Braille Byzantine Music Notation

Exercise Book

PART I:  BASIC SYMBOLS

Chapter 1
Quantitative Symbols

 

The Ison, Oligon, and Apostrophos

 

   The ison (pronounced "EE!-sohn") repeats the pitch of the previous note. ("Ison" in Greek means "equals.") The symbol for it is: [  In Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, it is shaped like a horizontal line that curves up into a hook on its left side.

   The oligon (pronounced "oh-LEE!-gohn") ascends one step in the scale. The symbol for it is: :  In Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, it is written as a horizontal line.

   The apostrophos (pronounced "ah-POH!-stroh-fohs") descends one step in the scale. The symbol for it is: \  In Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, it is shaped like a short hook with the curved part in the lower right.

 

Exercise 1 

Just as a reminder, the first three braille characters in this exercise (and in most exercises) comprise the diatonic martyria for Nee, which corresponds to the pitch of "Do."

_N4 [ [ : [ : [ : [ : [ _D8 : [ : [ : [ "N7 { { \ [ \ [ \ [ _D8 \ [ \ [ \ [ \ [ _N4

click here for solfege recording (the Greek word for "solfege" is "pah-rah-lah-GHEE!")

Exercise 2 

_N4 [ : : : : : : : "N7 { \ \ \ \ \ \ \ _N4

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 3 

_N4 [ : : \ : : : [ _D8 : \ \ \ \ \ : [ _P5 [ : : \ : : : [ _K9 : \ \ [ : : : [ "N7

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 4 

_N4 [ : : : : : \ [ _D8 : \ \ \ : : \ \ _B6 [ : : [ \ \ \ [ _P5 \ : : \ \ \ : [ _N4

click here for solfege recording

 

The Cross

 

   The cross ("stah-VROS!" in Greek) is written as a plus sign in Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, which is why it is called a cross (since the plus sign in print is shaped like a cross). In Braille Byzantine Music notation, the symbol for it is the braille letter "x":  X

   It indicates at what point in the melody one should take a breath. Most composers of Byzantine music, however, do not specify where one should take a breath. Thus, the cross is infrequently encountered in Byzantine Music notation. Some recent publications, though, insert a cross when a syllable ends with the same vowel sound that the following syllable begins with. When the cross is used in this manner, it does not mean that one must take a breath, but it serves as an indicator where one syllable ends and the next begins, and thus it is a courtesy reminder to the chanter to insert a very brief pause between the two syllables so that each is enunciated separately (which makes the lyrics more recognizable to the people listening). But this use of the cross as an indicator of where one syllable ends and the next begins is superfluous in Braille Byzantine Music Notation, since in braille a new syllable is always preceded by a blank space. In print Byzantine music notation, however, this is not the case: when a vowel is held for several notes, that vowel is written beneath each note, and sometimes it is not obvious if two consecutive notes with the same vowel represent a single syllable chanted for two notes, or two separate syllables, each with its own note.

 

Exercise 5 

_N4 [ : : : \ \ \ X : : : : : \ \ \ [ _B6 \ : : : \ \ \ [ _P5 : : : \ \ \ \ [ _N4

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 6 

_N4 [ : : [ : \ \ [ _P5 : : : [ : \ \ \ _B6 : : : : : \ \ \ _D8 : : : : \ \ : [ "N7 [ \ \ \ \ : : [ _K9 : \ \ \ \ : : [ _D8 : \ \ \ \ : : [ _G7 : \ \ \ \ \ : [ _N4

click here for solfege recording

 

The Tie

 

   The tie ("ee-PHEN!" in Greek) is written as a curved line in Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, just like a tie is written in staff notation for the sighted. In Braille Byzantine Music notation, the symbol for it is dot 4 followed by the braille letter "c":  @C

   The tie is used to unite two notes having the same pitch. Thus, an oligon followed by a tie followed by an ison would ascend one step and that pitch would be held for two beats. In practice, however, the tie is rarely used because there is a simpler way of holding a pitch for more beats, as we shall see in exercises 14–28. Although the tie is supposed to be written only between notes having the same pitch, many recent publications of Byzantine music write a tie between notes having different pitches to indicate a smooth sliding between those two pitches (which in Western music is called a "portamento").

 

Exercise 7 

_N4 [@C[ :@C[ :@C[ :@C[ :@C[ _D8 [@C[ \@C[ \@C[ \@C[ \@C[ _N4

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 8 

_N4 [ [ [@C[ : [ [@C[ : [ [@C[ _B6 \ [ [@C[ \ [ [@C[ _N4 \ [ [@C[ : \ :@C[ _N4

click here for solfege recording

 

The Petaste

 

   The petaste ("peh-tah-STEE!") ascends one step in the scale. In Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, it is shaped sort of like a flattened letter "U" in reverse italics. In Braille Byzantine Music notation, the symbol for it is the braille letter "v":  V

   The petaste differs from the oligon (which also ascends one step in the scale) as follows: The oligon is a purely quantitative neume, whereas the petaste carries with it additional qualitative value. In broad terms, the petaste is an accentuated neume, which usually corresponds to an accented syllable of the text. In theory, the petaste denotes a flutter, which is executed as a trill near the end of this note's duration. However, this description should not be taken too literally or absolutely. As we will see, the petaste may sometimes be interpreted as a leap up to the next step in the scale. In fact, the execution of the petaste (as well as other qualitative neumes) by traditional chanters depends on its context, i.e., the musical phrase in which it appears. (This is one of the many reasons why it is imperative for a student learning the art of Byzantine Music to listen carefully to a traditional chanter who hails from a respectable lineage of chanters.) For now, we will simply execute the petaste as a simple flutter. In chapter nine, we will explore the various interpretations of the petaste in actual hymns. We merely introduce the petaste at this stage to show that there are two categories of neumes in Byzantine music: purely quantitative neumes (e.g., the oligon), and neumes that carry additional qualitative value (e.g., the petaste).

Exercise 9 

_N4 [ [ V \ : [ V \ : [ V \ : [ V \ _G7 V \ [ \ V \ [ \ _P5 V \ [ \ V \ [ \ V \ [ \ : : [@C[ _N4

click here for solfege recording

Click here to hear the beginning of Exercise 9 with the petaste executed as a leap up to the next step in the scale.

Exercise 10 

_N4 [ : V \ : : \ [ _B6 [ : V \ : : \ [ _D8 : : V \ V \ : [ "N7 [ \ V \ : \ \ [ _K9 V \ V \ : \ \ [ _D8 V \ V \ : \ \ [ _G7 V \ V \ : \ \ [ _B6 V \ V \ : \ \ [ _P5 V \ V \ : \ \ [ _N4 V \ V \ [ \ :@C[ _N4

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 11 

_N4 [ \ : [ V \ :@C[ _P5 V \ : [ V \ [@C[ _B6 V \ : : V \ :@C[ _K9 : \ \ [ : : :@C[ "N7

click here for solfege recording

 

The Kentemata

 

   The kentemata ("ken-DEE!-mah-tah), which is the plural of "kentema," ascend one step in the scale. In Byzantine notation for the sighted, a kentema is written as a short thick line that slants down to the right, and kentemata are written as two such lines beside each other. In Braille Byzantine Music notation, the symbol for the kentemata is the braille number sign#

   The kentemata differ from the oligon (which also ascends one step in the scale) in that they never begin a new syllable, they are never on the downbeat, and they are smoothly joined to the previous note. Some music theory books claim that the kentemata are chanted at a lower volume than the oligon. The veracity of this claim is questionable. The fact that they are never on the downbeat, though, naturally makes them give the impression that they are chanted at a lower volume. In the following two exercises, the chanter in the recordings overexaggerates this decrease in the volume. Fortunately, the chanter puts aside this charade in subsequent exercises and chants kentemata at their normal volume.

 

Exercise 12 

_N4 [ # [ # [ # [ # _D8 [ # [ # [ # [@C[ "N7

click here for solfege recording

Exercise 13 

_N4 [ # V \ [ # V \ _B6 [ # V \ [ # V \ _D8 : # V \ : : \@C[ "N7 [ \ \ : : \ \ \ _D8 V \ [ # : \ \ \ _G7 V \ [ # : \ \ \ _B6 V \ [ # : \ \ \ _P5 V \ [ # : \ \ \ _N4 V \ [ # : \ \ \ _Z0 : \ \ : : [ [@C[ _N4

click here for solfege recording

   Congratulations! You have finished Chapter One. You are now ready to move on to Chapter Two: Symbols of Duration.

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