Orthodox services are always sung, and always a capella. Either a few chanters will chant with the clergy, or a mixed choir will lead the congregation in singing. The musical beauty of Orthodox Christian worship is a 2000-year-old treasure chest! The type of musical melodies and modes used in a particular parish depend on that parish's roots: Greece, the Middle East, or Eastern Europe.
All Orthodox Church music is based on eight melodies, called tones. While there are several variations on these melodies and many special melodies for specific commemorations, all Orthodox music is rooted in the eight tones. In Russian, Serbian, or Bulgarian Orthodox churches the eight tones are based upon different melodies than the eight tones used in Greek and Antiochian churches. This is rooted in the fact that the musical styles and "ear" of those cultures were different. Orthodoxy has always tried to integrate the truth of the faith into the cultures it evangelizes. The ancient tradition of Orthodox liturgical music was to sing a single chanted melody that is backed by a drone note, called an ison. Over time, especially in the western European Orthodox lands, these basic melodies were set into four part choral harmonies (some of which were composed by the great classical composers of the day like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky). While four-part musical settings is more common in the eastern European Orthodox traditions, choral arrangements exist today rooted in all Orthodox musical traditions.
At St Timothy, we use both Byzantine (based in the Eastern Orthodox tradition) and Slavonic (based in the Western Orthodox tradition) hymns along with choral settings created by American composers and monastics. Fear not! Non-Orthodox visitors, and even Orthodox Christian visitors, will be able to understand all that is being sung and said, because our services are in English.
The services of Vespers and Matins are typically supported by our chanters, typically chanting in the Byzantine style of traditional chant. Our Divine Liturgy is typically supported by our full choir with a repertoire of music crossing all Orthodox musical traditions. Anyone interested in learning more about our liturgical music traditions or joining our choir or chanters should contact Reader Matthew who leads both groups.