The Tbir. The tradition of ordained choristers

The oral transmission, by its nature and by the master/student relationship involved, has proved to be an efficacious system for preserving and transmitting ritual oriented repertoires. Among Armenians, this function has been carried out for centuries by the dpir/tbir (“literate” and “cantor”), the ordained choristers, grouped as tbrats tas (the schola). These ordained choristers form the minor orders of the Armenian Church hierarchy. The rights and duties of the chorister are the following:

  1. to wear the ecclesiastic robe;
  2. to bear the candles;
  3. to ring the bells;
  4. to open the church door;
  5. to sweep the church;
  6. to read the responses and the Lectionary (Old Testament and Epistles only), to sing the sharagan and the odes;
  7. to exorcise the sick and the possessed;
  8. to light and to put out the lamps and candles of the church.

The master-singer (yerazhshdabed) is responsible for the schola, although the administrative work is carried out by a “chief chorister” (tbrabed).
The choristers’ apprenticeship follows the traditional Eastern model, although its use has much diminished in recent times. In parish churches, young boys learn to be choristers through a continuous presence to the offices. In many communities, children around the age of five are brought to church, dressed in choir robes, and gradually start to participate in the service. When they are about ten, they become acolytes and may bear the big candles. This presence, passive in appearance, helps them to assimilate not only the usual melodies, but also the singing styles and the sound environment created by the modes. The period of apprenticeship is not fixed in advance; it varies according to aptitude and assiduity. Regardless of their musical abilities, each chorister has a valued function which helps to establish the necessary balance within the schola.

Aram Kerovpyan

Armenian Modal Chant