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The Isson Course

About the Isson course delivered at SEM and its
importance on the parishes' level.


"Isson" or "note tenue" is the background continuous voice in Byzantine Music.

In general the "Isson" note changes only when there are variation of modes in a chant. Hence, Isson variation in a chant are generally few.

This is why, and from a practical point of view, SEM wondered if isson can be taught in a separate program that teaches students only the information and learning that they need for Isson: basically:

  1. Isson students need to know the notes names and how to move from one to another,
  2. They do not need to read Byzantine music notation, however, a simple general introduction to Byzantine notation could be useful.
  3. They need to practice on maintaining a note without being influenced by the melody chanted by the other chanters.
  4. And they need to know what are the isson notes that fit the general Byzantine musical phrases, and how to perform them with their main variations.

Importance of this course

The importance of this course is due to the following facts:

  1. It is generally hard to learn Byzantine music and it takes for that years and years, hence, learning byzantine music is not a simple personal project and it is related to many personal considerations: Time constraints, age constraints (lowest assimilation after certain ages), Schedule constraints, ...
  2. On the contrary, learning Isson at SEM only takes one trimester. This could be done in 3 days at the summer camp; these are only 3 days of the life of any person without any prerequisites.

It is to be added to the above, that it is normal to have the following balance in a choir:
Number of people performing Isson = 2 * Number of people chanting the main melody

In other words, it should be easy to convince a group of people in a parish to give only 3 days of their entire life to learn Isson. So if you convince a number that is equal to the double of the chanters in your parish's choir to learn Isson in the summer camp, you will be able to triple the number of chanters in your parish's choir in only 3 days!!!

In general, students who pass the isson course should be accompanied for a while in their choirs on Isson, then they will be able to have a perfect performance on their own. (This depends of course on the talent of each student of course.)


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