Hear ancient Byzantine chant at Holy Trinity’s Greek Fest | Entertainment/Life

From outside the doors of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the baritone voice of John Michael Boyer can be heard.

Inside the church, Boyer is standing just to the right of the church’s icon screen while chanting the divine liturgy service of St. John the Theologian on a recent Monday morning.

Throughout the 90-minute service, Boyer remains focused on the prayers, the music and his voice — something he’s practiced for most of his life.

“My mother says that I started singing before I began talking,” Boyer laughed. 

Click here to hear cantor John Michael Boyer chant the 23rd Psalm in Greek and English.

Boyer is the new cantor and director of music at the Greek Orthodox church in New Orleans. Boyer, along with others, will give church tours, including a demonstration of Byzantine chants, during the 2023 Greek Festival Friday through Sunday (May 26 to May 28) on the grounds of the church, 1200 Allen Toussaint Blvd., New Orleans.

Boyer will also lead the Great Vespers service at 6:30 p.m. Friday and at 6 p.m. Saturday.

An expert in chant

A native of Portland, Oregon, Boyer is an expert in Byzantine chant, having composed, performed, taught and written about Eastern Orthodox liturgical music.


John Boyer, the new cantor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, will chant and sing prayers during tours of the church for the Greek Festival this year, photographed Monday, May 8, 2023. (Staff Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

“I lived on the West Coast my whole life,” said Boyer, 45. “When the church officials here reached out to me about a year ago, I at first told them I wasn’t interested. But then I thought this could be an opportunity to build on what I know through my experiences.”

Boyer is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied choral, orchestral and operatic conducting. He received his master’s degree in divinity from Hellenic College and Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Boyer is also a longtime member of the vocal ensemble Cappella Romana, based in Portland. He continues there as associate music director.

“At one time, I had an apprenticeship with Alexander Lingas, the founder and director of Cappella Romana, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland, which is the church my family and I belonged to,” Boyer said. 

“A few months ago, I directed a project along with Alexander where he conducted the first half, a collection of Greek Orthodox chant and I the second half, of a piece called ‘Heaven and Earth’ for which I collaborated with five other composers.”

Books and music

Boyer has also studied in Athens, Greece with Lycourgos Angelopoulos, the director of the Greek Byzantine Choir.

“Byzantine Chant: the Received Tradition – A Lesson Book” is something Boyer has worked on for quite some time. The book was recently published.

“It seems like I have been working on that book for 20 years,” Boyer laughed. “But seriously, I would say the last five to six years I devoted much of my time to this book. When I was first teaching Byzantine music to American students, I realized that textbooks in Greek assumed knowledge on the part of the student that was reasonable for Greeks, not so much for non-Greeks. There just weren’t any resources that delved into as much detail that I felt I needed as a teacher.

“I decided to go a bit deeper and answer some questions that my students were asking me, which were the same questions I had when I first started learning.”

‘No greater thrill’

The Rev. George Wilson has been dean for nine years at the New Orleans church.

“John is a very talented and accomplished chanter,” Wilson said. “He has an unique style and vast experience. And we are hoping with John’s help to increase the membership in our adult liturgy choir.”

“Personally, although I enjoy singing as a soloist, there’s no greater thrill or a more fulfilling experience than chanting together with a small ensemble, a large choir, or a congregation filling a church,” Boyer added. “I want everyone to have that experience. Live music is better, consequently, live liturgy is better.”

Boyer’s wife, Evangelia Boubougiatzi Boyer, serves as the director of the church’s Greek language school. The Boyers are  parents of twin girls, Mariam Ruby and Photeiní Titíka, 2½ years old.

A special place

While his love of music spans many genres, there is one area that will always hold a special place in Boyer’s heart.

“I have composed, conducted, taught and performed for many years,” Boyer said. “I love writing, teaching and composing music. But for me, music doesn’t exist except for the moment it is being performed. And that’s what keeps me going.”

Festival hours are 5 to 11 p.m. May 26, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. May 27 and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 28. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children 12 and under.

A one-mile at 9 a.m. and 5K walk/run at 9:20 a.m. is also planned for Saturday. For more information including times of Hellenic dance performances and church tours, go to holytrinitycathedral.org

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