October 1, 2021

Protopsaltis Sotirios Tattis and the Musical Tradition of the Orthodox Church (1 of 2)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

On the 6th of August, the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, I always remember the Protopsaltis of the Metropolitan Church of Ioannina, Sotirios Tattis, who celebrated this day, and because of this I will submit some things I remember in his memory and present the value of a chanter in the worship of our Orthodox Church who has a beautiful voice that befits sanctity. At the end, the reader will have the opportunity to hear his voice from a live recording inside the Sacred Metropolitan Church of Ioannina, which was made by the late pastor Fr. Athanasios Papathanasiou.

Protopsaltis Sotirios Tattis was considered an important figure in the ecclesiastical and social life of the City of Ioannina. This is because the Protopsaltis of the Metropolitan Church knew all the great ecclesiastical moments of the City of his time. He met the Metropolitans who passed through these years, in fact two of them were elected Archbishops of Athens and all of Greece, such as Spyridon Vlachos and Seraphim Tikas, and he served them as the Protopsaltis during the Divine Liturgy. He also chanted for receptions of Patriarchs and Archbishops, Kings and Presidents of the Democracy, Prime Ministers and other officials. He was always considered modest, majestic, a connoisseur of ecclesiastical music and one who passed on his knowledge to others who were interested in it.

At the same time, Sotirios Tattis also served the justice system, as a court secretary, with the nobility and kindness that distinguished him. At the analogion he was considered serious and in his social life he was considered sweet, smiling, and very noble.

1. My Memories of Sotirios Tattis

In my parish of the Sacred Church of Saint Marina in Ioannina, as a small child I went up to the chanter's stand and participated in the choir of the right chanter's stand. The music of that age was considered all traditional.

The two chanters of the Sacred Church of Saint Marina chanted from the Musical Digest of "Zoe". The "Cherubic Hymns" that were chanted was done from that of Theodoros Fokaeos, the "liturgical hymns" were from Kanelidos and Sakellaridos. The "Axion Estin" made an impression on me, that which was anonymous in plagal of the second, of Fokaeos in the grave tone with harmony, and of Anastasios of Parlas in plagal of the fourth. For the "communion hymn", if he did not have a Memorial Service, we sang the Psalms of David, which made a special impression on me, among which were the polyeleos of "Logon Agathon" and "Douloi Kyrion".

As I was growing up, during my high school and student studies and during the big festivals and then more regularly, I went to the Metropolitan Church of Saint Athanasios, because I wanted to attend the Hierarchical Divine Liturgies and the Hierarchical Sacred Services, and there I would go up to the chanter's stand of the right choir where Sotirios Tattis was chanting.

I felt then as if I had risen one step higher in ecclesiastical music. Sotiris chanted during Matins and the Divine Liturgy from the musical books of Athanasios Karamanis. The "Cherubic Hymn" and the "liturgical hymns" came from the modern great chanters, mainly Priggos and Karamanis. During Holy Week, he chanted the musical compositions of George Redestinos, who, as he said from his long experience, composed in the best way the troparia of Holy Week. Later I noticed that Priggos and others had as a basis for their musical compositions of Holy Week that of George Redestinos.

As a student in Thessaloniki, I had as a teacher of ecclesiastical music at the Theological School, Harilaos Taliadoros, and I went up to the right chanter's stand of the Cathedral of the Wisdom of God. However, from time to time I also went to other sacred churches, mainly to the Sacred Metropolitan Church where Athanasios Karamanis was chanting and to the Sacred Church of Saint Demetrios where Chrysanthos Theodosopoulos was chanting. Each of them had their own musical compositions, their own vocal talents and their own way of chanting. Above all, however, I entered the musical atmosphere of Harilaos Taliadoros.

Later, when I was serving in the Sacred Archdiocese of Athens, I was introduced to the atmosphere of the Constantinopolitan style, as expressed by the students of Thrasyvoulos Stanitsas.

Sotirios Tattis, as I said before, chanted from the same music lessons, mainly of Priggos and Karamanis, but their performance was different. I think that every chanter has his own way of chanting, through which his inner world comes out, and in this way it is also connected with his vocal charisma, if he has a deep voice or a high voice, if he is solemn or majestic. Sotiris, chanting the same musical pieces, invested them with the oral music tradition with which he grew up. There is really a special transmission of each region which is transmitted from the teacher to the student.

I remember that when I was a student of the Theological School I was going to Mount Athos and I was trying in the small churches to join in on the chanting with the old Hagiorites the Cherubic Hymn of Fokaeos and I could not follow them, because I had heard it differently from the secular chanters. As I followed the performance of the hymn, I would see that they put their own oral tradition, their own special interpretive performance. Thus, I understood the difference that exists in each chanter, depending on the oral tradition he had received from his teacher, the tradition of the region or his own spiritual state. With this interpretation, the Constantinopolitan style is distinguished from the Smyrnian, the Karyotic on Mount Athos from the one that is chanted in the huts and wilderness of Mount Athos.

What applies to our ecclesiastical music also applies to the pronunciation of words, if you will allow the analogy. Although we all speak the same national language, however, the pronunciation differs from region to region, depending on the local tradition, which is connected with the climatic conditions, but also with a more general social tradition, that is, the difficulties and the conveniences of the people of the area. This difference can be seen in the folk songs of each region.

We find this in our ecclesiastical musical tradition as well. I listened to the same pieces of music from the great Protopsaltes of Thessaloniki, but when I heard them from the voice of Sotirios Tattis they were done differently. The way of the Sotiris's chanting corresponded more to the state of my soul. Truly great is our ecclesiastical tradition!

I gave to my Deacon who deals with our ecclesiastical music to listen to the chanting of Sotiris and I asked him to tell me his views. I record his remarks.

"The musical phrases of his chanting are simple in melody (without 'analysis'), but the passages from one note to the other are made with a lot of melody and a lot of detail. The phrases are colored to convey the meaning, but this is done without exaggeration, and many times this coloring is imperceptible. The transitions from the 'pectoral' (natural) to the 'cephalic' (false) voice take place naturally, without the listener realizing it. This indicates an excellent vocal technique.

The rhythm of his chanting is striking, hegemonic, which changes depending on the type of troparion, that is, if it is an eirmos, sticharion or hieratic, and at the moment of the service.

Its chanting is unpretentious, smooth, without jump offs and acrobatics, with a very kind expressiveness.

In general, Sotirios Tattis has musical steps and phrases that are 'Patriarchal', but with a Smyrnaean aroma. He is a very measured chanter, expressive and noble."

Speaking of Sotirios Tattis and the manner of his chanting, I cannot fail to mention the lambadarion of the Metropolitan Church of Ioannina, Athanasios Kontos, who had almost the same style as Sotiris and in fact from the Cherubic Hymn and forward the two choirs would unite and chant together, and because their voices were similar as well as their musical tradition, this is why the sound was amazing, it filled the whole space of the Metropolitan Church.

I remember that a Cypriot who heard this chanting, because it was broadcast by the State Radio Station of Ioannina, in the short waves, told me that "these chanters are nightingales".

The chanting of Sotirios Tattis brought out something solemn, the services of Holy Week were unrepeatable, to the point where later when I served as Preacher of the Sacred Metropolis of Edessa, one night after the Service of Great Thursday I called Sotirios Tattis and told him: "Sotiris, you have done me the greatest harm in my life." And when he was surprised by this, he asked me what I meant, so I replied: "I can no longer take in Holy Week elsewhere as when I was near you!" He laughed in his noble way.

Our ecclesiastical musical tradition is a great musical school, and the Metropolitan Church of Ioannina  was a great ecclesiastical school, as I lived it in the days of Sotirios Tattis and Athanasios Kontos, as well as that of Metropolitan Seraphim of Ioannina and the priests Father Christos and Father Antonios.