Braille Byzantine Music Notation
Before we introduce the qualitative symbols, we should make a few general remarks about Byzantine music and its notation.
Byzantine music is a liturgical art form, and as such it is based on ancient traditions. The manner in which Byzantine music is to be executed is a sacred heritage that has been passed down over the centuries primarily through oral tradition rather than through written tradition. The written tradition of Byzantine music (i.e., sheet music in Byzantine notation) is merely an attempt to capture on paper what traditional chanters do with their voice. Although Byzantine notation does utilize several different symbols in an attempt to record the many nuances of chanted music, this attempt will inevitably be an incomplete description of what is actually chanted according to the living, oral tradition. This is why the only genuine way to learn the art of chanting Byzantine music is to listen to a bearer of its tradition and watching how he interprets Byzantine notation. Since, however, traditional chanters of Byzantine music are rare or nonexistent in many parts of the world outside of countries with a living tradition of Byzantine music, the next best solution is to listen carefully to recordings of traditional chanters, and if possible, to examine simultaneously the sheet music they were using.
The qualitative symbols of Byzantine Music notation are meant to be more as guidelines and reminders of the nuances of the oral tradition of Byzantine music rather than be definitive symbols with a specific interpretation that is applied uniformly in all melodies. In other words, the interpretation of a qualitative symbol depends on its context: a qualitative symbol in one musical phrase may be executed differently in another musical phrase. Furthermore, even the same musical phrase may have more than one acceptable interpretation. Therefore, to equate each qualitative symbol with a particular execution would be an erroneous oversimplification. Nevertheless, this is what we shall do in this chapter, merely as a simple first step. As you expose yourself more and more to recordings of traditional chanters, you will gradually begin to notice patterns of interpreting these qualitative symbols, and then you will be able to begin executing them in a more traditional way. Until then, however, in order to make a small beginning we will intentionally present the following five qualitative symbols with simplistic descriptions. Likewise, the chanter in the recordings intentionally executes these symbols in a uniform, simplistic manner in order to help beginners make a simple first step. Fortunately, though, in Part Two of this online book (which contains ecclesiastical hymns) the same chanter will execute these symbols with various traditional interpretations based on their melodic context.
Many qualitative neumes, instead of being executed as we will describe them in this book, make quantitative changes to the melody. For example, when a vareia is followed by an ison followed by an apostrophos, this combination is usually interepreted as an ison followed by kentemata with a gorgon followed by an elaphron. Demetrios Nerantzis has published a 200-page book in Greek that gives analytical explanations for dozens of such interpretations. The title of this book is: Symbole Stin Ermeneia tou Ekklesiastikou Melous.
All qualitative neumes (except the vareia) in Byzantine Music notation for the sighted are written beneath the quantitative neume they affect. Since, however, Braille Byzantine Music Notation has no room to stack braille symbols on top of one another, those qualitative nuemes are instead written beside the quantitative neume they affect. As we will see below, all of them are written before the neume they affect, except for the omalon, antikenoma, and syndesmos, which are written after the neume they affect.
All the recordings for this page have intentionally been placed before each exercise rather than after. We recommend listening to the recordings for each exercise before attempting to execute the qualitative symbols presented in this page.
The Vareia (which is pronounced "vah-REE!-ah" and shaped like a line slanting down to the right) in Byzantine music notation for the sighted is written to the left of a note that is to be emphasized. The way it emphasizes the following note depends on the melodic phrase. The ecclesiastical hymns in chapter nine of this online exercise book will present a wide variety of melodic phrases with the vareia, which will show you the various ways a vareia can be interpreted. But for now, we shall simply interpret the vareia as a note that increases the volume of the following note.
In Braille Byzantine notation, the vareia is written as dots 35: 9 When the first note of a syllable in Braille Byzantine notation is modified by a vareia, that vareia may be written either as the final note of the previous syllable or as the first note of that syllable.
_N4 9[ \ : : 9: \ O _B6 [ \ : : 9: \ O _D8 9: \ : : 9: \ O "N7 9[ \ 9: \ 9O @P _D8 9] \ 9[ \ 9S P _B6 9@] \ 9[ \ 9[ \ 9[ \ _P5 @] \ \ \ 9\ \ O _N4
In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the Psefiston (which is pronounced "psee-fee-STOHN!" and shaped like a line that curves down to the right and then curves up to the right, sort of like a very flat letter "U") is placed beneath a note that is to be emphasized. The way it emphasizes that note depends on the melodic phrase. Again, as with the vareia, the ecclesiastical hymns in chapter nine of this online exercise book will present a wide variety of melodic phrases with the psefiston, which will show you the various ways it can be interpreted. But for now, we shall simply interpret the psefiston as a note that increases the volume of the following note.
In Braille Byzantine notation, the psefiston is written with the braille character consisting of only dot 6 and is placed before the note it modifies. When a psefiston is placed before an oligon used as "support" (which joins two notes, the second of which is always kentemata) the psefiston applies to the kentemata from a purely theoretical standpoint (since a psefiston can only modify quantitative symbols followed by at least two descending notes). From a practical standpoint, however, either the first note or the kentemata may be emphasized, depending on the interpretation of the formula in which this combination appears. The same applies to a psefiston placed before an oligon followed by kentemata. The following two exercises, however, do not use such combinations. They will be encountered in chapter 9, and then you will see in practice how they may be executed.
_N4 S : : ,: \ \ \ O _P5 : : ,: \ \ \ O _B6 : : ,: \ \ \ O _G7 \ : ,: \ \ \ O _B6 \ : ,: \ \ \ O _P5 \ : ,: \ \ \ Z 9' _N4
_N4 [ : : ,: \ \ ! _P5 [ : : ,: \ \ ! _B6 [ : : ,: \ \ ! _G7 ,: \ \ ,: \ \ ! _P5 ,: \ \ ,: \ \ Z _N4
As we saw in chapter one, the petaste is a symbol that ascends one note with a flutter. Thus, it is both a quantitative symbol and a qualitative symbol. In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the petaste may also be used as a purely qualitative symbol by placing it beneath an ison or a descending quantitative symbol. In Braille Byzantine notation, this kind of petaste is written as dots 236: 8 and is placed before the note that is to be chanted with a flutter. As we mentioned in chapter one, interpreting the petaste simply as a flutter is merely one of several interpretations that we shall explore in more detail in chapter nine.
_N4 [ : O 8[ \ O _B6 [ : O 8[ \ O _D8 8[ \ S 8[ \ S _B6 8[ \ S 8[ \ S _N4
In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the Omalon (which is pronounced "oh-mah-LOHN!" and shaped like a thin horizonatal line with a vertical thick line that resembles a kentema at the right end of it) adds a flutter to the note or notes it is written beneath. As with the other qualitative symbols, the particular way of executing this flutter depends on the melodic phrase in which the omalon is found. Once again, the ecclesiastical hymns in chapter nine of this online exercise book will present a wide variety of melodic phrases with the omalon, and by listening to them you will learn the various ways it can be executed. But for now, we shall simply interpret the omalon as a note that adds a flutter.
In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the omalon may be written beneath a single note if that note has a klasma (i.e., held for two beats). It may also be written beneath the middle of two notes when the second of the two is an ison. That ison may be written as a one-beat ison or with a gorgon, digorgon, or trigorgon. When the omalon is written beneath the middle of two notes in Byzantine notation for the sighted, the omalon's flutter is executed on the second of two notes.
In Braille Byzantine notation, the omalon is written as dots 235: 6 When an omalon is used in order to modify a single two-beat note, its braille character is written immediately after it (as in exercise 96). But when an omalon is used between two notes, it is placed between the two (as in the first notes in exercise 97), in which case the flutter is executed on the second of the two notes. Whether a braille omalon applies to one or two notes can be determined by the duration of the note preceding the omalon: if it is a two-beat note, the omalon must apply only to it, otherwise the omalon applies to it and the following note.
_N4 S S6 O S6 O S6 _B6 R S6 R S6 R : \ O _N4
Warning: We mentioned in the previous paragraph that when an omalon is placed between two notes, its flutter is executed on the second of the two notes. Unfortunately, the chanter in the following recording for exercise 97 incorrectly places the flutter on the first of the two notes rather than on the second of the two. Apparently, the only reason he did so was because he was singing the solfege. To hear examples of the omalon executed properly, please pay attention to the syllable "ree" at 0:17 in the melody recording of exercise 153, and to the syllable "son" at 1:12 in the melody recording of exercise 182. (But in the solfege for exercises 153 and 182, he again incorrectly places the flutter on the first of the two notes.)
_N4 [6[ S6 :6[ S6 :6[ S6 _B6 :6[ S6 \6[ S6 \6[ S6 \ \ O _N4
_N4 [ [ O6 \ \ O _N4 [ : O6 \ \ O _P5 [ : O6 \ \ O _B6 [ : O6 \ \ R _P5 [ : O6 \ \ R _N4 [ : O6 \ \ R _Z0 [ : O6 \ \ O _N4
In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the Antikenoma (which is pronounced "ahn-dee-KEH!-noh-mah" and shaped like a thin horizonatal line with a downward hook at the right end of it) adds a brief shake to the note it is written beneath. As with the other qualitative symbols, the particular way of executing this shake depends on the melodic phrase in which the antikenoma is found. Once again, the ecclesiastical hymns in chapter nine will present a wide variety of melodic phrases with the antikenoma, and by listening to them you will learn the various ways it can be executed. But for now, we shall simply interpret the antikenoma as a note that adds a shake or flutter.
In Braille Byzantine notation, the antikenoma is written as dots 26: 5 and it is written after the note it modifies.
When the antikenoma modifies a one-beat or a half-beat note, this note will always be on the upbeat, and the shake is executed quickly (as in exercises 99 and 100). When, however, the antikenoma is followed by an aple and a note with a gorgon (thus making the duration of the note modified by the antikenoma one and a half beats), the flutter of the antikenoma is done much slower, as you shall hear in the recording for exercise 101.
By the way, in Byzantine notation for the sighted, when a kentemata is followed by an oligon with an antikenoma and an aple, this combination is stacked vertically merely to save space. This vertical stacking does not affect how that combination is chanted. In Braille Byzantine notation, however, since symbols can't be stacked vertically, this combination is simply written out sequentially.
_N4 [ :5 \ : O _B6 [ :5 \ : O _D8 : :5 \ \ O _K9 \ :5 \ \ R _B6 : :5 \ \ R _P5 : :5 \ \ R _N4 : :5 \ \ R _Z0 : :5 \ \ O _N4
_N4 [ E5 \ I : [ _P5 : E5 \ H : [ _B6 : E5 \ H : [ : E5 \ H : [ _D8 @] E5 \ H \ E5 \ _K9 : E5 \ E5 \ H R _D8 : E5 \ E5 \ H \ : E5 \ H \ H \ _N4 @] H \ H \ E5 \ : H : E5 R _N4
_N4 [5' H : # \5' H \ \ :5' H : : :5' H O _N4 @]5' H : # $5' H : # :5' H : # R _D8 9B @]5' H : # $5' H : # $5' H : # P _D8 9B \5' H :# $5' H : # $5' H : # $5' H O _N4
In Byzantine notation for the sighted, the Syndesmos (which is pronounced "SEEN!-dhez-mohs" and shaped like a wavy horizonatal line with a hook at the left end of it and a small dot at the right end of it) adds a flutter between the two notes it is written beneath. Another name for the syndesmos (which means "link") is: "eteron" (pronounced "EH!-teh-rohn), which means "other." As with the other qualitative symbols, the particular way of executing this flutter depends on the melodic phrase in which the syndesmos is found. Once again, the ecclesiastical hymns in chapter nine will present a wide variety of melodic phrases with the syndesmos, and by listening to them you will learn the various ways it can be executed. (Exercises 176, 178, and 181 have good examples of the syndesmos in various contexts.) But for now, we shall simply interpret the syndesmos as a note that adds a flutter.
In Braille Byzantine notation, the syndesmos is written as dots 14: C and it is written between the notes it joins together. The flutter is applied to the preceding note.
In the following recording for exercise 102, the chanter executes the syndesmos as a quick flutter. Other chanters would execute the flutter of a syndesmos in this context much more slowly.
_N4 [C[ O :C[ R ]C[ R _B6 ] [ :C[ \ \ R _B6 [C[ :C[ \ \ R _N4 [ [ :C[ \ \ O _N4
The endofonon (pronounced "en-DHOH!-foh-nohn") is a symbol that indicates that a neume is sung through the nose with the mouth closed. It is so rare that many theory books of Byzantine Music don't even boether to mention it. In Braille Byzantine Music notation it is placed before the neume it affects, and it is written as dots 356: 0
Keep up the good work! You probably found this chapter somewhat difficult and vague. But don't worry; the uncertainties you have about these qualitative symbols will be resolved after you have been exposed to more examples of them in the hymns in chapter nine of this online book.
To ensure that you are executing these qualitative symbols correctly, it would be a good idea to chant the exercises 92-101 to an experienced chanter, either in person or over the phone. If you do not know any such chanters, you may contact our monastery, and I will give you my phone number.
Now that you have finished Chapter Six, there is only one chapter to do in order to finish learning all the most important symbols: Chapter Seven: Accidentals.