By the Waters of Babylon - Psalm 136

This psalm is part of Matins in the 3 Sundays preceding Orthodox Great Lent. It is also often used during Lent at the Divine Liturgy during the priest's Communion. The exile of the Jews in Babylon is taken to reflect the exile of the human race from Paradise after the Fall of Adam and Eve. For Russians during the long years of Soviet domination, it was also felt deeply as reflecting their own exile from their homeland.

"By the Waters of Babylon" is a deeply moving piece, whatever your own context might be. I'm happy to find this performance in English, even if people are occasionally inclined to think music with words they don't understand is more "mystical."

The performance above is of the Kievan chant in a 4-part setting. It is often sung in a Znammeny chant version. If you are interested in seeing (and perhaps using) the piece with your own ensemble, you can find it in SATB, TTB, and SSA arrangements at the website of Orthodox Russian Music. This site hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) is full of delights. The Triodion is the service book that contains the music and texts for the period from 10 weeks before Easter (Pascha in the Orthodox usage) up to the Midnight Office of Great and Holy Saturday.

Interestingly, most of us in the West think of Russian Orthodox music as being "Orthodox music." Well, it's a big world out there and thanks to YouTube, we can hear Greek, Bulgarian, Arabic, and other chants and polyphony.

So stay tuned! I don't think we're done with this psalm yet.


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