera, the books use a new translation of the hymns for Great and Holy Thursday and Great and Holy Friday, with musical settings by the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission. These books are being send to each parish in the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church over the next week or so.

On THURSDAY, March 3, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute will give a two-hour presentation on these services and the service books that are being distributed, teaching the new music and showing cantors how the books can be used most effectively.  I STRONGLY encourage all cantors in the Greater Pittsburgh area to attend this class, which will be held at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, PA from 7-9 PM Eastern.

This class will also be live-streamed on the cathedral website at


though I cannot predict how usable the audio will be.  Therefore, we will also be recording the class and post the audio and additional materials on the MCI website at mci.archpitt.org.

CANTORS: please set aside some time to prepare for these services.  They are among the most solemn of the year, and I think you will find the music and books are quite usable (and even make sense!) IF you prepare adequately. As always, if you have questions, please write me at mci@archpitt.org;  and questions of general import will be posted with their answers on the MCI website.

P.S. I do not currently have PDF files for these service books. They will be posted if I can get access to them in advance of Holy Week.

Cantor education update

The first two courses in our online cantor education program are up and running, with most of the kinks worked out. The next course will be Introduction to Liturgy sometime this month, followed by Introduction to Church Singing. I think even experienced cantors will find something of value in the latter course, which will cover a lot of ground.

I also hope to integrate the Moodle distance learning software with this website, so that the Courses page will show which courses you have completed.

Other material that should appear within the next week or two:

  • Guidelines for finding (or being) a mentor
  • Using  the Theta Music ear training software

We will be providing music for the Great Fast and Pascha through the home page and blog on this website, so please check in regularly.

Website update

The liturgy articles have been transferred from the old website to this one;  I am fixing internal links are such, since these articles will be a crucial part of the next MCI Online course, Introduction to Liturgy.

Next will be the Recordings page and the paraliturgical hymn entries. I am trying out several different audio player plugins, and I will probably end up with two: one the whole width of the column (for podcasts and other long records, as well as playlists), and a tiny one for putting in where there is current a “listen” button. I actually have a lot more audio (tutorials and such) than conveniently fits on one big page; the challenge is organizing it.  You suggestions are welcome!

The weekly podcast is in full swing, and I plan to add a Question Box link so that anyone can post a question to the blog.

Check out the Singing the Services entry (which can also be found under Topics) in the main navigation)!

Originally, I had a pull-down menu on the top navigation bar, to make it easier to find things. I removed it because it did not work at all well on mobile devices;  I am thinking of putting it back. An alternative would be to change the Home list on the top navigation bar to a full Site Map (since you can always go Home by clicking on the title box at the top of any website  page).

Please post here is you have any other problems with the websites, or ideas to make it more useful!