On Tuesday, October 31st, Dr. Suchy-Pilalis’ presentation, “Basics of Liturgical Music”, focused primarily on the principles behind Orthodox liturgical music, with a particular emphasis on the chant tradition. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Suchy-Pilalis reminded the audience of the cosmological dimension of liturgical music, pointing out that even before Creation the angels voicelessly praised God in song. In particular Dr. Suchy-Pilalis drew attention to the textual focus of chant; good Orthodox chant focuses primarily on conveying a text and adapts the chant to best present that text, rather than forcing the text to fit the melody as is sometimes found in Western settings. Therefore, Orthodox chant can be said to be logo-centric, placing the listener’s comprehension of the meaning of the text first and foremost.
Dr. Jessica Suchy-Pilalis is a specialist in the theory, history and practice of Byzantine music. In 1984, she became what is thought to be the first salaried and officially-titled female protopsalti (chanter) of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America. In addition to degrees in music theory and performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Eastman School of Music and Indiana University, she holds diplomas with highest honors in Byzantine music from two Greek conservatories, is certified by both the State and Church of Greece, and is a tonsured reader/chanter.
Dr. Suchy-Pilalis believes it is most important to share those prayers of the church inherent in the rich musico-literary heritage which she does by chanting the “classical” repertoire, by teaching, and, most significantly, by reversing the analytical method developed in her thesis on Byzantine modal theory to set English translations of hymns in the manner of the Byzantine melodos (composer-hymnographer) while still maintaining the Byzantine style.
She is a Professor of Music at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam where she teaches music theory, harp and Byzantine music. She has directed chant choirs, presented lectures, and has taught numerous seminars and workshops across the U.S. and Canada for just about every jurisdiction. In 2006, she was awarded the St. Romanos Medallion, the highest honor bestowed to a musician in the Greek archdiocese, for “significant national contributions to church music” by the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians. Currently she chants at St. Olympia Orthodox Mission in Potsdam, NY, and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
(Photos by Seminarian Robert West)