Concert at the Beatification of Father Nimatullah Kassab al-Hardini in the Vatican

By Guita G. Hourani
Chairwoman of MARI

At the beatification of Father Nimatullah Kassab al-Hardini on May 10th, 1998 in the Vatican, the choir of the Holy Spirit University-Kaslik, Lebanon performed a concert of spiritual hymns and liturgical chants of the Maronite Church. Ten musicians who played oriental instruments and an ensemble of traditional percussion instrumentalists accompanied the choir.

Most of the one hundred choir members are selected from the Institute of Musicology and the Department of Higher Music Teaching of the Faculty of Music at the Holy Spirit University.

Father Joseph Georgiou-Mikhael, a Maronite Cypriot and a monk in the Lebanese Maronite Order, Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University and Director of the choir directed this recording. Father Mikhael was born in 1944 in Ayia Marina, a Maronite Village in Cyprus. 

On this solemn occasion, Mr. Wadih El-Safi, Ph.D., composer, singer, was a guest of honor. Mr. El-Safi was born in Lebanon in 1921 in Niha El-Shouf. His exceptional voice has made him the singer of Lebanon par excellence. The spread of Lebanese songs to many parts of the world is attributed to him. His genius in interpreting Lebanese traditional music and songs became a school of music in itself. He uses the gift of his voice to fulfill his mission in life and in testimony to his Christian beliefs. 

This recording is composed of two CDs. CD A is devoted to an anthology of chants traditionally belonging to the Maronite Church as well as chants typified as Syro-Maronite. The origins of these melodies are traced to the ancient tradition of the Syro-Antiochian Church. This music did not have proper musical notation and was safeguarded and preserved through uninterrupted oral transmission with the community of Syriac-speaking people. The majority of these melodies date back to the first century of Christianity.

The listener is easily able to recognize the great affinity between these melodies and those of the traditional ancient Jewish ones on one hand and popular music of the region on the other.

The chants are sung either in Syriac or in Arabic. This first part ends with a more developed chant inspired from the traditional Maronite patrimony rearranged by Father Mikhael.

The first set of 7 chants presents excerpts from the office of Blessed Nimatullah; the second set of 14 chants is a collection of traditional chants of the Maronite Church's season of the Resurrection. The third set of 6 chants is a composition of Father Mikhael. The total time of this CD is 42 minutes, 49 seconds of heavenly, serene music and lyrics.

In the second CD, the choir interprets a series of popular traditional Lebanese melodies with lyrics written especially on the occasion of the beatification. As a result, the secular and the sacred interact. Some of the chants have been modified and others have been composed especially for this holy occasion. In this part, Wadih El-Safi performed as a soloist. The total time of this section is 62 minutes, 7 seconds of superb praise.

The lyrics composed by Father Yuhanna Khawand, residing hermit of the Monastery of Tamish in Lebanon, Assad El-Sebaali and Assaad Juan reveal faith, strength, freedom, redemption and joy. 

Soloists Ghada Chbeir, Joumana Medawar, Nader Khoury and Samira Semaan enchant you with their superb voices -- soft, powerful, prayerful and meditative. 

As one savors the chants, one feels meditative at times, and at others, uplifted by charismatic melodies, which sound like marches toward martyrdom. 

Although sung in Syriac and Arabic, one can enjoy the serenity of these hymns if one thinks of them as "speaking in tongues." Ancient Eastern hymns and melodies are certainly an acquired taste for those not familiar with them. 

The Kaslik choir, which also participated in the beatification mass celebrated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, charmed the audience and left a lasting impression on those who were introduced into this old tradition for the first time. 

Since 1950, the Kaslik choir has focused on recording, preserving and disseminating Eastern liturgical music in an authentic and artistic fashion, without neglecting the traditional music of the Near East, especially that of the Lebanese tradition. 

This has been achieved through many recordings, annual programs on various television and radio stations, and especially through their concerts performed in Lebanon and abroad. The choir was selected by the Lebanese Government to participate in the United States Bicentennial Celebration in 1976.

The University and the choir remain committed to reinventing the ancient spiritual hymns and music of the Christian Orient.

The concert of the Beatification of Blessed al-Hardini was recorded live in Pope Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. The audience included thousands of Lebanese Christians who came from all over the world. As the choir sang the popular traditional melodies, the audience spontaneously joined in singing. 

For further information about this CD, the choir or the Faculty of Music at the Holy Spirit University, please write to the University at:

   P. O. Box 446
Jounieh, Lebanon, 
Tel. # 961-9-640664, 
Fax # 961-9-642333, 

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