GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Resources and methods for teaching and learning New Testament Greek.

GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Tait Sougstad » January 16th, 2014, 1:31 am

(Warning: Long Introduction, Short Question)

As I continue in my efforts for Koine fluency, I have noticed how immensely helpful it is to have GNT passages memorized. I memorized John 14:6 years ago, before I understood anything except for the obvious corresponding words, long before I got any formal Greek education. Most of it was just parroting what I hoped was the correct pronunciation of a string of syllables. But, when I began my Greek course, and began the arduous process of memorizing dozens of new vocab words each week, I was delighted to find that I could effortlessly retain the words from John 14:6. Now, rather than pound through vocab cards, I find that it is much more (intellectually and spiritually) profitable to meditate on a passage of Scripture.

So, my goal is to memorize passages from the GNT, and as I have been working on this, I started to reflect on how I can easily forget the recitation I was working on yesterday, but I have not forgotten the Latin, Russian, Spanish, etc. songs that I sang in choir nearly 10 years ago! I'm grateful for those who are setting the Westminster Catechism to song, for the same reason. (This is nothing new, I know. Song has been used as a mnemonic device since the days of Homer.)

So here are my questions: 1) Has passages/verses of the GNT already been set to music some time through the past two millenia? I can't be the first person to suggest this. Gregorian chants and most other forms of high liturgical music are typically in Latin. I don't know of anyone who composed in Koine. I would assume that post-Renaissance there would be some use of Erasmus' GNT, but if there are, I am unaware of them. If anyone has any friends with expertise in this area, could you ask for me? Also, I have seen the modern songs translated to Koine in a previous thread. While this is certainly helpful, I am looking for actual GNT passages.

2) If one wanted to compose some music to help students memorize passages of the GNT, what kind of musical style should they use?

Here's to hoping someone has already thought through this for me. :)
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Stephen Hughes » January 16th, 2014, 10:04 am

Some to the earliest Christian hymns are written in Koine Greek. They are not actual scripture quotations, but are in the same language. You can find them by doing a search for Early Christian Hymns.

Let me give you a word of sobriety for the wise about this. You could ask yourself before you begin, "Would I be memorising this in English?". If not, then you are proably in for a hard time in the Greek. Some obscure, theologically significant passage from Hebrews written in convoluted Greek may seem like it is going to be the bright-sparkling gem in your Greek crown, but go easy on yourself for a while. Consider what you have memorised (or naturally become very familiar with over your lifetime - familiarity is a short step to memorisation), and consider the choice of passages that the Christians over the early centuries memorised, as we will discuss below.

There is evidence that the Psalms played a major part in the personal, the family and the community devotional life of Christians along with the Odes and songs of the Old Testament, such as Miriam's (Moses' and Aaron's sister's) song and the Song of the Three Holy Children (or the whole of Daniel 3 LXX). Those psalms and songs are scripture that you could sing. In the modern useage of the Eastern Orthodox church, the structure is similar, but in many cases - due to the recording of the lives of Saints and the constraints of time for services - a doxology to the saint sung together with a Psalm as been shortened by the (at least partial) ommision of the psalm with the retention of the doxology. The recitation of Psalms has been arranged upon different cycles in different juristictions and you could find it - as it is in the Modern useage in the Horologia. And psalms have long been accepted as having - a more or less prominent role - in Christian worship since the beginning.

I realise that you have specifically mentioned you wanted to memorise NT passages, but if you wanted to memorise some of the psalms - which it is possible that the Christians what we see in the NT themselves memorised, I suggest you start with short ones, familiar ones or parts of Psalms that "resonate" ("click"), click with you. Don't start with Psalm 118! Psalms are good because while the words change, it is very common that the grammatical forms repeat.

The Cherubimic Hymn (Sanctus) seems to have been a vital part of ancient worship in many cases, many places and many liturgical traditions. [Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος Κύριος Σαβαώθ ·πλήρης ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆτ ῆς δόξης σου, ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις. Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι Κυρίου. Ὡσαννὰ ὁ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.] That is a combination of a few passages together. Other things traditionally sung were the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), the Magnificant (Luke 1: 46-55), the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), the Gloria in excelsis (The song of the Angels that the shepherds heard)

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are a "popular" (rather than a rational theological) passage which has a repetitive structure - as do the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).

For grammar table memorisation; I remember my little brother, during his Bible College days giving me a listen to a CD that one of his classmates had done with all the grammatical tables that they would have to memorise for the semester (or year). The tune was very simple and repetitive and inornate - like simple
(1st-3rd-5th) kindergarten chants (or playground taunts).

Creeds are another thing that are sort of traditionally memorised by repetition together, but not everyone does that by singing. You could search for "Early Christian Creeds", and that should show up the credal (or creed-like) passages of the NT. Allowing lattitude for scholarly dissention and your aim being to memorise the passages rather than to debate them, you could probably try to memorise ALL the passages that are under debate.

The blessing of the Aaronic priesthood is another thing you might consider (Numbers 6:24-26) memorising.

The first chapter of Genesis is easier than the first chapter of Matthew!!! I suggest that the best way to memorise that would be to take the incipit from the account of each day first to give structure to the memorisation and then to memorise each day on its own.

I realise that this answer is something like "crabbing", and that I haven't really successfully de-crabbed, I hope you can at least glean something of use from the wreckage.
Stephen Hughes
"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."
(Attributed to Albert Einstein)
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Louis L Sorenson » January 16th, 2014, 11:02 am

You can find links to Eastern Orthodox Chant at http://www.goarch.org/, but most of those resources are in English only. You can also go to Byzantinechant.org http://www.byzantinechant.org/index.html. The site Monachos.net "Orthodoxy through Patristic, Monastic, and Liturgical study http://monachos.net/ is a great resource - and they have a forum where more detailed questions can be answered. I think the problem for the English learner of Koine using Eastern Orthodox music is that (1) the tonal system is different from American music and (2) often syllables are drawn out over several stanzas, and therefore comprehension is occluded because comprehension only happens above ca. 130+ words per minute.

From 2008-2013 I had been working on turning many modern songs and hymns into Koine Greek. You can find some of those resources at http://www.letsreadgreek.com/songs/. I have not updated those songs as of late, but hope to continue working on a collection of hymns, modern praise songs, children's songs, etc. and eventually get them recorded professionally with good vocalists, music, and printed music scores. Many of those songs need changes and corrections, updating, etc. Some songs are easy to translate into Koine, e.g. "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God" is almost word-for-word NT Greek. Some English songs are very hard to translate into Koine (1) mostly because Greek has at least 1 more syllable for every English word due to it being a declineable language, (2) Some concepts are very difficult to translate between languages, (3) sometimes the songwriter/translator has to find new forms of words (or forms which are barely attested) to match the English (all this takes vetting time), (4) there are opinions of some that it is impossible to translate a song from one language into another (especially dead-not currently spoken) because of the language and cultural gap, (5)

Yet when one starts reading modern volumes on second language acquisition, one finds that utilizing songs is a good way to internalize both (1) a foreign text, (2) internalize the prosody of the foreign language, (3) have fun, and (4) learn the language while not focusing on the structure (metalanguage, grammatical relationships, etc.), (5) engage the other side of the brain, (6) use motions to help internalize the 2L (cf. TPR - Total Physical Response).

I think another great way to learn Koine is memorizing passages in Greek like the Shema, and some of the Creeds. In all of this, don't forget the value of audio - actually listening to the written words. Language was meant to be spoken and heard -- leaving it to print alone is ripping it from its native environment. You can find NT audio sources at http://www.letsreadgreek.com/resources/gntaudio.htm.. That site also needs some updates, but it is a start.
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Stephen Hughes » January 16th, 2014, 12:29 pm

Louis L Sorenson wrote:memorizing passages in Greek like the Shema
There are said to be three "versions" of it.
1) Torah
Deuteronomy 6:4 wrote:Ἄκουε Ἰσραὴλ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν Κύριος εἷς ἐστιν

2) Jesus
Mark 12:29-30 wrote:Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ ὅτι Πρώτη πάντων τῶν ἐντολῶν, Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ· Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, Κύριος εἷς ἐστίν· καὶ ἀγαπήσεις Κύριον τὸν Θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου, καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου, καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου, καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου. Αὕτη πρώτη ἐντολή.

3) Paul
1 Corinthians 8:6 wrote: ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς Θεὸς ὁ πατήρ, ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν· καὶ εἷς Κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα, καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ.
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 16th, 2014, 3:32 pm

Does anyone know of the Lord's Prayer set to music? That's the text I had my students memorize.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
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ܐܰܒܘܢ ܕܒܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ Abun d'Bashmayo ("set" to music)

Postby Stephen Hughes » January 16th, 2014, 8:51 pm

The only ancient tradition that I know of with the Lord's Prayer set to music is in Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic) ܐܰܒܘܢ ܕܒܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ (Abun d'Bashmayo). There are plenty of Youtubes of that.

The Russian Orthodox also have a setting of the Lord's Prayer Отче наш (Otche Nash), but I'm not sure how ancient that was. There were a lot of musical reforms during the 17th century and then for a different reason during the 18th century. You could find them on Youtube too if you wanted to.

Greek Orthodox always say it.
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Tait Sougstad » January 18th, 2014, 3:02 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:"Would I be memorising this in English?"

One of my first motivations, Mr. Hughes, to learn the Biblical languages was just the sheer inconvenience of re-memorizing verses when I switched translations. (Wouldn't it just be nice if I just knew the original? That would save me so much time!) Most of the verses I've worked on have been from those verse I had already memorized in English. The ones you suggested would be great passages to work on, with good devotional and historical value.

Louis L Sorenson wrote:I think the problem for the English learner of Koine using Eastern Orthodox music is that (1) the tonal system is different from American music and (2) often syllables are drawn out over several stanzas, and therefore comprehension is occluded because comprehension only happens above ca. 130+ words per minute.

I agree with you, Mr. Sorensen. As a former music major at a jazz/new music college, the tonal system of Byzantine chant does not scare me as much as John Kage. :D But, I can only imagine singing these 1) with instruction and 2) in a group. I am also unsure how much of the text is from the GNT, and how much is modernized or paraphrased. It would take some digging, but I'm not sure it's worth it for my intended use.

I think it's interesting that we have yet (so far) to present any examples of GNT (or LXX!) that are presently set to music (or at least any music that is accessible to a 21st c. American.) I would be very surprised if there were so few musical uses of the Biblical languages through the years that they have been lost to the abyss of history. I understand that for many centuries, Latin was the primary ecclesiastic language, hence the plethora of material in that language. But, I am almost expecting to discover some music set to a Greek or Hebrew text around AD1500. Wouldn't it make sense if while the Renaissance is producing a "back-to-the-text" resurgence, and Erasmus is publishing his GNT, and the Reformation giants are admonishing people to learn the Biblical languages, that someone, somewhere would put some music to a few verses?

I thought that I would be reinventing the wheel by doing this myself, but perhaps this wheel has yet to be invented?
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Stephen Hughes » January 18th, 2014, 8:27 am

Tait Sougstad wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:"Would I be memorising this in English?"

One of my first motivations, Mr. Hughes, to learn the Biblical languages was just the sheer inconvenience of re-memorizing verses when I switched translations. (Wouldn't it just be nice if I just knew the original? That would save me so much time!) Most of the verses I've worked on have been from those verse I had already memorized in English. The ones you suggested would be great passages to work on, with good devotional and historical value.

I never did rememorise verses in English, so what I have memorised in English as evolved from the original KJV, and then through a number of other translations. Now, the English versions that I look at are the "loose" translations of the early 20th century, where the translators are looking to express the nuances of the Greek as much as the meaning. From the Greek I understand the meaning well enough usually, but there seems to be so many possible nuances and its nice to see what others have made of them.

Off topic a little: When I "memorised" the few passages that I have in Hebrew, I have had to write out a transliteration, memorise the sounds of the text and then use the script as a second goal in learning. Ancient languages which have non-alphabetic scripts also require even more effort to memorise the way it is written (in addition to the way it sounds). I suspect that some memorisers of Greek do the same thing at an early stage of their learning.
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Louis L Sorenson » January 18th, 2014, 6:51 pm

Tait Sougstad wrote
I think it's interesting that we have yet (so far) to present any examples of GNT (or LXX!) that are presently set to music (or at least any music that is accessible to a 21st c. American.) I would be very surprised if there were so few musical uses of the Biblical languages through the years that they have been lost to the abyss of history. I understand that for many centuries, Latin was the primary ecclesiastic language, hence the plethora of material in that language. But, I am almost expecting to discover some music set to a Greek or Hebrew text around AD1500. Wouldn't it make sense if while the Renaissance is producing a "back-to-the-text" resurgence, and Erasmus is publishing his GNT, and the Reformation giants are admonishing people to learn the Biblical languages, that someone, somewhere would put some music to a few verses?

I thought that I would be reinventing the wheel by doing this myself, but perhaps this wheel has yet to be invented?


The wheel was invented, but few people have used it. In the last 200 years of Greek pedagogy, there have been few attempts to use music to teach Greek. Rouse in the early 1900's translated many folk songs into Attic and Latin (http://www.vivariumnovum.it/edizioni/libri/dominio-pubblico/Rouse%20-%20Chanties%20in%20Greek%20and%20Latin.pdf). When you look at modern second language pedagogy literature, you will see that there are articles here and there in the periodicals about the value of using songs in learning languages ()http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=songs+second+language+learning&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=If3aUpriNKewsQTDl4DoCw&ved=0CDQQgQMwAA. I believe this is a more recent development.

But translating raw NT Koine text to song is very difficult. Usually the text of scripture has to be modified to fit the tune, since it was not written in meter. So there are some songs which closely resemble Scripture, and others that are compilations of phrases here and there. Looking through some of the ones I have tried to port to Koine are the following. All of these are tied to some LXX/NT text fairly closely, but they all have to change some of the original text to fit the tune. (I can email whoever wants these songs the Greek text, just drop me a note at Louis at letsreadgreek dot com.)

(1) The Joy of the Lord is my Strength
(2) Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
(3) On Eagles Wings
(4) Mighty to Save
(5) Let's talk about Jesus (medley)


Seek Ye First is almost word for word taken from the NT, but you still need to make a few changes to fit the meter.
Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/ns/120#ixzz1DlK7Fqx3
http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/ns/120 (Midi, Guitar Pdf, ktl)

ζητεῖτε πρῶτον τὴν θεοῦ βασιλείαν
καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ
καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν
ἀληλούϊα ἁλληλουϊά.

αἰτεῖτε καὶ ὑμῖν δοθήσεται
ζητεῖτε καὶ εὐρήσεται·
κρούετε καὶ ὑμῖν ἀνοιγήσεται·
ἀληλούϊα ἁλληλουϊά.

Οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ ἐπὶ παντὶ θεοῦ ῥήματι
διὰ στόματος αὐτοῦ ἐκπορευομένῳ
ἀληλούϊα ἁλληλουϊά.

Mt 6.33 ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.
Mt 7.7 Αἰτεῖτε, καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν· ζητεῖτε, καὶ εὑρήσετε· κρούετε, καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν.
Mt 4.4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Γέγραπται,
Οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος,

2) If one wanted to compose some music to help students memorize passages of the GNT, what kind of musical style should they use?


Well, your choices are (1) to utilize existing tunes (a) Childrens song tunes, (b) Popular music 'pop tunes' or folk tunes (c) Christian song and hymn tunes or (2) write your own. In my opinion, after trying to put to pen more than 100 songs into Koine, tunes like that of 'Seek ye first' and 'On Eagle's wings' are easier to adapt text to because they are slower and syllables can be stretched across a number of beats. In other words, the slower and longer the music, the more ways you have of matching text to tune. But the fun factor is then missing, because those songs are not get up and go songs. Movement songs are really good for the learner. So how would one go about turning any specific NT passage into song?

For example, take the Lord's Prayer. There are about three popular tunes. But a look at hymnary.org pulls up about 13 under "Our Father" and about 14 listed under "The Lord's Prayer." Here is the text(s)"

Mt. 6:9-13
Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς·
Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·
11 τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
12 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·
13 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
[ὅτι σοῦ ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεῖα, ἡ δύναμις, καὶ ἡ δόξα
εἰς τοὺς αἰώνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν]

Luke's version is shorter (with many variants also)
Luke 11:2-4

Πάτερ,
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
3 τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δίδου ἡμῖν τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν·
4 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν,
καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίομεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν·
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν.


So assuming you stick with the longer Matthew prayer. What tune do you pick? Do you make a new one up? Do you use an ancient melody (Gregorian plainsong, mode VII). Most people today know the tune by Malotte (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord%27s_Prayer_%28song%29 or maybe Aulde Lang Syne http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td_4Jy8TKC4? Using Malotte's version everything goes OK till line 3, then you have to get creative . When you get to ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν you have to fit 15 Greek syllables into the songs 12, so it is really hard to make it fit without changing some words or sing really fast. And that's the problem with putting raw text to verse. Anyway here is a try -- I suppose I should attach an audio file -- I'll do that later.


Πάτερ ἡμῶν
ὁ ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· | saying τοὔνομα works better
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· | have to sing really fast
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, |have to sing really rast
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ
καὶ-- ἐ---πὶ--- γῆ---ς· |draw this phrase out
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον [there is a line w/o words in Malotte - use this for the first part of the line]
δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, |sing very quickly
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· |sing very quickly - but better to drop the second ἡμῶν·
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶ----ς εἰς πειρα---σμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦ---σαι ἡμᾶς
ἀπὸ τοῦ πονη---ροῦ. |sing quickly]
ὅτι σοῦ ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεῖ---α
ἡ δύνα---μις,
καὶ ἡ δό---ξα
εἰς τοὺς αἰώ----νας |τῶν αἰώνων - drop this phrase.
ἀμήν

Perhaps someone who is more talented than I can record it and give it a try.
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Re: GNT in Music, Ancient and Modern

Postby Tait Sougstad » January 20th, 2014, 3:25 pm

Louis L Sorenson wrote:Well, your choices are (1) to utilize existing tunes (a) Childrens song tunes, (b) Popular music 'pop tunes' or folk tunes (c) Christian song and hymn tunes or (2) write your own. In my opinion, after trying to put to pen more than 100 songs into Koine, tunes like that of 'Seek ye first' and 'On Eagle's wings' are easier to adapt text to because they are slower and syllables can be stretched across a number of beats. In other words, the slower and longer the music, the more ways you have of matching text to tune. But the fun factor is then missing, because those songs are not get up and go songs. Movement songs are really good for the learner. So how would one go about turning any specific NT passage into song?

For the same reason, I was wondering about the use of Gregorian chant-like tunes. It would not be as interesting or accessible, but highly usable (read: easier to compose.) However, while that would work for me, I've noticed that not everyone is as apt to pursue unusual modes (read: not as nerdy) as I am, and if I am going to put in the work to do something like this, I would love to be of service to other Greek stragglers, as well.

As you mentioned, Mr. Sorenson, meter is an issue. Some can be mitigated by scoring original music and tailor it to a passage. Still, it may come off sounding like musical excerpts from Jefferson's letters. We'll call it Epistolary Rock. But, if its possible to make interesting renditions of the Westminster Shorter, it should be possible to make interesting renditions of passages of Scripture.

Stephen Hughes wrote:Off topic a little: When I "memorised" the few passages that I have in Hebrew, I have had to write out a transliteration, memorise the sounds of the text and then use the script as a second goal in learning. Ancient languages which have non-alphabetic scripts also require even more effort to memorise the way it is written (in addition to the way it sounds). I suspect that some memorisers of Greek do the same thing at an early stage of their learning.

Whatever needs to happen to get someone to language immersion is helpful, I suspect. I've noticed that while I'm memorizing Col 1:15-20, when I get stuck, I search for queues by translating aloud, and continue in Greek when I remember what the next line is in English. I would like to be so immersed in the language that I start working through these problems in Greek (or other second languages, as I hear polyglots often do).
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