Posts Tagged 'archives of traditional music'

My opening remarks for John Michael Boyer in Bloomington: “…it is my fondest hope that this is not just the completion of one thing, but perhaps the beginning of a number of other things”

I’m still writing the applicable blog post, but this seemed long enough to justify breaking out separately. More to come.

Good evening, everybody. I am very keenly aware that none of you came to hear me speak, so I will do my absolute best to keep my opening remarks as short as possible.

A few informal orders of business before I launch into my introduction – first of all, let me welcome you to All Saints Orthodox Church. Just to get it out of the way, let me emphasize that we are in a church, and we ask that you be respectful of the space. If you are unsure about what that means, by all means please ask me or Fr. Peter.

[...]

A word about the card and the envelope [in your packets]: this weekend represents, in virtually every respect, an experiment for All Saints. We have never done anything like this before, and there has been a lot of figuring things out as we go. We would really like to be able to do it or something like it again, maybe even on a somewhat regular basis if it works out. So, with respect to the card, we’d like to hear from you all what you thought. Whatever you have to say – this worked, that didn’t, maybe this could be covered next time, you need a jacket with elbow pads – we’re all ears so that we can do better next time.

Now, as for the envelope – as I said, this has been an experiment, and it’s the kind of thing of which we’d love to be able to do more. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to put this together with some very generous help from the Indiana University Center for West European Studies and a private donor. That said, there are always costs one wasn’t anticipating, but more importantly, it would be terrific to have some seed money for the next event like this. All of that is to say, the envelope is there not because this weekend isn’t paid for; it is there because the next one isn’t… yet. If you decide you want to do something in that regard, please make checks out to All Saints Orthodox Church, and put in the notes “chant workshop” or something like that. The point is, if you come away from this weekend having felt it was of value to you, both the card and the envelope represent a couple of formal ways you can express that. By all means talk to me if you have any questions; you can leave cards and envelopes on your chair or give them to me, or to Fr. Peter.

There is also a retail means by which you may support these kinds of events at All Saints. There is a table in the parish hall where you can buy recordings of the kind of music we’re here talking about tonight; a lot of these can be reasonably difficult to get in the States, and we encourage browsing – and buying! – at the breaks. All of these are recordings John told me to have around for this weekend, so perhaps he’ll be able to say more about them.

All right, enough of the administrative chatter.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for coming tonight. The road to this weekend has been a long one; if I wanted to, I could trace it back to approximately 1996 or 1997 when I first met and became friendly with Mark Powell, the executive director of Cappella Romana and then a colleague of mine in its sister ensemble, the Tudor Choir. It is the network of relationships that seems to hover around Mark that in the end brought this weekend about, after all. That, however, would be far too long of a story for our purposes, so I will fast forward to the fall of 2006. Having traveled reasonably significant distances three summers in a row to various workshops and conferences for Orthodox Christian liturgical music, and subsequently lamenting the impossibility of being able to bring my entire choir to such an event, I began to consider how an effort might be launched to bring the event to my choir. Initial ideas were floated about trying to stage something in Indianapolis, but these conversations didn’t go anywhere, and to be truthful, it ultimately seemed worthwhile, particularly if I wanted to maximize the participation of the All Saints choristers, to try to put something together right here. If I played my cards right, it might even get some people in Indianapolis to come down to Bloomington – imagine that!

A number of objectives intersected in the planning for this weekend. First of all, it was very important for the All Saints choir to have the opportunity to work with an expert with a strong link to the received tradition, to experience an intensive kind of master class situation with the kind of person we hadn’t had the opportunity to work with before, somebody who could give us water from the well rather than artificially synthesized hydrogen and oxygen. As mentioned, it would also be nice to have an event that would make All Saints in Bloomington the destination for interested parties.

An additional goal was to find a way of reaching out to and engaging the local community through music. In the last few years we have looked for opportunities to do this; we have hosted a youth music festival on the grounds here two summers in a row, and a couple of years ago we contributed a concert of Holy Week music to a Middle Eastern arts festival put on by IU’s Program for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. A person who would be of interest to the Orthodox Christians who worship here, of musical interest to the local community, and of academic interest to the university community, would represent a huge step forward in that effort.

The first goal has this entire weekend to be accomplished. With respect to the second goal, however, as I look around the room, as well as glance at my list of registrants, I see my choir, I see All Saints parishioners, I see people from Bloomington, I see faculty and students from IU’s Early Music Institute, the Department of Choral Conducting, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and the Center for West European Studies. I see people who have come from Indianapolis, Greenwood, Evansville, and Louisville.  I see faculty from, besides IU, Wabash College and Butler University. It is a very real blessing to have you all here, I can truly say that the interest in John’s visit has exceeded my wildest expectations, and it is my fondest hope that this is not just the completion of one thing, but perhaps the beginning of a number of other things.

I will tell you that the planning of John’s visit originally moved ahead with private money. In the course of events, however, Dr. Lois Wise, the Director of the Indiana University Center for West European Studies approached me out of the blue one day and said, “Richard, are there any music events coming up at All Saints that we can help support?” Through WEST’s support and partnership, much more has been possible than would have been otherwise, and I am truly grateful for their sponsorship. WEST is represented this evening by Dr. Franklin Hess, the instructor of Modern Greek at IU – also my own Greek teacher, and a good friend. Frank, please accept on behalf of WEST this token of our appreciation.

There are a number of other people to thank as well for helping to make tonight possible, either through promotion, logistics, or other support; the Archives of Traditional Music, the Medieval Studies Institute, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Robin Freeman, Dr. Carmen-Hellena Tellez, Dr. Daniel Reed, WFIU, the program Harmonia and their staff, especially LuAnn Johnson, the Bloomington Herald-Times, the Indiana Daily Student, Stansifer Radio for installing this wonderful sound system on Wednesday, Liturgica.com, all of my choir for their support, and of course Fr. Peter and the people and parish council of All Saints for taking me seriously when I said, “This may sound crazy, but what if we could make something like this work?” Above all, a special thank you to my wife Megan for all of her last-minute help with errands, assembly of materials, and being just all around some of whom I am undeserving.

Finally, this brings me to our honored guest himself. John Michael Boyer, it has been said, sang before he spoke. At the age of 7 John was singing as the then-youngest member ever of the Portland Opera Association. Over the years he has gone from singing for a papal audience as a boy as part of the liturgical choir Cantores in Ecclesia, to being the Protopsaltis, or first cantor, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco and one of the principal singers of the professional vocal ensemble Cappella Romana. He is also the Protopsaltis and director of liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Sacramento. He has studied for a number of years with Greek master cantors Lycourgos Angelopoulos and Ioannis Arvanitis. In addition, he coached the vocal ensemble Chanticleer in their Grammy-winning recording of John Tavener’s Byzantine-influenced Lamentations and Praises. He is very active as a composer and adapter of traditional Byzantine liturgical music in the English language, and many of his efforts in this area culminated in Cappella Romana’s recent release, The Divine Liturgy in English – which, I am told, has just gone into a second pressing. He is one of the main movers and shakers in the United States in the movement to reincorporate traditional music in American Orthodox churches, and to this end he lectures and conducts workshops in Eastern Orthodox liturgical music at churches across the country. John has spoken at the conferences of the American Society for Byzantine Music and Hymnology as well as the Axion Estin Foundation, and he is also the director of the Koukouzelis Institute for Liturgical Arts, an outgrowth of the educational aims of his role as Protopsaltis of San Francisco.

It truly is a pleasure and a blessing to have him here – please join me in welcoming John Michael Boyer.

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In which the author finds himself intentionally, joyfully, and yet with a tinge of sadness, unemployed

Historically, the transitions in my life have usually been under a bit of a cloud, starting perhaps as far back as age four, when we moved from Alaska to Washington state because of disagreements within the family over business matters. I started college in a state of severe uncertainty with my family; I dropped out of college with some bad feelings on a few different fronts (including my own); many of my jobs have ended either with me wanting nothing more to do with them, them wanting nothing more to do with me, and on occasion, both. I’m not certain what all the factors are which have contributed to this pattern; it would be disingenuous indeed for me to claim that I had made no mistakes, but I also think it’s fair to say that I’ve found myself in the middle of a number of awkward fits in terms of personalities involved and just what the tasks at hand were, to say nothing of overall circumstances.

For example, for six months after I graduated college I worked at a bank as a teller. The work itself was not difficult, so it was not hard to be good at what I did, and the co-workers were nice; the trouble was that as the only man in the teller line at a bank with a lot of older clients, a certain cross section of the customer base felt quite empowered to be utterly and relentlessly nasty to me in a way they would never dare with a woman. If one of my female colleagues were to ask one of these “gentlemen” for their ID before cashing a check or opening a safe deposit box, they might have grumbled a bit, but they wouldn’t make a scene. When I asked? “I’VE BEEN BANKING HERE THIRTY G*DD*MNED YEARS AND NOBODY’S EVER DARED TO ASK FOR MY ID! WELL, YOU’LL G*DD*MN WELL REMEMBER WHO I AM FROM HERE ON OUT, I PROMISE YOU THAT!” After I would come back from the bathroom, having finished crying, my manager would do her best to explain that it wasn’t my fault, I was doing my job, I was doing exactly what I had been trained to do and the customer needed to understand that, but at the same time, they weren’t going to do anything to encourage those particular customers to treat me differently, because, well, we wanted their money.

As soon as I was able to get out of there, I did, I couldn’t drive out of the parking lot fast enough on my last day, and I have never darkened the door of that particular financial institution since.  Ironically, the situation was exactly the reverse at my next position, where my customers were perfectly satisfied with what I did for them; rather, it was my boss who made my life miserable. I moved on from there without even a handshake from that particular supervisor — simply, “Goodbye”.

Happily, far from not even getting a handshake, my colleagues at the Archives of Traditional Music threw me a party today, my last day there. They brought two absolutely delectable cakes from Angel B’s, A Galleria of Cakes, they bore gifts, and they made me feel very appreciated for my time there. Of the six years I’ve spent at IU in various capacities, the last fourteen months have without question been the high point; I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done and with whom I’ve worked, I leave on good terms with all of those people, I leave not having counted down the seconds till I could quit, and without anybody saying to not let the door hit me where the good Lord split me. To put it in show business terms, I’ve been able to leave ‘em wanting more, and in a good way. It’s a really nice feeling. I close this chapter excited to see what happens next, but sad to be leaving this behind. I am moving on to the next thing without desperation for perhaps the first time in my life. The only downside is that there were a couple of key absences today, people who have been out sick all week, and it would have been nice to say goodbye in person.

I’ll just have to go back and show them my pictures in August.

Thanks for a great year, Archives of Traditional Music.

“Joe took Father’s shoe bench out”

This is only tangentially related to my usual topics, but I find my friend and Archives of Traditional Music colleague Patrick Feaster’s work on what he calls paleospectrophony to be fascinating, even if I am utterly unqualified to say much about it beyond “Wow, cool.” For obvious reasons, the section on how his technique can be used on neumatic musical notation is of great interest to me (although he has said that Byzantine notation would not work with what he does). Give it a look.

DISCLAIMER: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Doctor of Musical Arts

Today, as I mentioned might be happening a couple of weeks ago, I did a phone interview for one of the bigger Orthodox media presences regarding my choir schools piece in AGAIN. I still don’t want to give a ton of details until I know for sure exactly what’s happening, but what I can say is that it was fun, the people involved were really nice, and we had a lovely chat. I look forward to hearing how the whole thing gets edited together; I’ll say right up front that for all I know, I could sound like a complete, raving idiot, or I could sound like somebody with an interesting notion worth discussing further. One way or the other, I’m happy to have had two excellent opportunities, in print and in broadcast media, to talk about an idea that I’ve been trying to interest other people in for four or five years now. If the conversation dies here, it won’t be because I didn’t have an audience.

One thing I want to get out of the way now, however: I was initially referred to as “Dr. Barrett” (before we were recording, thank God), and somehow somebody seemed to have the idea that I’m an instructor of music at Indiana University. Neither is the case, I have never represented myself as either one, and I’d really hate for somebody to think I’m claiming to be something I’m not. I quickly made sure the interviewer understood that was incorrect, but for purposes of clarification:

I work at Indiana University, and I am doing graduate work here, but not in the School of Music, and at this time I only have a Bachelor’s degree in Music from IU, with Voice Performance as my concentration. I am not presently, and never have been, an instructor of any kind at Indiana University. I have had some private voice students, and I am the choir director and cantor at All Saints, but that is the extent of my activity as a music teacher at this time. At the moment I work for a unit on campus called the Archives of Traditional Music, but it is not in an academic capacity. I will be leaving this position at the end of next week anyway to be a full-time student again. At some point in the future it will be possible to call me “Dr. Barrett,” but not for awhile yet, and it won’t be in music.

Just so we’re clear. Like I said, I’d really hate for somebody to get the idea that I’m claiming some status that is not in fact mine to claim. I have too much respect for the people who do have terminal degrees!

Anyway — I will post more details as I have them.

Reasons I love my job

I have really enjoyed working at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music over the last year. The people have been wonderful, it’s been a very pleasant, low-pressure atmosphere in which to spend my days, and I am actually quite interested in the work we do here. Ethnomusicology, like musicology, is a field in which I think I’m best served having a tangential interest, but tangential or not, it’s still an interest and those field still touch some of what I do in some way. (Which reminds me — there’s an article in the current issue of the journal Ethnomusicology about musical practices in the Estonian Orthodox Church that I keep meaning to talk about. Maybe now that the semester’s over.) I will be quite sorry to leave this position in many respects, but I expect to maintain something of a relationship with the good folks here nonetheless.

One of the joys of working here has been the semi-regular occurrence of finding things related to my interests which I didn’t know existed and didn’t expect to find. For example, something we archive here is the correspondence of the Archive’s founder, George Herzog. Recently, while looking for something else, I came across a folder labeled “Strunk, Oliver“. A letter dated 22 April 1940 has Herzog telling Strunk, “I have not forgotten your offer to let me see your Byzantine material,” but what’s even more interesting is this tantalizing passage in a letter from Herzog to Strunk dated 27 May 1940, context unclear:

I feel still a little unhappy about the by this time familiar points in your argumentation, and I still feel that it is merely a question of wording as well as manner of progression in the argument. This is the sort of thing that is difficult to get across verbally and is so much easier to put on paper where each word can be weighed, manicured, cuddled, and generally kicked about. I do not wish to bother you — more than I have already — but if and when you have a final version of the wording, I would be much interested in your reaction to Sachs’ comments. I should think once you wish to work without analogies, the Eastern ones are as unnecessary or unjustified as the Western ones. His point about the great variability of intervals (seconds, and thirds, not fourths and fifths!) in Coptic church singing would mean two things. 1) The system as interpreted through theory and writing and interpretation may not have covered actual practice exactly. I imagine this is to be taking (sic) for granted, as long as there are no records of the practice itself. I suppose you agree with this and possibly it is not sufficiently explicit in your paper. 2) Where there are no objective records of vocal music, one finds that variation in interval intonation or interval actualization is never helter-skelter. It always involves average points around which the varying “tones” cluster. These points are then the pragmatic “tones,” which may or may not be very close to tones as calculated in a theoretical system. There may be two average points instead of one at a given spot in the scale, in which case one may make up one’s mind whether one has two tones or regular alternation in the point of actualizing a tone, the alternation depending on given factors such as direction of melodic movement etc. This brings me to the concept of a “toneme” which rhymes with “phoneme,” an important linguistic concept. However, I shall spare you this until I know you are fortified by at least one beer; a thing of which I cannot be sure at the moment. (emphasis mine)

Granted, these points are brought up specifically in relation to Coptic chant, but Herzog’s points still appear to come very close to the criticism of the “narrative of decline” which Strunk helped to further regarding the received tradition of Byzantine chant — in 1940. I’d love to have been there for that beer, and I’d also love to know which particular argumentation prompted Herzog’s comments, as wells as Sachs’ (whoever he was, and whatever his comments specifically were — maybe I should go back and see if there’s a folder for Sachs).

In the fall of 2005, I took 20th century music theory from Dr. Julian Hook. At some point, in discussing microtonalities, we spent some time in class discussing the one and only Harry Partch, a genuine American original (I refuse to use the “m” word of which Gov. Palin is so fond). Among other things, Partch went so far as to build his own instruments for the tunings he used, and wrote a song cycle based on graffiti he had seen on a highway railing. His music is legitimately very interesting, but it’s also clear that it comes from a mind existing well off the beaten path.

So, while I was putting away the Strunk folder, my eyes fell on a folder labeled “Partch, Harry”.

No <very bad word> way, I thought to myself.

What seems to have happened, according to the correspondence we’ve archived, is that in 1934, Partch got referred to Herzog by a “Mr. Moe” and a “Mr. Surette” (I assume these to be Henry Allen Moe and Thomas Whitney Surette), and Partch sent Herzog “some material” regarding his manifesto Exposition on Monophony (there is a two-page “résumé” of the Exposition in the folder), “but I was not able to interest you sufficiently to deserve a reply,” Partch wrote in a letter to Herzog dated 1 April 1936. Later, Partch transcribed a field recording made of the Isleta tribe of New Mexico (material from which Partch used in the c.1949 work “Cloud-Chamber Music”), and sent his transcription to Herzog at the suggestion of of a “Professor Kroeber” (I assume Alfred L. Kroeber). The letter of 1 April 1936 continues:

This is not my major work, the work in which I treid to interest you previously. I am a composer who chooses not to be tyrannized by the limitations of media as he finds them.

I am impelled to remind you of these ideals, for which I have been fighting for thirteen years–

I am fighting for an untrammelled musical expression, and, consequently, against the exploitation of music by a clique of interpreters and academicians, which can only, and is, leading to a sterile intellectualism.

I am fighting for a richer musical system and greater resources in the way of instruments. I have built several myself.

I am fighting for an art that is closer to the people and their earth, and against the increasingly esoteric abstractions of our serious music. My own efforts are based on the inflections of spoken words.

Perhaps you will say that I am fighting for the impossible and against insuperable odds, and I will reply that the way of reform is often long and devious, and that I am blessed with a leaven of patience.

Yours sincerely,

Harold Partch

Evidently Herzog remained unimpressed, because the next item in the folder is a handwritten letter from Partch dated 11 October 1936, six months later:

Dear Sir –

Last March I forwarded to you a manuscript on California Indian music, at the suggestion of Prof. Kroeber of Berkeley. To ensure its safe return I enclosed a stamped addressed envelope.

I believe you to be a busy person, and so are all persons who live with a purpose. I am not sufficiently impressed by this fact to refrain from asking for the return of my work.

Yours

Harry Partch

The manuscript in question is not in the folder. Herzog’s response to Parch is not particularly interesting — there is a page of pencilled notes outlining some brief critiques of Partch’s transcription, followed by a two-page, polite, typed letter to Partch containing these comments; presumably Herzog sent this letter, with the manuscript, back to Partch in the referenced envelope.

“…the way of reform is often long and devious, and…I am blessed with a leaven of patience.” So much of the personality of this man is present in just these two letters that, even as distinctive as Partch’s music is, is simply impossible to get from an analysis of his scores or his biographical data. If Hook is still teaching Partch, it seems to me these letters would be at least amusing for him to have as additional material.

Yes, this is what I love about my job.

What’s fascinating about these letters is that it is a window into a very different professional culture. The letters read like somebody actually cares what they say and has a sense they will be preserved somewhere; even allowing for most people having secretaries and more often than not having their secretaries write letters that they themselves only sign, there is a lot of personality here. Perhaps it is largely affectation, but it’s still highly interesting reading.

George List, in the brief time that I got to interact with him, seemed very much to still be trying to exist in this world, despite the rest of academia being a world where people dash off e-mails by themselves, and almost nobody has a secretary. His former secretary still works for the Archives; I made this very observation to her, and her response was, “I told him once a few years ago that most people write their own letters these days. He was very taken aback.”

Self-importance? Personality? Affectation? Who knows — it’s fun to read this stuff regardless, and to try to follow the various trails down which they lead.


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