Today, after the example of Adam, the first-created, who was rejoicing in the Garden of delight with the angels, let us rejoice too in spiritual praise.
-Midday Hymn for “New Sunday,” in Tone 8
New Sunday in the Armenian Apostolic Church is the week after Easter. Theologically, New Sunday emphasizes the renewal of God’s creation through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Word of God comes into the world (the Incarnation) to renew it, doing so ultimately with His death and resurrection. As the Midday Hymn for New Sunday suggests, this renewal is not simply the forgiveness of human sins, but a complete and total renewal of all creation. The hymn asks, “let us rejoice too” just like Adam did in the Garden of Eden. According to Armenian Christian thinking, after the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all creation is renewed and the Church can rejoice as Adam did in bliss of the Garden of Eden at the beginning of creation.
If we count Easter itself as “the first day of Easter,” then we can call New Sunday the “eighth day of Easter.” This is not a coincidence that a great celebration of renewal falls on the eighth day. In many Christian traditions, the number eight is itself associated with renewal. As Dn. Eric Vozzy writes about the eight-day celebration of Christmas, the Feast together with its “octave,” is celebrated for eight days because, “The week as we typically know and live is related to time, while the eighth day is eternal, outside of time. It is an everlasting day without hours, days, months, or years, and the Badarak is the sacrament in which we share in that everlasting day and share in the everlasting life of Christ, which He promised to those who love Him and do His will.” Eight, as a number of renewal and related to the idea that God’s time is eternal and beyond our own conception of time regulates not only the eight-day feast of Christmas or the New Sunday following Easter, but actually the entirety of our liturgical calendar!
This ordering around the number eight (and therefore around an emphasis on eternity, God’s time, and the renewal of Creation through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ) happens through what is known as the eight-tone system or the eight-mode system, in Armenian ութ ձայն/ut tsayn. It is sometimes referred to as the Octoechos, which is a Greek term. This week, in a liturgical week where the Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates many saints associated with the Byzantine Rite, as well as saints from Antioch and other parts of the Christian world, is an appropriate time to consider the Octoechos system. Such an eight-tone liturgical and musical system is most closely associated with the Byzantine Rite practiced by the “Eastern Orthodox Churches,” but both the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, one of the Sister Churches of the Armenian Apostolic Church, make use of an eight-mode system. While these systems are different, they have clearly been in conversation with each other over the centuries. Hence, this liturgical week dedicated to bishops, deacons, and various saints from across the early Christian world is an excellent time to explore this liturgical feature that also crosses Christian boundaries. Moreover, as many surely know, this year, 2019, is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Komitas Vartabed. For the next few weeks, we will honor his legacy though an exploration of some of the musical sources of the Armenian Apostolic Church, beginning with the tsayn system.
|A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography||By Egon Wellesz, this book provides an incredible overview of earlier studies on Byzantine music, the influences on Byzantine Christian music, and an introduction to the Octoechos system.|
|Hay ekeghets‘woy erazhshtut‘iwnē (Patmakan aknark)||In both English and Armenian, this book is a series of essays on “The Music of the Armenian Church (A Historical Survey)” by Krikor Pidedjian.|
|Armenian Sacred and Folk Music||Original essays on Armenian Music by Komitas Vartabed himself, collected with an introduction by Vrej Nersessian. Some of the essays are in German or French, but most have been translated into English by Edward Gulbenkian. The essays include Komitas’ discussion of the eight modes.|
So what exactly is this tsyan system? From here on throughout our discussion, we will refer to it as the tsyan system, using the Armenian term. In part, this is because the term tsyan, which in modern Armenian most directly translates “voice,” has two separate liturgical and musical meanings. The first use of tsyan denotes an overarching “tsyan of the day,” which determines liturgical variables, otherwise known as propers. These are parts of the Divine Liturgy or the Daily Offices that change from day to day. In this overarching liturgical meaning, the tsayn simply helps to organize each day, dictating which litanies the deacons proclaim, for instance.
The other meaning of tsayn is musical. In this case, we can quite directly translate tsyan as mode or tone. Modes are musical building blocks, a bit like scales. Like scales, they help determine the pitches between notes. Unlike scales, they don’t always have a set frequency and they often come with characteristic melodic patterns. Some scholars even think that modes emerged from specific songs, rather than songs being set to certain modes. Many different musical traditions build up a modal system of music. Closest to the Armenian liturgical tradition is the Octoechos of Byzantine chant already mentioned, but also the Middle Eastern folk music built up from makam/maqams. The oud music beloved by many Armenians uses these makams, another kind of modal music system. In fact, there are approximate correspondences between Armenian liturgical tsayns and the makams of folk music. They are not perfect mappings, especially because modes are associated with characteristic melodies. However, Komitas, the great Armenian ethnomusicologist, priest, and composer whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year, had already noted the comparisons between the eight modes of the sharagans and the Turkish terms. Further afield from Middle Eastern makams, Indonesian gamelan music is also built on modes. Likewise, Ancient Greek music, which developed into Western scales, also used modes as building blocks.
It is in the naming of the tsyans that the comparison with the Byzantine Octoechos system appears the closest. Nonetheless, as demonstrated in a brilliant recent Masters Thesis by Pandelis Zafiris, the terminological and musical aspects of the modes in the two Christian traditions don’t align. In the Byzantine system, there are four modes, with each mode having a plagal version of the mode. The plagal refers to a kind of modulation or transposition, such that the first mode and the first mode plagal are related to each other. In the Armenian tsayn system, the eight tsyans are named using the first four letters of the Armenian alphabet (Ա Բ Գ Դ, ayp, pen, kim, tah, where the Armenian letters are used here as numerals I, II, III, and IV), followed by either a Ձ tsa, for ձայն/tsayn (voice, here “mode”), or a Կ gen, for կողմ/goghm, meaning “side.” This is probably a direct reference to the plagal, most likely a result of the institution of this modal system of singing in Jerusalem, which exerted a huge liturgical influence on Armenian. However, unlike the Byzantine modal system, in today’s Armenian tsayn system the tsayn and goghm of each mode are not related by any musical modulation. While it is possible that they were at some time, they are not now. Thus, the eight Armenian tsayns are given as:
|Առաջին ձայն/Arachin Tsayn||ԱՁ “Ayp Tsa”||First Voice/Mode|
|Առաջին կողմ/Arachin Goghm||ԱԿ “Ayp Gen”||First Side|
|Երկրորդ ձայն/Yergrort Tsayn||ԲՁ “Pen Tsa”||Second Voice/Mode|
|Երկրորդ կողմ/Yergrort Goghm||ԲԿ “Pen Gen”||Second Side|
|Երրորդ ձայն/Yerrort Tsayn||ԳՁ “Kim Tsa”||Third Voice/Mode|
|Երրորդ կողմ/Yerrort Goghm||ԳԿ “Kim Gen”||Third Side|
|Չորորդ ձայն/Chorort Tsayn||ԴՁ “Tah Tsa”||Fourth Voice/Mode|
|Չորորդ կողմ/Chorort Goghm||ԴԿ “Tah Gen”||Fourth Voice/Tsayn|
Confusingly, in some English language publications, you will see these simply referred to as Tsayn or Modes 1-8. If we follow the actual Armenian terminology Ayp Gen is the “First Side,” using this numbering Ayp Gen would be Mode 2—exactly what Pen Tsa is called following the Armenian terminology!
Musically, in addition to these main eight modes, some of them have what are called in Armenian դարձուածք/tartsvadsk, literally “turned,” but which we can translate as “modulated” and which the Armenian musical scholar and practitioner Aram Kerovpyan translates as “auxiliary.” Komitas, discussing the modes in relation to the ancient khaz system, which we will discuss next week, insists that though the eight modes as named above were written using the khaz and though they also used to denote today’s sharagan melodies, “we cannot insist that they were also sharakan melodies, since it is not yet possible to penetrate the secret of the significance of the khaz” (121). We will talk about this problem of notating Armenian liturgical music next week.
In the short piece on “The Church Melodies of the Armenians,” Komitas lists how melodies of the different modes are classified. He suggests that these melodic differences make up the great variety of Armenian Christian music, giving “the definitive total” of potential melodies for various spiritual songs as between 140 or 150. This includes the variations of melodies within the eight tsyans, as well as other classifications of music besides sharakans or those which do not readily fall under the tsyan system. Moreover, the names of the different tsayn melodies he gives suggests emotional or topical associations with the modes. This idea is an old one. It can be found in ancient Greek writing about musical modes. In the Armenian tradition, an enigmatic little piece by “Movses the Grammarian” (quite possibly the teacher of Stepanos Siwnetsi mentioned last week) describes some of the associations with the eight tsayns. From St. Sahak to Komitas and to the present day, the tsayns of the Armenian Apostolic Church have been an incredible source. Musically, they inspire and help form good Christians in the liturgy. They are also the musical settings for the sharagans, the great locus of Armenian theological thinking. They also organize liturgical time around an idea of the renewal of creation through Jesus Christ, by constantly cycling through the eight tsayns. The system itself takes much time to master or even to feel comfortable with. Yet, the effort is worth it. As we will continue to see in the weeks to come, the music of the Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the most distinctive sources for Armenian Christians. For centuries it has been a source of comfort, solace, praise, joy, and Christian Armenian expression.
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