Patriarchal Psaltophiles

Learn Byzantine music chant online with our free PDF book and video lessons!

Patriarchal Psaltophiles, a pro bono project, introduces English speakers to the liturgy of St John the Chrysostom in its original Greek, using notation and melodies in the tradition of the (Christian Orthodox) Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

A self-contained resource, no prerequisites required. To be notified of free future events (like 'office hours'), follow us on Facebook. Everything is free, not even donations are accepted! Below, some information about our pedagogical approach and philosophy. Get involved, enjoy, learn, grow!

Pedagogical Novelties

The book has two parts: (1) the method, and (2) the liturgy itself.

One pedagogical novelty of the book is that the method (part 1 of the book) is a means to an end (part 2, the liturgy), not the end goal itself. The method teaches byzantine music notation using liturgical hymns right from the start. The idea is that children can learn to chant the basics quickly, so they can immediately assist the teacher chanter at the analogion (chanter's stand). Participating at the analogion is a very important part of experiential learning, a vital element of apprenticeship. It gives children a sense of accomplishment and their parents tangible evidence of progress and worship participation.

Another pedagogical novelty is the sequence the echos (or modes, or tones) are taught. The Second Echos, the backbone of liturgy, is introduced first. Then the Plagal of Fourth Echos, the second most frequently used echos in liturgy, is taught second. Then all the rest of echos. Starting from the Second Echos achieves two things: (1) teaching most of the liturgical hymns in their traditional melody from the very beginning, and (2) the musical scale intervals of the Second Echos are the hardest to learn, because they are very different from the Western, well-tempered scale intervals. In my opinion, the Echos most different from the Western scales, and therefore the hardest to learn, should be introduced and digested first, while children are young and their ears at their greatest plasticity.

Despite the pedagogical novelties, nothing about the music itself is novel or even new. The music notation itself is the one currently approved and used by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (the so-called notation 'of the three teachers'). The music scores are from 19th and early 20th century books approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. So, in spite of the pedagogical novelties, the music, notation and scores alike, are very much conservative and traditional, maybe more so than what the average chanter would use at most Greek-speaking analogions today.

Instructional Videos

For a kid to become a chanter, analogion experience next to an traditional chanter (experiential learning) is of utmost importance. However, in the United States, unfortunately, for reasons we won't get into now, traditional chanters are very rare. Instructional videos could serve as a substitute. For this reason, I will try to post short videos that closely follow the material laid out in the book. All these will be in the Lessons web page of this site.

Why me, why now?

This project is put together by me, Michael. I don't want to give you the impression that I'm some kind of a master chanter, let alone a genuine chanter of the Patriarchal tradition. I've never set foot in the Patriarchate. I do not hold any degrees from any formal music institutions. Whatever little I knew, has faded due to disuse the last 20 years or so. So, why me? Simply, because no one else did.

About a couple of years ago, someone asked me to teach a young boy to chant. I didn't know where to start. That got me thinking: at a parish, even if there is a chanter willing to teach, and even if there are children willing to learn, there's no materials to teach from. Sure, one could use a translation from Greek or one of the few books in English. But I don't feel they're suited for the American reality. For a kid to go through a myriad of music exercises, followed by Esperinos (Vespers) in all eight echos, Orthros (Matins), and liturgy, is too long to be realistic. In the United States, we don't have Greek speaking kids whose ears are tuned to the music and linguistic texture of what they will be learning. Most parents do not come to Orthros and many parishes don't offer Esperinos anymore.

This is a grassroots movement. And for it to work, kids need to learn to chant the liturgy first, which they are much more likely to attend and requires much less knowledge than Esperinos or Orthros (a typical liturgy is for the most part identical throughout the year). And what better way to get children up to speed with basic byzantine notation, than actually using liturgical hymns as our teaching material.

At the same time, I don't want to give you the impression that I'm completely unfit to have an opinion about byzantine music. I was trained by a traditional chanter who was taught the music by Halki Theological School graduates and who adhered to the Patriarchal tradition fervently. I attended the analogion since the age of 5 and completed my music lessons by 14. At 13 I was hired as a right chanter at a neighboring small town. I was chanting regularly till the age of 20. And last but not least, I know the English language (not perfectly, but good enough to communicate well) and I'm a working father who understands the fast pace of the American life.

The 'why now?' is a bit easier to answer. As recently as twenty years ago, very few people, if any, cared to know what byzantine music is, let alone learn it. Things seem different now. Also, this project, simple as it may seem, took time and effort. The young lacks experience, and the old vigor. It seemed better to undertake this task now than later.

Thank you for visiting my site! If any questions, feel free to contact me. I may not respond immediately, but I'll do my best. I hope this project helps whoever wishes to learn the sacred, ancient tradition of byzantine chant!