Early Christian music, from which Byzantine chant evolved, used song styles common in the ancient and later Hellenized Middle East and Jewish liturgical music. Its development as a unique musical form accelerated in the early monastic communities where the music began to be codified and formalized. In its most basic form Byzantine music uses Antiphony or “call and response” in which a “Chanter”(ψαλτήρι) sings a line (usually from a Psalm) and the chorus sings it back to him as they heard it. Besides being a good way to teach a song, this form allowed teaching of scripture as well.
As time went on the music evolved and harmonic responses to the lead chanter became common, were codified, and passed on in written form as the “Sticheron” and the “Eirmologion” and other codices.
What we recognize as “Byzantine” music was initially the work of John the Damascene (676 – 749) who composed hymns still used liturgically in Eastern Christian practice throughout the world. The strengthening of the Church’s place in the Empire naturally lead to more resources being available to develop all aspects of church practice which, due to its liturgical primacy, naturally included music.
There will be a concert of Byzantine Chant tonight at 7pm @ Agios Nikolaos Church Skopelos by a group of local church chanters.