congregational singing, Byzantine chant, Orthodox Christianity, affordance theory, acculturation
In Psalm 136, a people in diaspora asks, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” This question has resonated with many American communities throughout the nation’s history. For more than a century, Greek Orthodox parishes across the United States would appear to have been unable to answer this question, many of them featuring both traditional cantors and SATB choirs without integrating the two into a cohesive liturgical idiom. This longstanding discord, which comprises an effective acculturation strategy that incorporates forces of both assimilation and segregation, has not only muted congregational song but contributed to a sense of division within congregations.
Over the past three decades, as community demographics shifted, new cataclysms unfolded, and new diasporas ensued, a new generation of church musicians is transforming the liturgical life of the parishes they serve in many parts of the country. In this chapter, which investigates the lives and work of these musicians, I argue that this ongoing transformation, involving both a revival of the received tradition of Byzantine chant and the development of an English-based branch of this tradition, is enacted by affordances of and within congregational singing. These affordances, manifest in many ways, from ornamentation to repertoire choice are central to the process though which a community redraws affiliations, boundaries, and, ultimately, identity. Through the affordance of congregational singing, realized in a variety of ways, a community does not remember but re-members itself.