Thursday, 19 July 2012

Is Byzantine Chant Too Eastern?

Staying on the subject of music, a Norwegian friend of mine, a Dominican monk, attended a Divine Liturgy with me in London earlier this year. I asked him what he had thought about the Byzantine chanting, expecting words like ‘different’, ‘foreign’, ‘unusual’. Instead he responded by saying how at home he had felt with it because of how similar it is to the scales and character of Norwegian folk music. I so often hear that Byzantine music is inappropriate in a missionary context because it’s too oriental and needlessly alienating to potential converts. But when I recall the traditional music I grew up hearing as a child [can you get any less Eastern than Norway?] the tunes are far more reminiscent of what I now hear in church than the classical music certain people appear to think comprises the totality of ‘Western music’. I’m not suggesting that Byzantine chant won’t seem strange and foreign to many, but not because it’s too Eastern, and therefore wholly incompatible with a genuinely ‘Western Orthodoxy,’ but simply because it’s different to what they’re used to hearing. In that case, you can dispense of the Liturgy altogether; the icons, incense, colourful robes, convoluted language, the sign of the Cross, the lot. It’s all strange.

I’ll leave you with a link to one of my favourite folk tunes, Heiemo og Nykkjen, which I hope will lend some credence to my thoughts. 


  1. A very nice and interesting folk tune.!

  2. Fascinating! I, too, would have thought that Byzantine Chant would be relatively foreign to western ears. My wife was in the other room when I played the clip, and she thought that the music was, in fact, Byzantine or at least Middle Eastern! Thanks for helping me to think a little differently about Byzantine chant!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Father. I think your wife's reaction says it all!