As we approach Christmas Eve in Georgia, it is interesting to ponder not only Georgia’s rich musical tradition surrounding the Nativity (Shoba in Georgian), but that of our neighbours as well.
Georgia’s religious music was initially influenced by the Byzantine music of the Eastern Roman Empire, sung in Greek, which merged with indigenous polyphonic traditions. As the Georgian Church became officially recognised as an exarchy of the Church of Antioch, Greek and Levantine influence continued until the Church became autocephalous in the 5th century. In the Middle Ages, the Georgian Church had a substantial presence in other countries, including Cyprus, Greece (at the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos), Jerusalem, and what is now Azerbaijan and Turkey. The academies at Gelati, Khakuli and other eminent monasteries hosted theologians, artists and musicians from around the region, enriching their traditions and being exposed to other musical traditions in turn.
As is common in Orthodox churches, bishops were granted leave to accommodate local languages in liturgy and hymnology, and to “Christianise” indigenous pagan traditions that were not considered antithetical to the Church’s principals. The Russian colonial period added further variety to Georgian church music, with some Georgian hymns noticeably in the “oratorio” format that was favoured in 19th century Russia, rather than in chant format.
A scholarly exposition of similarities and differences between Eastern Orthodox chant of different countries is provided here by the Library of Eastern Orthodox Resources.
Neighbouring countries likewise have experienced synthesis of their musical traditions. In the Levant, Byzantine chant has been influenced by indigenous Phoenician traditions and, after the Arab conquest, Arabic has progressively become the liturgical language in that region. Here is a stunning Levantine hymn, chanted by Canadian Reader Nader Hajjar. The translation provided gives a wonderful insight into the poetic strength of Orthodox Christian hymnology.
“Christ is Born” /Christos Gennatai is a hymn sung throughout the Greek-speaking world. An English language version is furnished here
The Kontakion of the Nativity is beautifully chanted by the Choir of Vaalam Monastery, of Karelia in the Russian Federation, in Church Slavonic.
The very talented Divna Ljubojevic of Serbia sings the Kontakion of the Nativity to a Serbian tune.
Finally, a few Georgian Christmas carols; these are often sung in the “Alilo” parades in Georgian cities on Christmas Day. “Alilo” is Georgian for “Alleluia”. Footage of last year’s “Alilo” parade is provided here
For those interested in learning the lyrics of Alilo hymns, Georgian Song Lyrics provides the lyrics to various regional versions.
Footage of Alilo carols sung in the temple on Christmas Eve
and more Nativity footage from a small church, with the choir singing the Alilo
This Alilo carol is sung by the Paris-based Georgian Harmony Choir directed by Nana Peradze
and another “Alilo”carol, called “December 25”, written by Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia
From Georgia’s mountainous Racha region, another Alilo
May I wish you and your families all a very Happy and Holy Christmas; Shobas Gilocav!