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History of SEM's Recordings

The History of a
Byzantine Music Renaissance in Antioch

This page tells how SEM produced its first simple recording
and how it developed its learning in recording and in music
techniques and concepts to reach its actual internationally
renowned records.


The Concert of Easter Hymns (A Cappella) - Volume 1

The first officially recorded live concert of SEM choir.

After 3 years of starting the school (in 1997), and after performing many concerts (in Dhour El Chweir (first appearance of the choir with 50 members) and in Antelias (at the Armenian church, where the choir represented the Orthodox youth choirs) and at Balamand (where the choir represented the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon) and in other parishes), the choir was ready for its first official appearance.

The concert took place at Saint George Orthodox Church (Brumana- Lebanon) in the year 2000 directly before the travel of the choir to Greece to represent the Antiochian chair.

The chanters entered chanting “Tin Oreotita” from the back door of the church. They were all wearing black ecclesiastic dresses and holding candles in their hands. It was the first time the audience listens to SEM’s style in composing and performing Byzantine music, the first time the Antiochian audience watches such an organized and professional Byzantine Antiochian concert.

The recording of this CD was done by Mr Kamal Saikali. It was the first time an Arabic Byzantine recording is done by a professional sound engineer. However, Mr Saikali was totally new in Byzantine Music, yet, it was the beginning of an important expertise in recording Byzantine Music in Antioch.

That concert was the beginning of a new renaissance for the Byzantine Choirs of Antioch.

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Christmas Hymns (A Cappella) - Volume 2

This recording was executed live at Saint George Orthodox Church (Brumana- Lebanon) on one take for each chant. It was sponsored by MJO (the Movement of the Orthodox Youth in Antioch) and it was distributed on the houses of the South of Lebanon (that was still under the Israelite occupation at that time).

The aim of this recording was basically to help MJO in their parish work in the South of Lebanon, and to enhance our expertise in recording byzantine Music.

We had only 7 days to prepare and do the recording. On the recording day, a tough storm came to Lebanon. You can hear the thunder’s voice in the recording of the Ainos’s Doxa (“Lamma Hana Awanou”) for example. We felt that it was like the day when Jesus was born… in the cold… When we finished the recording and went outside the church late at night, the snow was covering all the place and the roads.

This was the first Arab Byzantine recording with prolonged Stachiraric hymns (“Ainite”, Ainos Chants, Doxa,…). The use of these styles was almost inexistent in Antioch at that time.

The recording of this CD was done by Mr Kamal Saikali as well. It shows a development in our conception and view and expertise in recording Byzantine Music.

On the other hand, the cover of this CD was the first professional cover of an Arab Byzantine recording. We owe that to Mr. Marwan Sarraf.

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Akathistos Hymns - Volume 3

RF Michel Saba, the Antiochian Orthodox Priest in Cyprus, had finished a new translation of the Akathist hymn to Arabic. Bishop George (Khodor) ordered that all churches of the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon use this new translation. So we had to put it into music and record it and make it available for parishes in order to learn its melody to be able to chant it at churches.

As for the recording, we wanted to try to have a studio recording this time, even though the recording costs will be very high (for us). We chose to go to the most professional studios in town regardless of their fees’ rates. We just wanted to have the maximum recording experience. So we recorded the voice of RF Pandeleimon (Farah) at Studio Joe Baroudjian then recorded the choir at Studio Tony Farah. We learned a lot of these recordings in terms of editing… especially with the help and teaching of Mr Toni Farah.

The recording of the Akathist Hymns shows an unusual harmony between Antiochian chanters chanting as one choir. The human Isson is so perfect in the recording that the listener would think that is performed by an organ.

For the first time, in this CD, the Antiochian covers encompass historical information. An introduction describing the siege of Constantinople, when the Akathist hymn was first chanted, was included in the cover which transformed it from a simple prayer CD to a historical and cultural CD. This was the first step in the market penetration to the non Orthodox audience. The texts of the cover were beautifully translated and monitored by Mrs. Nina Hajj.

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Pannikhis - Volume 4

The recording of the Pannikhis was the first Byzantine research recording in Arabic. It revives an old Antiochian service that disappeared around 900 years ago.

It was the first Arabic Byzantine recording that goes beyond the usual prayers’ texts.

It was as well the first Arabic Byzantine CD where all the chants were new compositions not familiar to the audience. Yet the acceptance of this recording by the audience was unanimous.

At that time, Beirut choir had been constituted, so we decided to make of this project a joint recording between both choirs building for the first time a new tradition of openness and collaboration between different choirs.

On the other hand, this was the first recording we do ourselves without any help by any professionals. It was recorded at the Annunciation Church (Jal El Deeb) using the sound unprofessional installations of the church and our personal unprofessional desktops. It was the beginning of our expertise with recording.

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Implorations (Paraklisis) To St. George - Volume 5

This is the first Byzantine Arab (and maybe Worldwide) recoding performed by women who are not nuns. The aim was to encourage women to learn Byzantine music by showing them that they have a professional role and place and chance in this discipline even if they were not nuns.

This recoding shows for the first time professional women Arab Byzantine soloists excelling in Byzantine music on a worldwide level. We should mention here Mrs. Marylin Akkawi who added a lot by her voice and professionalism to the choir.

The recording was done as well at the Annunciation Church (Jal El Deeb) with our own unprofessional means.

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Byzantium in Sound and Image - Volume 6

At a certain stage, we chose to address people who do not attend church services. We believed that Byzantine Music has an additional role to play in our days that is the role of Evangelizing people and of attracting them to come to church.

This is why we decided to start performing on theater stages. This decision was a real challenge not only vis a vis the audience but vis a vis the traditional people who work in church as well; they were not convinced with the new role of Byzantine music. They thought that the stage may turn the performance from a prayer to a show.

Anyhow, we insisted and accepted to assume all our challenges. We were able to book the George V Theater (at Adonis- Lebanon) for free thanks to Dr. Souheil Najjar and Mr. Marwan Najjar, the famous Lebanese director. Then, for the first time in the history of the Antiochian Byzantine Music, 100 chanters from the same school of music performed together Byzantine Music in perfect harmony.

Mr. Ramzi Najjar, CEO of one of the leading advertising agencies in the MEAN region, offered us the design and printing of the professional poster of the concert.

We designed and printed a professional brochure for the concert. A large screen presenting icons related to the lyrics of the chants was installed. A huge stage for all the 100 chanters was built. And finally, a couple of Byzantine Poliphonic chants were composed for the end of the concert in order to reach all the audience who may be present at the concert.

In effect, an audience from all religions attended the concert and they all felt the mystical and spiritual dimension of the concert. The whole place was booked, and the impression of all the audience was not less then amazement.

This concert was our introduction to the Lebanese National audience.

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The Divine Liturgy - Volume 7

This is probably the first professional recording we had. With this recording we started having offers from National known producers and distributers in Lebanon. SEM became known on the National level. Non committed Orthodox people became interested in our recordings and they started playing them in their homes as cultural recordings. They were proud of them in front of their visitors…

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Pascha Chants - a living tradition - Volume 9

The Assembly Hall first concert was another break through. The Assembly Hall, of the American University of Beirut (AUB), is a Theater known for hosting the major classical and cultural (non religious) events in town. We were able to book it with the help of Dr. Souheil Najjar.

LBCI, the leading National TV station covered the concert. This was not the first performance they cover for us, yet this time, the difference was that they scheduled to broadcast the program on Friday at 9PM that is the peek hour. This means that the product that we are offering and that has a 100% religious, clear, spiritual, and direct content, has become under demand of all the TV audience.

After that day, SEM became one the leading choirs in Lebanon (and not in Orthodoxy only). All TVs started asking to cover our concerts. We performed in the program of the anniversary of LBCI…

We became the only Byzantine Choir known on the National level.

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Un Noel Byzantin (A Byzantine Christmas) - Volume 10

This concert was performed at the Saint Joseph Church of the Saint Joseph University in Beirut (USJ). It is another main place where classical and cultural events are performed.

This concert was sponsored by Gray Worldwide, a leading Advertising agency in the MEAN region, through Mr Philip Skaff. We produced there our first own (Movie) DVD recording.

The concert was attended by the French embassador…

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The Holy Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom - Volume 11

This was the first recording we compose and perform in other then Arabic. As a matter of fact, our audience exceeded the Lebanese territory so we were asked to record the English Liturgy.

We had exceptional time constraints, so we composed the music, rehearsed, and recorded the whole project in 3 days at Saint George’s church (Jdeide – Lebanon). God’s blessing was with us because he knew that we were achieving an important project.

The recording and editing of this CD was made by Dr. Costy Kheir a chanter from the choir. This was the first professional recording we do with our own means. We became professionals in recording.

This CD changed the whole concept of Byzantine Chant in English. It proved that byzantine Music is suitable for the English language in both composition and performance.

The recording was distributed all over the world thanks to the special efforts to Daecon Karim El Far.

It was broadcasted daily in the morning for more then a year on a US radio station.

We heard that in England, persons became Orthodox after listening to this recording because they felt the profound spirituality of the Orthodox Church.

The Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople sent to us his appreciation for this important achievement.

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The Hymns of Hymns - Volume 17

We were invited to participate in the Dimitria festival in Thessaloniki.

We performed there with another Byzantine Greek Professional choir called IDIMELON.

After that concert it became clear that SEM’s level of professionalism became international without any doubt.

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