Spiritual songs > The Hymnal Project

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

This is the first of the "hymns for Paschal" that we will look at. Here is the I would also like to take this opportuninty to look at how we write down and sing paraliturgical hymns in Slavonic and English.

The Slavonic original

The collection Duchovni Pisni (1970) of Fr. Stefan Papp names four paraliturgical hymns for Pascha (Velij Den, or "great day):

Here is the setting for the hymn we are interested in:

Boh predvicnyj

The hymn opens with "Christ is risen!" sung twice, using a trumpet-like broken chord. This is followed by two pairs of rhyming lines, then one more line that rhymes with "voskres" (is risen), and finally "Christ is risen!" sung twice more.

There are two more verses, written without music (which is not a problem, since the hymn is "metrically regular" - which means the composer made sure each verse had the same patterns of syllables and accents, so that it can easily be sung to the music from the first verse).

The hymn is in a triple meter (3/4), with a rests to note moments of silence. As a result, one should NOT add any additional beats at bar lines as you would with chant. The symbol over the last note is a fermata, and it instructs the singer to hold out that last note a bit longer.

Now, if this were the only Slavonic version we have, we would stop at this point and move on to the English version. This it's not quite that easy.

Here is the earliest version I have found with music: a setting for the Byzantine Catholic Seminary Choir, done in Pittsburgh by its directory, Father Michael Staurovsky, in 1963:

Compared with the previous music:

Here is another version, from a small book printed (in Uzhorod, I believe) in 1989, at the time of the emergence of the underground Church after Communism:

Here again, the rhythm is written out differently. (It ia also worth noting this version gives two more verses - and the collection has seventeen (!) hymns for Pascha.)

Here is a version from Slavokia (Presov), from the collection Vospojme Sohlasno: Zbornik duchovnych piesni (2009) assembled and edited by Anna Derevjanikova:

Here again, we hve 4/4 time at the beginning and end, and there are further differences in the melody compared to the other versions.

And I have several other versions at hand. Every one is recognizable as a version of "the same song." But in practice, we can really only print one version in our hymnal. So what can we do?

Writing chant and writing metered hymns

Most plain chant is NOT metrically regular; for example, phases of a troparion have different lengths, so we don't normally try to "squeeze" the chant into 3/4 or 4/4 time, or even some combination of it. We write each phrase as a "measure" arked by bar lines, and we skip any kind of written time signature. Also, a slight pause is added between phrases, at the bar line, of between half a beat, and beat-an-a-half, depending on where the accents and emphasis life in the phrases before and after the bar line.

Many metered hyms, on the other hand, are written in regular meter, with a marked time signature, and the only pauses are those written into the score as musical rests. In practice, singers end up "stealing" a quick breath at some convenient point, but the continuous rhythm of the hymn is maintained from the beginning of each verse to the end.

All of the Slavonic version above we have are metered, but as you can see, there is significant disagreement on HOW to write it out. And to be honest, many people in our churches (including some singers) are not really sure how to sing metered music from the page, which experienced singers may come into our churches and discover that we don't sing metered music as they would expect!

There is one other disadvantage to metered music writing: if done "correctly", phrases are split up into small musical units on the page which really don't match what the singing voice is doing. This is especially true with pickup notes:

where closely connected words are separated by a bar line whose sole purpose is to mark where the regular "beat" is. Here, the phrase "Pascha kransna / dnes vitajet" is broken up into three pieces.

My preference - and I am open to argument here! - would be to look at each hymn and decide how regular it is. If it can be written nearly as a metered hymn with and easy time signature, we should do so! If not, then we should write it out without a time signature, with bar lines matching phrases or half-phrases - and RESTS where here is an actual pause of a half-beat or more.

Tempo and note value

There is another issue here. In general, our singers are MUCH happier singing quarter notes and half notes at an upbeat temp, than eighth notes (unless barred together into groups of two of four). With this in mind, here is how I am inclined to write out the Slavonic version of this hymn:

Now there IS the risk that this will be sung too slowly; one could mark is "Quickly" at the top, or provide a recording to show the cantor how the song is intended to "work."

Again, I'm willing to be convinced that writing it in shorter note values might work as well, but I think in practice it would be sung more easily this way, at least in our parishes.

An English version

Any English version of this hymn has its own issues:

Of the translations floating around, I prefer this one. The first verse is by Father Russell Duker; the authorship of the rest is known.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
Joy from heaven is around us,
Christ our Pasch now dwells among us.
Lift your hearts in celebration
for our God has brought salvation,
Brought us joy and peace from heaven.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
All from slumber now are risen.
On this day new life is given.
Earth and heaven heard the story
of the triumph and the glory.
All rejoice for we are blest.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
In the midst of ev’ry nation
let there be this proclamation:
That in Christ we now are risen,
a new life to us is given:
Life in peace and happiness.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
Wonddrous peace the world embraces;
God is present in all places.
Let us join the angels’ voices;
all mankind this day rejoices.
With all gladness we profess:
Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

As you can see, the rhyme scheme is ALMOST kept throughout; the text is meaningful and sings well. There is still the unmatched next-to-last line.

My one suggestion would be to ALLOW the singing of "Christos voskres" for verses 2-4 (to match the rhyme scheme), since by then, every a new listen can guess what it means. And of course, particular parishes could choose not to sing the Slavonic but sing "Christ is risen!" instead.

With those considerations in mind, here is my proposal for an English version:

Boh predvicnyj

(Father Conrad Dachuk has a different solution, which was published in the Ukrainian Catholic collection, The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship. He changed the first line to "Let all profess: Christos Voskres" - which is an interesting solution, but - to my mind and least - it weakens the original "Christ is risen!", and practically requieres the congregation to sing in Slavonic whether they want to or not,)

Thoughts or suggestions?

Please leave a comment on this blog entry: Music for Pascha, Part 3.