A Short History of Byzantine Music in Australia

Introduction

The history of Byzantine music in Australia began with the immigration of Greeks to the Antipodes in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1898, the first Greek-Australian Orthodox Church was founded and since then, the clergy and chanters of Orthodox churches in Australia have vastly been migrants from Greece, especially after the Second World War. Although, as with many European immigrants, they arrived with few possessions in search of a better life, several migrants brought with them the knowledge and art of a musical tradition that had flourished centuries ago in Byzantium.

Today, with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos, and under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the ancient tradition of Byzantine chant continues to flourish in the Antipodes and the next generation of Australian-born chanters is emerging. Several milestones and key figures were pivotal in cultivating and preserving this sacred and ancient tradition in Australia.

Chanters migrating from Europe to Australia

The late Mr Antonios Aristodemou (+2000) and Mr Ilias Fraggoulis were virtuoso chanters who taught and celebrated the liturgical music of the Orthodox Church in Sydney and Adelaide respectively. To honour and recognise their significant contribution, the Ecumenical Patriarchate bestowed upon each of them the title of Archon Protopsaltis.

Other dedicated chanters were also pivotal in teaching the next generation of young Greek-Australians the art of Byzantine chant, including Apostolos Zouriakas, Vangelis Evangelides, Sarantis Giannopoulos, Nick Kabouris, and many others.

Choirs

In 1994, Ilias Fraggoulis established the ecclesiastical choir “Saint John of Damascus” in Adelaide. Ilias Fraggoulis became its choirmaster, leading and educating a generation of chanters in the art of Byzantine chant. The choir is currently under the direction of John Saredakis.

In 1998, the late George Combis (+2015) established the Australian Byzantine Choir and was its choirmaster for over a decade. Mr Combis was the lead chanter of the Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints in Sydney (1991–2015) where he also trained several young aspiring chanters in the liturgical music of Byzantium. The Australian Byzantine Choir is based in Sydney and, under the leadership of Asterios Zouriakas, is devoted to the teaching and performance of Byzantine chant.

In 2003, the Byzantine choir “David the Psalmist” was established in Melbourne.

Since its inauguration, the choir has performed in various concerts and community events. More recently, the choir has begun to offer Byzantine music lessons as part of its effort to cultivate the tradition of Orthodox chant in Victoria.

Melisma Ensemble, an a cappella vocal group, debuted in 2012 with a concert at St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt. Under the direction of its founder and choirmaster, Dr Dimitri Koubaroulis, Melisma has been dedicated to the performance and promotion of the beauty of Byzantine chant to a wide music appreciating audience.

Eminent chanters and choirs visiting Australia

Over the past few decades, Australia has been blessed by the visitations of eminent chanters and choirs, chiefly from Greece. These respected masters of the art of Byzantine chant enriched the musical and spiritual life of the Orthodox faithful in Australia during liturgical performances, concerts and seminars. Chanters and choirs that have visited the Antipodes include Harilaios Taliadoros, Theodoros Vasilikos, Ioannis Klonaridis, Athanasios Vougiouklis, Aristogenis Zaimis, Ioannis Daskalakis and the “St John Koukouzeles” choir, and Achilleas Chaldaiakis and the “Maistores of the Psaltic Art” choir.

Schools of Byzantine chant

In 1995, the late Basil Stavropoulos (+2012), with the blessing of the then abbot of the Pantanassa Greek Orthodox monastery, founded the Sydney School of Byzantine Chant. Over the years, the school has attracted many young people to the ancient tradition. Today the school has more than 90 students and more than five groups.

Between 2005 and 2010, under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the leadership of Asterios Zouriakas and Dr Dimitri Koubaroulis, a school of Byzantine Music educated students in art of chant at Saint Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College. Its teaching staff included two former students of the late George Combis; Fr Gerasimos Koutsouras and Peter Karakiozis.

In 2015, the Australian Byzantine Choir established School of Byzantine Music, with branches in Parramatta, Liverpool and Belmore. The school welcomes anyone between the ages of 8 and 30 with a desire to learn the sacred art of Byzantine chant to enrol.