The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Boston is beautiful and
the church services, mysterious. Bearing no resemblance to the
churches from my past, what attracted me was the music, the role
of the choir in the liturgy and the people.
Visiting Annunciation Cathedral
Annunciation Cathedral is within walking distance of Ruggles Station,
adjacent to the Wentworth Campus. It was built in 1923 and serves
as the Seat of the Diocese of Boston for the Greek Orthodox Church.
On my first visit a couple weeks
ago, I entered the church having only known services from the
Protestant churches of my past - Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran and
Congregational - some with services "higher" than others. At
Annunciation, 90% of the service was in Greek, so the usual words of
comfort, clarity, spirituality and repetition were missing. Even
the ceremony and ritual, so different from my own experiences, remained
church pews were well-stocked with the "Divine Liturgy Hymnal" but I
felt like I was in a confounding Easter egg hunt. Attempting to
follow the service using the Hymnal was like finding one egg, then
getting lost while looking for the next. I don't understand Greek
and when I did find the music in the Hymnal, it didn't match what the
choir was singing.
after a while, the music took on a familiar tone as if I had heard it
many times before. It raised my spirits and soothed my soul and
soon I proclaimed to my companion, "I have died and gone to heaven."
Following the service, I headed straight over to the choir,
complimenting them effusively. I wanted to know more. Why
was the hymnal music so different from what the choir was
singing? The answer I got left me awestruck. The choir
director, Constantine (Dean) Limberakis, wrote his own arrangement of
the liturgical music. "After all," he said, "this is the Greek
Cathedral." Mr. Limberakis said I was welcome to join the choir.
Choir Director, Deane Limberakis
Organist Roberto Poli
Role of the Choir
In the Christian churches (Protestant) in which I have served as
musician, the liturgy is structured around the spoken word. By
comparison, Greek Orthodox liturgy is structured around the sung word
as chanted by the priests and chanters and as sung by the liturgical
the centuries of change in the Christian church, the movement away from
sung to spoken word has helped relegate the choir to a lesser
role. If three hymns and one anthem are sung at three minutes
each, the choir has 12 minutes in a one hour service. In some
churches, a bit of "service music" remains.
liturgical choir at a Greek Orthodox Church has a unique position as
one of the three voices carrying out the service - priests, chanters
and choir. As a result, they sing almost the entire two-hour
From the Vantage of the Choir Stalls
On March 23, I arrived to sing with the choir. Soon outfitted with a
robe, I made my way upstairs to the choir stalls. "You will be
sitting in the back," I was told. There I was welcomed by two of
the most gracious sopranos, Chris to my left and Fay, to my
right. Both cared for my experience, making sure I had the
correct page open of the many supplementary music sections included in
the day's liturgy.
Director, Dean, a truly enjoyable character, has been directing the
choir for so long he has the liturgy memorized and says it aloud as if
talking to himself. Becoming one with the words of the priest, he
prepares himself to direct both the organist and the choir to begin
singing at precisely the right moment.
directing a planned program where the music is listed and followed
exactly, Dean has to listen to what the priest is saying to determine
what music will be sung next. Most of it is predictable but not
all. Sometimes the priest skips a portion of the liturgy or adds a new
section so Dean has to make ad hoc decisions on what will be sung next
and where to find it. Most of the singing is in Greek; some of it
is in English. When the language changes, Dean holds up a sign to
let the choir know: English or Greek.
I look forward to a new set of experiences that bring me full circle to
a time when I attended the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a child.
The language wasn't Greek but the ceremonies, rituals and incense were
all the same.
now for the test of commitment. Holy Week begins Palm Sunday,
April 13 and lasts the entire week. Not just a Sunday morning "gig,"
Holy Week is full-time. The choir either sings or rehearses every
day of that week through April 20, Easter.
The question is: Can I do it?
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral
514 Parker Street
Boston, MA, 02120
|Posted: March 26, 2014 Nancy J Conrad
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