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Culture

Professors Recreate the Sounds of an Ancient Greek Church in LA

February 28, 2017

LOS ANGELES – Chris Kyriakakis, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Immersive Audio Laboratory at University of Southern California and UCLA’s Sharon Gerstel used ‘acoustic photocopies’ to recreate the experience of an ancient building for a live audience on the campus of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

The crowd is lost in a Byzantine soundscape as five singers chant the Akathistos hymn, an Orthodox liturgical chant composed in the sixth century, Religion News Service reports. But as they sit in a gym on Normandie Avenue in Central LA, the audience is not only hearing the singers. They are also hearing the sounds of Agia Sophia, one of the oldest churches in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.

“We create what I like to call an ‘acoustic photocopy,’” Chris Kyriakakis said to RNS. “Once you have that, you have captured the soul of a building.”

The two professors recorded the sounds in nine different Greek Orthodox churches, using seven advanced recording devices to capture the voices of liturgical chanters. The acoustical information can then be stored digitally and fed through speakers to recreate the recorded sounds.

At Agia Sophia, life-sized images of saints line the walls, many holding scrolls that correspond to various verses from the chants.

SAINT SOPHIA CATHEDRAL AND GREEK IMMIGRANTS IN LA

The history of the Greeks of Los Angeles is the story of the dreams and aspirations of young immigrants willing to risk all to come to an unknown faraway place. Unlike their more established compatriots on the East Coast, the Greeks of the West did not have the comfort of an established “Greek Town” or community to welcome them.

Like all Greek immigrants, they first travelled on a seemingly endless ocean voyage before entering the gates of Ellis Island. This was only the first half of their new adventure; they also had a long trip by rail across a strange, unknown continent, in search of opportunity and a dream.

Some of them left the arid hills of their beloved Kalavrita and Soudena after the collapses of the grape market. During the economic crisis of the early 1900’s, others left the Ionian Islands of Cephalonia and Ithaca undertaking their own personal odyssey in search of adventure, trade and fortune.

Still others fled the Ottoman territories, leaving their Byzantine legacy beyond the Dardanelles, from the ancient island of Preconessos, today’s Marmara Island. The hardships of the Balkan Wars and the threat of being conscripted into the Ottoman Turkish Army, to fight against Hellas, were intolerable for the young Hellenes. This was the background of the early Greeks who came to Los Angeles.

The first church services were held in Los Angeles as early as 1906 in a small warehouse located at 730 North Broadway. Within two years, church services moved to 240 Anderson Street. Services were conducted by visiting Orthodox clergy from San Francisco during those years. The Los Angeles Greek Community was formally incorporated on June 14, 1908.

Within a few years of incorporating, the Greek community of Los Angeles was ready to build their first church. Through years of hard work and fund-raising by a handful of pioneers, O Evangelismos Tis Theotokou (The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary), fondly referred to as “San Julian,” located at 1216 San Julian Street, was dedicated in 1912.

Following the tenure of Papa Koutouzis, the Church of the Annunciation had two priests, the Very Reverend Ioakim Papachristos (1921-1928) and the Reverend Kallistos Pappageorgopoulos (1919-1926). In 1926, after Father Kallistos’ ministry in Los Angeles, he was elevated to become the first Bishop of San Francisco and the Fourth Diocese. This added much prestige and recognition to the fledgling Greek Orthodox Church in the West. Later, Bishop Kallistos went on to become the Bishop of Chicago in a newly reorganized Greek Orthodox Church. Father Mestakides (1940-1949) and Father Kosturos (1948-1952) rounded out the clergy who ministered as Deans of the parish at The Annunciation (San Julian) Church.

The culmination of this era of accomplishment was the construction of Sophia Cathedral. Under the leadership of Charles Skouras, funds were raised to complete the magnificent Byzantine cathedral in 1952.

The Cathedral has been declared an historical monument of the City of Los Angeles. Visitors have been welcomed and guided through the Cathedral by the Sextons and more recently by the Docents.

 

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