Our traditions of Advent and Christmas music are based so solidly,if not exclusively, on English and Germanic traditions that we often forget there is a wealth of seasonal music out there from other cultures. I was fortunate in my childhood to be surrounded by a Polish community and later years live in Warsaw where I was introduced to beautiful Polish carols; and our time in Mexico brought the music of the Pastorelas and Posadas into our lives. And in Canada I had the good luck to have a friend who worked for years at the fabled Sam the Record Man and if Alan said buy this Christmas album you’ll love it… you bought it and you really did love it. And then the oft mentioned Bob Kerr on CBC with his eclectic taste for all things musical. It was a broad musical education that taught me that Christmas music existed beyond watching shepherds and angels being heard on high.
If I have not ignored music of the Eastern Church than it has certainly been less explored than that of other cultures. There is so much out there to discover: Russian, Slavonic, Serbian and Greek service music; chants of various orders; and historically the music of the Byzantine church.
This anonymous Russian Orthodox chant for Advent is performed by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir conducted by Nicolai Korniev. The text echos the passage in the Gospel of Mathew concerning the Wise and the Foolish virgins. I wrote about an America part song telling of the parable last year.
Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night,
and blessed is the servant He shall find vigilant;
but unworthy is he whom he shall find neglectful.
Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given over to death and be closed out from the kingdom;
but rise up crying out: “Holy! Holy! Holy are You our God;
through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.
As as side note though I knew that the list of Patronal Saints varied from Church to Church I have remained largely ignorant of those outside my own faith. I find the story of Saint Romanos, the Eastern Orthodox Patron Saint of Music, a touching one – mocked for his lack of talent, through a miracle his gift for melody and music is unlocked and he shares his gift to bring joy into the world.