Helen Theodoropoulos: Thank you for graciously agreeing to share your experiences with the St. Nina readership. Presbytera Gallos, what was your earliest experience of Church life and how did you become involved as such an active participant?
Anna Gallos: I was the eldest of four daughters of a priest, Fr. John Gerotheou, and, although it was a challenge to be a priest's daughter because the community had very high standards for us, it also meant that I have always been involved in Church life. At about the age of six, my father took me into the altar to act as altar server. This was especially unusual because he was quite strict in many other ways. Looking back on it now, I realize that what he was doing for me was similar to what his father had done for him. His own father was a Proto-psaltis and teacher of Byzantine psalmody, and so he started him at the early age of seven to prepare him for being a psalti as an adult. There is such a vast amount of psalmodic literature, one has to start at an early age. In his own way, my father was introducing me into Church life just as his father had done for him. After a year or two, by about the age of seven, I moved from the altar to the psalterion. I loved it there - as far back as I can remember I have always loved Church music. Because of these early experiences, I understand exactly what the priest is doing in the altar and, as choir director, can anticipate where and what is happening in the sanctuary during the Divine Liturgy. This is essential, because the choir should respond to the priest as an integral part of the service, which is what they are.
H.T.: What were the early influences that helped to direct your energies into Church music?
A.G.: When I was about nine or ten we moved to Rochester, New York, where I joined my first mixed-voice choir. This choir was directed by Athan Theodorides, and this was influential because he had just come from Greece where they were then using mixed-choir arrangements based on Byzantine melodies, with some Russian influence. My participation in this choir was a foundation for my work in mixed choirs. Soon after, when I was fifteen, we went to the Church of the Dormition in Somerville, Massachusetts, where I was a choir member. It was the practice in those days for the choirs to take part in a choir competition during the picnic of the combined parishes of the greater Boston area churches. The choir and the director who caught my eye was from Lowell, under the direction of a young woman, Androniki Mekelatos. She was dynamic and the group's response to her direction was electrifying. Right then and there I vowed that I wanted to be a choir director like her, and it wasn't long after that summer that my wish was granted. During Lent of March 1936, when I was fifteen years old, the choir director of my father's church eloped, and my father asked me to step in as choir director with my sister Alice playing the pump organ. When I began college at the School of Music, Boston University, I majored in music education. Actually, they offered a course in Church music, but, I thought, "What Greek Church would hire me to direct a choir?" and so I chose to study to be a high-school music teacher. I was at B.U. for two and a half years when my life took on a sudden change. In 1941, my father had a heart attack that almost killed him, and simultaneously I met George Gallos, a seminarian. Dad recovered and soon after that (August 1942) George and I were married and on our way to New Britain, Connecticut, our first parish.
H.T.: As a young choir director in the early 1940s, what were the needs that you felt had to be addressed, and what were the actions you took to change things?
A.G.: Most of the choirs in those years were all girl choirs. The arrangements were inadequate because they were written for both men and women. I started working on a Liturgy for three-part women's voices. Two important developments came about in the mid-forties. First, I had seen a flyer for summer choir workshops put out by a Protestant church, and immediately the idea struck me that this was a good way to help train our choir personnel. We could offer a week-long school on conducting, vocal techniques, interpretation of the Liturgy, et cetera. Together with fellow Church musician Arthur Kanaracus, president of the New England Federation of Choirs, we offered in 1945 the first Choir School at the Greek parish of Worcester. Also that same year, I started work on my first Liturgy for three-part women's voices based on the familiar melodies of John Sakellarides and the newer renditions of Athan Theodorides. The Liturgy was used primarily in the New England area. It was obvious to me that suitably arranged choir music was appreciated by choirs who were anxious for help and for proper materials. It is curious that our Church never arranged for formal Church music training. Their concern was for the Greek language and catechism. Our Church has developed the Church school programs, but if it had a formal program devoted to Church music, it would have perpetuated our faith and maintained the Greek language along with the teaching of the music.
H.T.: How were the earliest choir organizations established?
A.G.: Arthur Kanaracus and I worked to perpetuate the newly organized New England Federation of Choirs in the early forties. There were rumblings of other choir federations being organized in the Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania area, and on the West Coast in California. Other Federations sprang up, until all the dioceses had one. We were ready to be united, and I am especially pleased to have been instrumental, along with the constant help and guidance of my husband, Fr. Gallos, in having the charter of the National Forum of Church Musicians be presented and accepted at the Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia in 1976. The Forum is comprised of the presidents and officers of all the choir federations, also includes the Psaltai, and acts as an arm of the Archdiocese. Through it we are able to get materials published for choirs, encourage the explanation and teaching of hymns in the Church schools, and help fund various classes and Church music institutes.
H.T.: Besides your work with choirs, I know that you spent time teaching seminarians at Holy Cross School of Theology. Tell us about your work there in assisting our future priests.
A.G.: I was brought there to teach Western music to supplement the Byzantine music the students were learning. However, I thought it quite important also to give the seminarians some vocal training, so they could learn how to conserve their vocal energy, use their voices correctly, get their pitch, and interact with the choir. Our priests especially need this training because of the great vocal demands of their work.
H.T.: When you wrote your first Divine Liturgy in English, it was during a period when the use of English in the Divine Liturgy was becoming more frequent, and yet was still controversial. What was your reason for writing it, and were you concerned about the possible controversy?
A.G.: I began to write my first Liturgy in English in the early seventies, when a few close friends repeatedly asked me to do it, saying, 'If you don't do it, who will?' And I realized that I really needed to be the one to write liturgical music in English, because I had Fr. Gallos at hand, who understood both the Greek and English liturgical language and was especially gifted in finding the correct word. We decided not to use the familiar Sakellarides melodies, and instead I composed music in the first mode and the first plagal mode in English. This was my fourth Liturgy, and it served as a companion for the third Liturgy, which was also in the first mode and the first plagal mode. Fr. Gallos and I worked carefully on these translations and adaptations, many times working in the car on one of our long trips. He would sometimes joke that I had "trapped" him in the car as we discussed at length which word or phrase was appropriate. Now that he is gone, I continue to use his translations, but I work much slower without him on new translations and miss him more than ever.
Regarding the issue of controversy, when I first decided to write the all-English Liturgy I realized that in not wanting to write in English I was being selfish, in a way, trying to protect myself from controversy and harsh criticism. However, when it was published in 1977, the only controversy was about the translation used, not about whether or not there should be a Divine Liturgy entirely in English. There were several translations in English of the Liturgy being used, and mine differed in parts, so people argued about which was best.
H.T.: Granting that there are always difficulties to overcome, what were the main obstacles that you faced and who and what gave you your greatest support?
A.G.: I have been very lucky through the years. I have found that people will support your work if you know what you're doing, and if they know that you are sincerely trying to help them, their children and their Church. The hardest part was that I really had a dual role - almost a split personality - as both homemaker and Church musician. I took both parts very seriously and it was hard to find time to do both. My mother, Evangeline - she was also the daughter of a priest and the wife of a priest - was my greatest influence and support in my work as mother, homemaker, and presbytera. Later, when I created my own publishing house in 1963, I called it the Evangeline Music Press in her honor. Of course, my husband was a great support and an extraordinary person. I relied on him a great deal.
H.T.: What helped to keep you going, what drove you on in your work?
A.G.: More than anything, I felt there was a real necessity for what I was doing and for the music to be written. We needed to make the music more fitting for the voices and for the service, to make it more inspiring and conducive to prayer. The idea was to make the music so beautiful that the congregation would feel like singing and that they would be praying with the music. This is what I always hoped to bring about with my work. It bothers me when people complain about high standards for the choir, arguing that the choir sounds too much like a concert. What's wrong with giving a perfect rendition and singing in the most beautiful way? Why should we be satisfied with any old thing? Why is music always given a secondary role in the services? When done properly the music can be very uplifting, can be soothing to those in crisis, and can be a real form of prayer. We should offer our very best in music just as we offer our best in every other way in our services to God.
H.T.: What work still needs to be done and what goals do you feel still need to be accomplished?
A.G.: With regard to the future of composition of Church music, we need to go beyond the rearranging of already written material. If composers really want to serve the Church, they must transcribe new Byzantine music that is currently only written in neumes. There is a lot of thematic material there, but a lot of research still has to be done. There is a wealth of Byzantine music to use, and we need to retrieve it. There is room for development, too, based on the Byzantine material. If we hadn't been enslaved by the Turks for four hundred years, our Church music would have developed differently. As for my own work, I have material for six other Liturgies. I hope to write a Liturgy in each of the eight Byzantine modes. I have also written and published music for other services, such as the Salutations to the Virgin, the Lamentations for Holy Friday, and many others, and I hope to continue in this work.
H.T.: How does it feel to walk into a church and hear one of your Liturgies being sung?
A.G.: (With a smile) Well, it depends on who's singing it and how it's being done. But, seriously, when I walk in and light a candle, and hear it sung, it is an awesome thing.
H.T.: Finally, what would you say to other women seeking to contribute and offer a ministry to the Church?
A.G.: I would tell them to do what they love. I never felt that what I was doing was work, because I loved it so. Whatever you do in the Church, do it because you love doing it, and people will accept you when they see that. Whether it be philanthropy or teaching or Church music, when you do it with a great love then you will find support and acceptance for your work.