Archive for December, 2009

Updated link for Frontier Orthodoxy

Do note that Fr. Oliver Herbel has moved Frontier Orthodoxy to its own site. Not all of the first few articles have been moved; those you will still find here.

Advertisements

Fun things from the Synaxarion…

From yesterday’s Synaxarion reading:

As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius governed the Church of God as a good shepherd and was the first to introduce antiphonal chanting in the Church, in which two choirs alternate the chanting. This manner of chanting was revealed to St. Ignatius by the angels in heaven.

My hope is to eventually have antiphonal choirs at my parish. I keep being told “Nobody does that,” but there seems to be a vehemence to that insistence, so that it comes across as though it actually means, “That’s too much trouble, so don’t even talk about it.” I can point out places in our rubrics where a left choir and right choir are assumed, and I certainly saw plenty of counterexamples in Greece, so it’s not that “nobody” does it, it’s that by and large it isn’t done here. Well, why not? Because the Orthodox Christians who came here weren’t exactly overflowing with psaltai and that was a way they could consolidate, and so when converts started coming, that particular tradition just wasn’t there to pass on anymore? I don’t know, but that seems like a possibility.

Anyway, what I find fascinating is that there was at least a time when antiphonal choirs were such a distinctive part of Christian liturgy that it was important that it be acknowledged within the Liturgy itself whence it came. (And yes, I’m aware that there are a handful of saints credited with its implementation, which is also fascinating.) The next time somebody tells me, “Nobody does that,” I’m going to pull out the Prologue and show them the reading for 20 December.

“Why are you here?” as a research paper

The mandatory class for first-semester History graduate students was an interesting exercise. It was, as I’ve said before, largely the opportunity to read a number of things I wouldn’t have otherwise read, and to get a sense of whence certain ideas originate. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities was worth thinking about, and popped up a couple of times in interesting contexts; one of the books I read for my Readings in Ancient Greek Forensic Oratory course referenced it, and it rather slapped me across the face when I volunteered for the Indianapolis International Fair last month (which should eventually be its own blog post). Foucault I still have more to say about, as I keep threatening.

For the final paper, there was a temptation to write a detailed response to Foucault, expanding on some of the ideas I discussed earlier. However, my final response paper, along with watching all of Christopher Nolan’s movies in chronological order (which should also eventually be its own blog post), suggested a different avenue that would be more interesting.

A rubric for the final paper which the professor offered as an experiment was to answer the question “Why are you here?” as a historical research paper. Using the last response paper as a jumping-off point, as well as drawing from the readings for the last week of the course, I decided to try to formulate the answer in a way that would examine the nature of my own memories. Foucault still wound up making an appearance, but it’s really only a cameo, and played for laughs.

It’s long; the assigned length was 15-20 pages, and with notes and bibliography I turned in something that was 32 pages long. (I turned it in five days early, however, so hopefully that gave the professor time to deal with it.) The title and the structure definitely reflect the influence of Christopher Nolan, but I really hope that it comes off as more than a party trick, because I don’t mean it as such.

Something I found out that surprised me was the direct role that the oil industry played in some of the circumstances of my life; I suppose, given my Alaskan origins, this should not have been a total shock, but I truly had no idea.

Anyway — here’s that up with which I came. (Or something. Sometimes not dangling one’s prepositions is awkward.) I can’t imagine I would have much of a venue for it otherwise.

(By the way — even if you don’t normally read notes, read notes 4 and 38.)

Memento Mori:

The Question “Why Am I Here?” and the Unintentionally Unreliable Narrator

By

Richard Barrett

Historicizing one’s own memories is a tricky proposition, for we are too often our own “unreliable narrator.” We may very well make our own history according to Marx,[1] but as Margaret MacMillan observes, “Being there does not necessarily give greater insight into events; indeed, sometimes the opposite is true.”[2] For one thing, if one is working with their own memories, then by definition one is already dealing with an unfinished, ever-changing product – “a perpetually active phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present[.]”[3] To put it another way, if you have memories, you do not have all of the memories you will ever have – but if you lack the ability to make new memories, then you are either dead or there is something else wrong with you that likely renders you unable to communicate your own memories in a sustained, systematic fashion. History is the story of something that has already happened, but one’s memory is something that is still happening. A concrete example is this very essay; I do not yet remember having finished writing this paper, or turning it in, or getting it back with a grade. I cannot thus incorporate this essay into its own subject matter, at least not in full – but without the ability to make new memories, I would not be able to write the paper. This, combined with an inherent lack of objectivity dealing with personal memory, should give significant pause to the historian considering such a method.

This is not the only problem, however – how does one document their memory in a truly reliable fashion? At best, a historian can make the argument that somebody has claimed to remember something, but there is no empirical method by which one can actually verify the truth of that claim. I can claim that I remember what I was doing on 23 June 1989,[4] and perhaps somebody can even verify that I was doing what I say I remember doing, but nobody can prove that I remember what I claim to remember – the flipside to the problem of somebody claiming to not remember something, which is equally unverifiable.

Still more is the problem of making individual memory historical in and of itself. Is an individual’s set of memories a history? Or is real history a sorting through of the memories of a collective? Even then, what if one is the sole survivor of a particular community, and their memories are the only possible source of a particular kind of data – such as Jussi Huovinen, the only remaining “rune singer” of the Kalevala, the mammoth collection of Finnish poetry that represents their own collective cultural memory? While it is true that the text remains in print, he is the one man left alive who remembers this body of work incorporatively and not only inscriptively.[5] When he is gone, what will be lost?

What I aim to do with this essay is to examine the role of memory in the formation of an individual’s personal narratives. Personal histories, by definition, can only be constructed after the fact – we cannot remember what has not yet happened, and trying to do so is perhaps best called “conjecture,” or depending on how one spins that conjecture, “fear” or “hope,” which may well often (but not necessarily) be at odds with history. These personal narratives must also be reconciled with the histories of the communities with which the individual interacts – but how to best do this? As Elazar Barkan asks in the issue of American Historical Review current as of this writing, “Does constructing a ‘shared’ narrative mean giving equal time to all sides?”[6] How does the historian engaging in a self-reflexive historical study “[maintain] credibility and the appearance of historical impartiality[,]” particularly given the problem of memory and community?[7] Is it possible to “preserve the goal of not distorting the data to fit one’s conviction” when one is both subject and object of the study?[8] To put it another way, how can I, the individual historian, explore how I use my own memories to negotiate a place within the various communities I have had to exist in over the years, and in doing so “put the subjectivity of history not in the service of controlling or reversing the past, but rather to the delicate task of narrating the past in a way that enriches the present”?[9] How can I answer the question Why am I here? and know that I am in fact giving a truthful and complete answer and minimize the possibility of being self-serving, self-pitying, self-congratulating, and self-deceiving? What are the broader implications for the methodology of any historian of any period and any subject?

I seek to do this by constructing a narrative out of my memories that asks exactly the opposite question asked by most narratives. If “history binds itself to strictly to temporal continuities, to progressions and to relations between things,”[10] then by unhooking memories from that continuity, perhaps it will create a space in which memory may be examined as memory rather than as a point along a progression. Therefore, rather than providing a series of events that prompts the reader to ask, “What happened next?” I will arrange the chronology of the account so that the reader instead should ask, “What happened before that?” I argue that narratives are in fact initially constructed by the narrator looking backwards in the first place; that is to say, for the historian, causality may only be seen in reverse. Foreshadowing is a literary device, not a historical method. We remember an event and muse about why it happened, prompting the recollection of a previous event to contextualize that one. The tapestry must be unraveled before it can be woven back into one piece; thus, the goal here is to examine the threads as they are pulled out – that is, before they are re-synthesized into a bigger picture.

Where possible, I will refer to primary sources – letters, diaries, blog posts, and other pieces of evidence from the period of my existence. Perhaps this will lead to an experience such as Timothy Garton Ash’s, where what I claim to remember now is different from what I claimed to remember then.[11] Where appropriate, I will also aim to provide a greater historical context, both in terms of the greater world as well as the state of the historical field contemporary with the events being described, seeking commentary and context from an issue of American Historical Review contemporary with the events being narrated, as well as other literature as necessary.

If I am answering the question Why am I here? then it is necessary to define what the question means, which to some extent involves an inventory of current memories and ways of constructing my identity. “Why” is a question that for present purposes will assume the current state of things as a telos, subsuming the question of “how” but also assuming the existence of some kind of impetus forward. “I” means a thirty-three year old man, married to another full-time graduate student, no children yet, living nearly three-quarters of the way across the country from where I grew up. “Here” means at the end of my first semester of graduate school as a matriculated, full-time student in the Department of History at Indiana University.

Previous to this semester, the memories closest at hand which appear relevant center around 20 February 2009, when I returned after lunch to my then-day job on campus as Office Services Assistant at the Archives of Traditional Music. Checking my e-mail, I discovered a message from Edward Watts titled “Re: Good news from the History department.” “Dear Richard,” Professor Watts wrote. “Congratulations! I am very happy that this has come to pass…”[12] Congratulations? Why? Wait – this was a response to something else, but what? I scrolled down, to find the original e-mail “Good news from the History department” from Wendy Gamber. “Dear Mr. Barrett,” the e-mail began. The key information was in the very first line:

Congratulations! I’m delighted to inform you that you have been admitted for graduate study to the History department with a multi-year funding package.[13]

Good news, indeed – my wife Megan was perhaps even more thrilled than I was, crying tears of joy when I told her – and it was only the beginning. I had also been admitted to the West European Studies M. A. program starting that semester, but I was still a part-timer, and WEST was more of a way to put a Masters degree together out of the thirty-plus graduate credits I already had so as to not leave IU with a jumble of hours that could never transfer anyplace. Nonetheless, within a couple of weeks of History’s offer, WEST also awarded me a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship for both the summer and the next academic year, meaning I now had a funding package with two fellowship years, and I would be spending my summer in Greece. With all four of these possibilities having come to fruition – WEST, History, and both FLAS awards — I had an undeniable embarrassment of riches. No longer was I to be “de-territorialized,” a “diasporic [person] [rooted] physically in [his] ‘hostlands,’ but… [being] refused assimilation to [it].”[14] No, I now had unambiguous permission to make myself at home at Indiana University. My blog from March reads:

One way or the other, this has all been a rather stunning turn of events for me. Although my path has remained less-than-linear, to say the least, it’s been a real game-changer of a year, let me tell you. Δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν![15]

Four eggs, four hatched chickens. Ricardus est insufficiens petitor neque enim, Deo gratias.[16]

My employers were thrilled for me, and the sadness for everybody was that it was a position in which I had jelled nicely during the year I had been there – for me, a singular occurrence at Indiana University. On the 5th of June I left the Archives of Traditional Music for the last time, and I posted the following:

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.[17]

On 10 June 2009 I got on a plane and flew to Greece, returning on 5 August; orientation for the fall semester started on 24 August.

Teasing out the thread of memory a little further, I come to Thursday, 16 October 2008.

Before I explain the significance of this particular date, I must explain that my original schedule for the fall semester of the 2008/2009 school year had me taking second year Syriac and first year Coptic. However, in a fit of despair over the apparent improbability that I would ever find a path that would make use of those languages, I consolidated those two courses into one, trading them for first year Modern Greek.

J. B. Shank’s assertion in the October 2008 issue of American Historical Review that “approaching the notion of historical change through the notion of crisis is not entirely misguided”[18] does not exactly inspire confidence, but he nonetheless concludes the following:

Accepting that historians are not empirical natural scientists but practitioners of a particular kind of hermeneutical science, one with deep connections to storytelling, the question, then, is not whether they are warranted in deploying the concept of crisis at all, but rather the kind of deployment that is appropriate.[19]

Certainly, the outcome of my own crisis was indeed a marked historical change for me. I discovered quickly that my study of Ancient Greek greatly facilitated the speed at which I was able to absorb the modern vernacular, and that the coursework I already had would be easily applied to a Masters degree in West European Studies. I would perhaps require two classes and a thesis to finish the program. The Greek instructor, an earnest, supportive man looking for graduate students to help build a program, was more than encouraging of my application. I began to contact professors for recommendation letters.

Professor Watts’ response took me rather by surprise. He said yes, that he was happy to write me another letter, but had I considered re-applying to History? We made an appointment to meet and discuss the matter further, and so I found myself in his office the morning of 16 October.

I was up front with Professor Watts; I had not considered re-applying to History, since the faculty member who had spoken with me when I was rejected the first time had said rather unambiguously that I need not consider that an option. “Well, I know you now, Richard,” he replied. “I’ve taught you, and I know how you think. You’re far more sophisticated than you were when you first came to see me three years ago, and you’ve got a lot more that you can prove you have to offer. You’re plenty competitive now, and I will advocate for you as much as I can. I can’t promise anything, but I think it’s worth the fifty bucks for you to throw your hat into the ring.” He suggested that I talk with Professor Deborah Deliyannis about what we had discussed, so that she could know what to say in her letter of recommendation as well. When I met with her, she was very much on board; on the other hand, as accustomed as she was to having those conversations with me by this point, she teasingly referred to me as a “professional applicant.” I had to admit I knew what she meant.

A blog post from the end of that month makes the following reference:

I’ll wrap this up for now by saying that my application for West European Studies has been submitted, and that now it’s just a matter of my letters of recommendation rolling in. Hopefully I’ll know something soon. In the meantime, another option has come up in terms of a departmental home, and the person who suggested it did so unprompted. I don’t want to say much more about it for the time being. For right now I’ll just say that I’m flipping two coins, West European Studies and this other possibility, and we’ll see what comes up. Maybe both will come up heads, in which case I’m decidedly not opposed to leaving IU with more rather than less. Maybe both will come up tails, and I really will have to leave here with 30+ worthless graduate credits. We’ll see. Meanwhile, a near-annual conversation with a particular faculty member about said options has led to this person dubbing me a “professional applicant.” I suppose he/she isn’t wrong.[20]

The next thread of memory picks up seven months earlier, on 3 March 2008. Work was miserable, as was now the daily norm, with my support staff position in one of the campus recruitment offices having grown unbearably precarious over the previous year. I had not started looking for other jobs because I hoped to be a full-time student in the fall anyway. Still, e-mail had brought no good news yet, which meant that every day I checked the postal mailbox when I got home to see if bad news had come instead.

On this particular Monday, I flipped up the lid of the box on my front porch, and saw an envelope from the Indiana University Department of Religious Studies. I knew what it contained before I even opened it, and I almost threw it away still sealed rather than force myself to read the words.

“Thank you for your application…due to a high number of strong applicants…” I stopped there, crumpled it up, and tossed it in the trash. I sent a confused e-mail to the faculty member in Religious Studies who had encouraged me to apply, called in sick the next day, and started applying for other support staff positions.

I posted the following to my blog a week later:

So, Cheesefare Week, as noted earlier, started off with some bad news. I had been obliquely informed about a month ago that good news would come via e-mail, and bad news would come via postal mail; therefore, when I saw the envelope in my mailbox on Monday, I knew exactly what it contained before I even opened it. Bottom line: I will not be a matriculated graduate student this fall. Ricardus est insufficiens petitor.

Exactly what is next for me is unclear. I was instructed to thank God for keeping me from going down this path since He obviously has something better in mind for me, so I’ll start there. There are some well-placed people who have told me they absolutely believe I can do this and want to talk about what happened and what they think I can do from here; I’m more than happy to listen, but in the meantime, I am beginning to consider what my other options are, up to and including the possibility that, being 31, perhaps my window of opportunity just isn’t open anymore.[21]

The next month was a series of very understanding nods and deep sighs from the well-meaning people who had written my letters for this application. What I tended to hear, including from the faculty member who had suggested that I would be welcomed with open arms in the first place, was that whatever impression I might make in class, whatever my grades and test scores were, whatever my letters might say, the details of how I looked on paper were problematic, at least as far as an admissions committee for a humanities program at a big liberal arts university was concerned. “If you spoke to our Director of Graduate Studies right now, she’d probably sound a lot like History did a couple of years ago,” one person told me. “You’re just going to have to go someplace where they aren’t freaked out by a music degree,” said another. I recount one of these conversations in my blog:

So, I had a conversation a couple of days ago with one of the people who wrote letters of recommendation for me. This person wasn’t directly involved with the admission process, but had knowledge of what had happened, and was pretty up front with me about it. I wasn’t told anything I hadn’t already figured out, but this person remained encouraging, and had some concrete suggestions about better paths for me.

The bottom line seems to be this — there’s not really a way to make me look like a conventional applicant on paper… It’s one thing for faculty members to say, “Well, he doesn’t fit in this particular box, but he’s very capable, he’s a known quantity and has proven himself,” but when it comes down to having to make hard decisions, admissions committees have to look at me and say, “He may be capable and a known quantity, but he doesn’t fit into the same box as everybody else we’re admitting.” Without a liberal arts undergraduate degree, my application goes into a different pile than those who do, and that’s not the pile which makes it to the next round of cuts, regardless of my other qualifications. There was the hope on the part of those who supported me that I would be able to transcend these limitations, but sheer numbers did not allow for that.

As I said, this wasn’t anything I hadn’t already figured out. Two years ago I was told what ducks I needed to get in a row for grad school, but the person giving me this advice also said, quite bluntly, “Even then, if it’s somebody like me reading your application, you’re not going to have a lot of luck.” With a non-liberal arts background, plus the fact that within five seconds it becomes clear that it took me eleven years to finish a four year degree (i.e., I was a dropout), I was told, my letters of recommendation appear to be talking about a totally different person and can’t be seen as reliable. The person I was talking to on Tuesday told me that, unfortunately, all of that may be harsh, but it is not necessarily wrong, particularly when a humanities department is faced with more graduate applications than they’ve ever had before. “The reality is, we’re admitting people who have the option to turn us down to go to Princeton, Yale, Duke, and Columbia,” I was told. There is also the issue that my particular academic interests are generally more specifically addressed at religiously affiliated institutions, not big liberal arts universities. Being a “non-traditional applicant” combined with my interests being, in the long run, not the greatest fit in the world for how things are done here, and the work I’ve done over the last couple of years simply does not level the paper playing field.

So what will? In an ideal world, my interests would have been identified, encouraged, and fostered during my early teens, I suppose, but this isn’t what happened, and in the woeful absence of a Time-Turner, I must find a different path.[22]

My employment situation reached its nadir towards the end of the same month; thankfully, I was offered another position just as that crisis peaked, and I started at the Archives of Traditional Music on 21 April 2008.

Among my duties at the Archives was to schedule use of a meeting facility in Morrison Hall known as the Hoagy Carmichael Room. On 23 April, I received an e-mail from Debra Melsheimer, graduate secretary in Religious Studies, cancelling one of the two reservations they had for the room during the coming Fall Orientation. “Since we will have no ‘new’ incoming graduate students for the AY 2008-09 we will only need to hold one (1) meeting time…”[23] I politely confirmed the cancellation and angrily forwarded the e-mail to friends of mine in the department, asking if they knew what was going on. In short, everybody to whom they made offers were, as I was told, prospects who could turn them down for schools such as Yale and Columbia, and that is exactly what all of them did. Unfortunately, nobody turned them down in time for the department to be able to make other offers.

Thursday, 19 January 2006 is the next point along the timeline to which my memory turns. I had graduated from the Indiana University School of Music with my B. Mus. the month before at the age of twenty-nine, having taken eleven years to finish a four-year degree. My entire final semester of my undergraduate career, my focus was taking a wild turn from the operatic career I had come to Indiana University in 2003 to pursue. I spent the term embracing my new identity as a scholar who happened to sing rather than a singer who liked to read, and my course on Early Music History gave me plenty of opportunities for this – as did an undergraduate survey course on Medieval History taught by Professor Deborah Deliyannis. Much of the personal reading I had done over the past three years came in handy in both classes, to say nothing of the experience of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical cycle (enhanced by taking on choir directing duties the previous summer). Perhaps my areas of interest and the approach I found myself taking meant that I was complicit in “failing to break the grip of a history that roots humanity’s origins in Mesopotamia some 6,000 years ago” at a moment when there was “an intellectual and moral imperative” [24] to not fall into that trap, but so be it.

A conversation one day with Prof. Deliyannis led both of us to the conclusion that if I was looking for a post-opera path, perhaps History was the way to go. She said she was willing to write a recommendation, and she thought that it would probably be no particular trouble to admit me as a terminal Masters student, given what she had seen in class. She suggested I talk to Professor Ed Watts, and also said it would help if I could find a summer Latin program somewhere, but encouraged me to go ahead with the particulars of the application.

I took the GRE. I asked for letters of recommendation from the instructors for my more academic courses in the School of Music. I met with Prof. Watts. I found a summer Latin program at University College Cork in Ireland. I submitted my application to the Department of History.

Graduation came and went, as December graduations do. In January, I took a job as a bank teller, figuring I wasn’t going to be there past June if I was going to Ireland for the summer.

Then, an e-mail from Prof. Deliyannis came, strongly suggesting that I set up a meeting with a particular professor regarding my graduate application. I entered this person’s office on 19 January with knots in my stomach, knowing that this likely was not a promising development.

In short, what I heard was, “I don’t think you can get there from here.” Prof. Deliyannis had meant well, I was told, but was unfamiliar with the particulars of how the History department handled graduate applications. In the first place, History did not offer a terminal Masters. In the second place, History did not admit anybody they did not fund. In the third place, whatever my letters might have said about me and whatever my grades and test scores were, a B. Mus. simply could not be given the same weight as a B. A. and thus my letters and my grades could not be taken as seriously as they might be otherwise. In the fourth place, I needed at least some Greek and Latin before I could be admitted.

So what do I do? I asked.

“If I were you, I’d take classes as a non-matriculated student for a couple of years, and then apply elsewhere,” this person told me, stressing the word. “If it’s somebody like me reading your application, there’s very little you’re going to be able to do to make yourself competitive here.”

I left that office devastated (to say nothing of late for work). I had no idea that History would be so fundamentally different from the School of Music, where essentially the non-funded students paid for the funded students. Well, there was nothing for it; if I had to make myself a better applicant on paper, then that was exactly what I would do. By June I had found an on-campus job that had a tuition benefit, and fall of 2006 I started first year Ancient Greek.

A letter I wrote to a friend at the end of February 2006 provides this account:

I graduated in December. It only took me eleven years to finish a four year degree, and I am now sufficiently B.Mus’d (bemused). I don’t know exactly what’s happening with me next; I’m not doing another music degree here, and it frankly seems unlikely that I will be doing another degree at Indiana University, period. Megan’s program is opening all kinds of doors for her; she’s spending seven (paid) weeks in Germany this summer, she starts her PhD in the fall, and so on, but all of my attempts to figure out something useful to do in this environment have failed miserably. Medieval History seemed like a quite likely candidate (and it still does, just not here); I made a wonderful impression on a professor in a non-School of Music class last semester, and she started recruiting me. It seemed like a good fit (and still does), given my natural interests and proclivities, and I was able to get some strong letters of recommendation. Well, I can’t say that I know exactly what happened, except that in January, I was suddenly whisked into the office of somebody higher up in the food chain of the History department, who in no uncertain terms told me that the department’s interest in me had been vastly oversold, and that I needed to look at ways that I could make myself an attractive candidate “someplace else.” Like I say, I don’t know exactly what happened; the most I could get out of this person was that my recommendations didn’t really match the background my transcript showed, and that the recommendations aside, I’m just not competitive “on paper” as far as they’re concerned, coming from a music background. It rather came across as, “On paper, you look like an intellectual lightweight trying to change fields on somebody else’s dime.” What the professor who had been recruiting me said was, “I know what you’re capable of, I know your abilities, I know how you think and how you work, and I think you’re plenty competitive—but it’s not up to me.” I don’t know if, at the end of the day, my research interests…just didn’t match up well enough with those who actually had power to make decisions, or if this was more of an internal political conflict, or what. The plan of action from here, insofar as there is one at present, is to take a class or two a semester as a non-matriculated student for the next two or three years, and then when Megan is done with her coursework and exams, we can try to find a program where I can do my graduate studies and she can do post-doctoral work. I have to say, after the humiliating disappointment of my three years at the School of Music, this whole thing really took out of me whatever wind I had left in my sails.[25]

As we get farther away from the immediacy of the present, however, my memory is increasingly, but less-intentionally, elided. The same letter also contains this section:

To briefly sum up the various happenings of the last nine months… I am not at St. Vladimir’s. The idea was always that it would be fall of 2006 anyway, not fall of 2005, but that is not likely at this point. Perhaps fall of 2009 or 2010. In short, I visited there in October and loved it. Everything about the place impressed me—the location, the faculty, the campus life, the educational environment, the pastoral approach, and so on. Most especially, the centrality of the chapel in the rhythm of campus life just blew me away. However, two things happened—first, Megan, quite correctly and justly, decided that she was enjoying teaching and did not want to walk away from the remaining three years of her funding. Second, every person I talked to at St. Vlad’s gave me the same advice: wait as long as you can before coming. The answer was motivated in different ways by different people—the liturgical music professor said that they’re revamping the program so that it is aimed more towards people with a solid musical background, but that it’s going to be another five years or so before they get there. The dean of students said that spiritual maturity was going to be vital to one’s survival and education in that environment, and that a few years’ worth of time for things to settle would only help me. A student told me, “They will challenge everything you think you know, and your faith will need to be solid as a rock to withstand it. Let as much water run under the bridge as you can manage.” Excellent advice, all of it. I took it to heart, and combined with my wife’s circumstances, I hope to wind up there at some point in some capacity, but it won’t be this next year.[26]

Reading this section of the letter, I remember an entire series of events surrounding a campus visit to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in October of 2005 and the exploration of the possibility of the priesthood. It was a trip that seemed so seminal, exciting, and which pointed an unmistakable way forward, but which rather spectacularly came to nothing in the end. Even so, it seems like I would at least remember it without prompting for purposes of a footnote, but it does not occur to me to remember it until faced with its record.

Tracing backwards from there, I am led to 13 February 2005. It was my fourth semester at the School of Music, and my penultimate term as an undergraduate. I had auditioned for the Masters program in Vocal Performance and was admitted, and I was still waiting for word on my funding to come through. My audition was good; it showed clear improvement during my time here in terms of range and musicality, and there was the matter of my article in The Journal of Singing making me the first School of Music person in some years to publish in the professional publication for voice teachers. At the beginning of March I was traveling to New York for the first time, having been invited to audition for the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and I felt like I was singing well enough to feel good about such an opportunity.

It was in the midst of these hopeful circumstances that my wife and I converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity on the second Sunday of the month, the day before Valentine’s Day. Our first confessions were heard, we were anointed with oil, and we received Communion for the first time. With some irony, the only family either of us had in attendance was my decidedly atheist father.

Larry A. Braskamp suggests that the interest in religion for students represents a “[search] for meaning and community… [which] often leads them away from the organized religious practices and beliefs of their past, [but] is… [nonetheless] a journey toward a more complex spiritual and religious identity.”[27] I can agree with him, but only partially; the “more complex spiritual and religious identity” in this case was far more organized and equipped with beliefs and practices than those of our past. It was amidst the collective memory of the Christian East, a memory both inscribed and incorporated, that I was faced with the “essential historicity of Christian religion,”[28] and I saw – or was shown? – that I had no other option than to find that compelling.

A handwritten diary records the following:

He [the priest] very nearly forgot to anoint our ears. Somewhat ironic, given what we do.

I am fighting a cold and sore throat, so I wound up not singing at all. However, several parts of the homily stuck with me. Deacon Lawrence preached, and he quoted several Church Fathers on the matter of choosing God’s will over one’s own. There are three options, one wrote. God’s way, our way, and the Devil’s way. The man who has not chosen God’s way is somebody who will clearly be ill at ease, who will find everything to be not right, who will not truly be at peace with anyone. That simply describes Dad to a “T”, I’m sorry to say.

Communion was very nearly over before it began; I carried my chrismation candle up to the Chalice with me, which was a touch awkward, and the spoon was in and out of my mouth before I really realized what had happened. No neon signs flashed in the sky, and truth be told… I didn’t need them to.

[…] While describing to Dad the night before just what he’d be seeing, it occurred to me that in many ways it would look like our wedding—we’d process to the front of the church, we’d answer questions, take some vows, and have jewelry put on us. As it worked out, gifts were also another similarity. We both now wear crosses that were given to us by our sponsors; my mother gave us a lovely pewter candle-snuffer; several of our friends made donations to All Saints’ building fund in our honor; the parents of our friend Benjamin also gave us a large ceramic pigeon we’ve named “Melvin”.[29]

It was after this affirmation and proclamation of faith that everything fell apart. The School of Music offered me less financial support than I had received as an undergraduate. My voice teacher pleaded with whom he could, but the most they would do is put it back to my undergraduate level, and they indicated to him that I should feel grateful for that. My New York trip was a fun first visit to the Big Apple, but that is all it ended up being – the audition yielded nothing. The final nail in the coffin was the audition for the fall’s operas, where inexplicably I simply had no high notes anymore. If I were to take my newly professed faith seriously, it would appear very much that God was closing the doors through which I was not supposed to venture.

Thinking that perhaps I could still stay in Music, I spoke with faculty members I knew in Musicology and Choral Conducting. Perhaps these would both be disciplines where my faith and how I practiced it could inform what I did without needing to be fundamentally challenged. As I would be studying specific practices rather than institutions or development of particular beliefs, I hoped that somehow I could be free of questions of “What is ‘religious’? How do we align our definitions with those of the persons we study? Where do we draw the disciplinary boundaries of ‘religious history’?”[30] Both departments told me the same thing, however – we would love to have you, they said. You would be a natural fit in either program. Unfortunately, we have no money at the Masters level, and if you come in as an unfunded student, it would hurt your chances of getting funding at the doctoral level.

Another letter from me to a friend reports the following:

Given how the graduate funding issue shook out, I decided to not accept the slot in the Master’s program here… [B]eing on the cusp of my thirties (having turned 28 this last November)… I do not feel like I can responsibly continue going into an indefinite amount of debt for an indefinite amount of time, while having no solid career prospects on the table. That raised the question, however, what are the implications of that for my career path? The blunt reality is that I don’t really have a career path at this stage of the game. By March of this year, in every respect, it had become quite plain to me that I could not, realistically, get “there” from here.[31]

The last (or is it the first?) of my memories to be strung along this thread is Saturday, 11 June 1994, the day of my high school graduation, being seventeen years old. There was so much to do, and the plan for the weekend had been formulated along very strict lines. Dad would fly in from Anchorage on Friday, the ceremony was on Saturday, there would be a family celebration following, and then he and Mom would fly to Anchorage together on Sunday, leaving Seattle for good. On Monday, I would supervise the movers as they packed up our house. A couple of weeks after that, I would fly to Anchorage myself, returning in the fall to start college at Western Washington University.

Dad had returned to Anchorage in the fall of 1993 to see if his luck might be better in the place where he had made his fortune to begin with; the idea of things getting any worse in Seattle was terrifying. His money had been too tied to Alaska for it to survive the so-called 1986 Oil Price Collapse,[32] and he had never sufficiently planted professional or financial roots in the Pacific Northwest to ride out the crisis. Since taking a loss of $100,000 on the house – to say nothing of having to sell virtually everything else that was not nailed down – in 1988, we had bounced more or less annually from rental to rental, each one less expensive than the previous, hoping that somehow things would turn around. Unfortunately, the rise of big box stores like Office Club, Office Depot and CostCo[33] were making it very difficult for the small office supply retailer to be competitive. Ironically, if we had just been able to hold on to the house for another six months, we would have caught the beginning of the suburban real estate boom in Seattle.[34] After five years of struggling unsuccessfully to make it work, returning to Alaska seemed to be the only option. My mother stayed behind so that I could finish high school where I had started, and since I was going to be starting college anyway, it seemed like a natural break.

The plan was executed neatly and efficiently, point by point. Dad flew in on Friday, I walked on Saturday, and they left together on Sunday. I drove my parents’ car back to our townhouse from the airport, which in its strewn-with-boxes state was no longer really “ours” except that I still lived there for one more day, and went to sleep that night as its sole occupant. The next day, the movers came. In the late afternoon I watched them drive the truck away with everything we owned in it, including my parents’ car. With it went any sense I had of any particular place being “home”; my parents now lived someplace I did not, and while it did not follow that I now had a new home as well, my old home (which itself had only been “ours” for nine months) was no longer mine to occupy. While surely not exactly what Steven Ruggles had in mind when he made this argument, I could have nonetheless independently confirmed his thesis that “a rise in economic resources of the elderly” – to use the term broadly – “…would have resulted in an increase of residence with kin[.]”[35] His larger argument that “the past century has witnessed a radical transformation of residential preferences [of families]”[36] was surely something to which I could also attest, having experienced the bizarre reversal of growing up, graduating high school – and having my parents move away.

Much as I began by observing that I cannot remember this project’s completion and outcome while still working on it, I must end with something else of which I can have no memory and must rely on the memories of others – or, rather, my memory of their memories. (Or, even more to the point, my claim to remember what they claim to remember.) My parents met in Anchorage, Alaska in 1974. In the same year, Lynn White, Jr. wrote that “[p]eople are organized… by the basic presuppositions – often unverbalized – that they share: their axioms.”[37] If this is true, then perhaps it is no real surprise that my parents were always disorganized. Both had been born in Alaska, but there the similarities effectively end. Dick, my father, was the second youngest of a large merchant-class family; his own father, Jack, had owned the first Piggly-Wiggly grocery stores in Alaska.[38] My mother was from a working-class family; her father was a truck driver for a dairy (ironically, a supplier to my other grandfather’s stores). The family business, of which my father was president, was Barrett Office Supply, a thriving supplier of office furniture in an economic environment fueled, as it were, by the 1968 discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay on the state’s North Slope.[39] My mother had started working as a receptionist for Barrett Office Supply at nineteen shortly after her first divorce; my father was also recovering from his own first divorce.

The ferment of post-1960s sexual mores being what they were, it seemed like a good idea to the office to try to cheer Dick up by sending him to Hawaii – with Shirley, with whom he had never exchanged more than a few, intimidating (by her recollection) words. It is tempting to digress here into an examination of how the supposed liberation from the bourgeois repression of sexuality, in reality, set up an environment in which it was acceptable for a man and a woman to cede sexual agency and be “drafted,” more or less, into a sexual relationship which not only resulted in consequences not intended by the “drafters” (such as this author), but also in which were located many axes of power – an eight year age difference, inequality of family status, a status/power difference at a mutual place of employment, income disparity, and so on.[40] However, this would not further discussion of the main point at hand. Suffice it to say that shortly after their return from Hawaii, they moved in together. In 1976, the year the French language edition of Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: An Introduction was first published, a second trip to Hawaii in February led to my birth on 21 November. They were married on 13 May 1977 – a Friday the 13th, incidentally, and just over a month before the first barrel of oil would be pumped from Prudhoe Bay into the newly completed Trans-Alaska Pipeline on 20 June 1977.[41]

Thus is the chain of memories upon which I draw to answer the question “Why am I here?” – but do any of them really answer the question? Can these disparate pieces actually be synthesized into a historical argument, or do they represent a draft of Richard Barrett, The Early Years: A Reader? Can I actually answer that question myself, or will it require a later historian to assemble the fragments into a mosaic? Would the picture that historian might assemble look like anything I would recognize myself as my own life? Is it my responsibility to remember in a way convenient for the historian? If the references to American Historical Review as a sort of historian’s Greek chorus show anything, it is that  how I remember things and what the discipline of history would like me to do with those memories are not always the same thing – for example, whether or not historians are entirely comfortable with the word “crisis” does not impact my experience of an event as a crisis. Good historians analyze memories, better historians synthesize them, but it does not follow that what they (or we, as I must remind myself) need to accomplish those tasks will instill a sense of obligation in the individual recounting their own memories to remember the way the historian would find ideal.

What forward-looking narratives might be assembled from these pieces, anyway? Am I here because God ordained it? Am I here because of how fluctuations in oil prices in the mid-1980s interacted with suburban expansion? Am I here because of how the Sexual Revolution manifested itself in Anchorage, Alaska? Am I here because intense feelings of abandonment led me to seek out community and identity in a highly structured religious environment, rich in traditions and practices that lend themselves to study? Am I here because my great-great-grandfather won at Palmetto Ranch? Am I here because I just plain was too dumb to know when to give up? All of these things? None of them? Even if I, as a Christian, lean towards the first of those explanations, it is incumbent upon me to remember that “the purpose of a historical understanding is not so much to detect the Divine action in history as to understand the human action, that is, human activities, in the bewildering variety and confusion in which they appear to a human observer.”[42]

Can I be trusted to be reliable with my own memories? I already know that some of the other parties involved recount some of the same events differently from how I do, but that does not change how I remember those events. In any case, it should be clear that I have elided, compressed, omitted, selectively emphasized, and otherwise edited my memories for public consumption, even if I have not done so intending to mislead. There is the matter of the abandoned pursuit of the priesthood, which I had entirely forgotten to remember until I saw my own words describing it. Did Professor Deliyannis really “recruit” me in 2005, as I told my correspondent? I thought that word appropriate at the time, but now I am not certain. It is unambiguously fitting for Professor Watts, who suggested of his own volition that I apply, and there is the not insignificant matter that I was actually admitted this time around. As well, the memories presented here certainly do not answer all questions about everything, and substantial gaps are left. The simple fact is that to “tell everything” can only be a pretty-sounding fiction.

Even within the convention I have attempted to follow of presenting memories in the order in which I access them, it is still necessary to contextualize and construct and narrate, to tell things in the order of before and after at least to some extent, in order for them to make sense. To the extent that there is such thing as “purity” of memory, it would seem that it might only be preserved as long as the memory does not need to be communicated to anybody else. That this problem begins to touch upon and intertwine problems both of an epistemological as well as an ontological nature greatly concerns me, but what to do about it? It suggests that I can only truly know what I think I know as long as I have no need to pass it on, in which case it becomes what I claim to know and must be held in suspicion by, above all, myself. However, if I cannot exist without some need to communicate with others, than what I think I know is constantly in tension with what I am, or perhaps what I need to be. The problem here is that I am neither philosopher nor theologian; I cannot dwell on such questions for too long without my head starting to hurt. I know what I know, and I remember what I remember, or at least I think I do. What can I say except “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it”?

“The power of memory is great, exceedingly great, O God, a large and limitless inner hall,” writes St. Augustine. “Who has come to its foundation? Yet it is a power of this my soul, and it belongs to my nature, but I myself do not grasp all that I am.”[43] Maybe I am unable to answer the question “Why am I here?” I can produce my memories of what I think are the relevant events that led up to being here, but I cannot myself yet see the beyond the present moment sufficiently to synthesize those events into a meaning. Perhaps it is also telling that the greater the distance from the event being remembered, the easier time I have putting that event into a historical context – thus, again, I am too close to now to be able to see it in perspective. If I am so unfortunate as to draw the attention of another historian – or worse, a biographer – down the road, then perhaps that person will be able to construct a forest for the trees.

Which is all to say – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Works Cited

Ames, Christine Caldwell. “Does Inquisition Belong to Religious History?” American Historical Review 110, no. 1 (2005): 11-37.

Ash, Timothy Garton. The File. New York, NY: Random House, 1997.

Barkan, Elazar. “A. H. R. Forum: Truth and Reconciliation in History. Introduction: Historians and Historical Reconciliation.” American Historical Review 114, no. 4 (2009): 899-913.

Barrett, Richard. Letter, 26 February 2006.

———. Letter, 15 May 2005.

———. “13 February 2005.” Personal diary. Bloomington, Indiana, 2005.

———. “Counting Hatched Chicken #4.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

———. “Counting Hatched Chickens, Nos. 1-3.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

———. “In Which the Author Finds Himself Intentionally, Joyfully, and yet with a Tinge of Sadness, Unemployed.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

———. “More on the Alleged Plurality of Means by Which One May Remove Flesh from a Feline.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

———. “On Forgiveness Sunday, the Alleged Plurality of Methods by Which One May Relieve a Feline of Its Flesh, and Other Musings.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

———. “Things You Think About When You’re Trying Not to Fall.” In Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist. Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009.

Braskamp, Larry A. “The Religious and Spiritual Journeys of College Students.” In The American University in a Post-Secular Age, edited by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, 117-34. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Florovsky, Georges. “The Predicament of the Christian Historian.” In Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, edited by Walter Leibrecht, 140-66. New York, NY: Ayer Publishing, 1959. Reprint, 1972.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Vol. 1. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Reprint, 1990.

Gamber, Wendy. Electronic mail, 20 February 2009.

Hippo, Augustine of. “Confessions.”

Hunt, Jeffrey. The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Koepp, Stephen. “Cheap Oil!” TIME Magazine, 14 April 1986.

Lee, In. “Office Depot’s E-Commerce Evolution.” International Journal of Cases on Electronic Commerce 1, no. 2 (2005): 44-56.

Lynn White, Jr. “Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian.” American Historical Review 79, no. 1 (1974): 1-13.

MacMillan, Margaret. Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History. 2 ed. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2008. Reprint, 2009.

Marx, Karl. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, 594-617. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978.

Melsheimer, Debra. Electronic mail, 23 April 2008.

Naske, Claus-M, and Herman E. Slotnick. Alaska: A History of the 49th State. 2 ed. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux De Mémoire.” Representations no. 26 (1989): 7-24.

Parra, Francisco R. Oil Politics: A Modern History of Petroleum. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

Peirce, Neal, Curtis W. Johnson, and Betty Jane Narver. “The Peirce Report: 1. Congestion and Sprawl: A Thousand and One Delayed Decisions Are Taking Their Toll, and Environmental Time Is Running out Fast in Puget Paradise.” The Seattle Times, 1 October 1989.

Ruggles, Steven. “The Transformation of the American Family Structure.” American Historical Review 99, no. 1 (1994): 103-28.

Shank, J. B. “A. H. R. Forum. Crisis: A Useful Category of Post-Social Scientific Historical Analysis?” American Historical Review 113, no. 4 (2008): 1090-9.

Smail, Dan. “In the Grip of Sacred History.” American Historical Review 110, no. 5 (2005): 1337-61.

Spiegel, Gabrielle M. “Presidential Address: The Task of the Historian.” American Historical Review 114, no. 1 (2009): 1-15.

Watts, Edward. Electronic mail, 20 February 2009.


[1] Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978)., 595.

[2] Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, 2 ed. (New York, NY: Modern Library, 2008; reprint, 2009)., 44.

[3] Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux De Mémoire,” Representations, no. 26 (1989)., 8.

[4] It is not relevant to the discussion – or is it? – but I was at the Luxury Alderwood Theater in Lynnwood, Washington, seeing the movie Batman on its opening day.

[5] Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989)., 72-104.

[6] Elazar Barkan, “A. H. R. Forum: Truth and Reconciliation in History. Introduction: Historians and Historical Reconciliation,” American Historical Review 114, no. 4 (2009)., 903.

[7] Ibid., 908.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 913.

[10] Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux De Mémoire.”, 9.

[11] Timothy Garton Ash, The File (New York, NY: Random House, 1997)., 9-11.

[12] Edward Watts, Electronic mail, 20 February 2009.

[13] Wendy Gamber, Electronic mail, 20 February 2009.

[14] Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “Presidential Address: The Task of the Historian,” American Historical Review 114, no. 1 (2009)., 12.

[15] Richard Barrett, “Counting Hatched Chickens, Nos. 1-3,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009). The Greek means, “Glory to God for all things!”

[16] ———, “Counting Hatched Chicken #4,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009). The Latin means, “Richard is no longer an unworthy applicant, thanks to God.”

[17] ———, “In Which the Author Finds Himself Intentionally, Joyfully, and yet with a Tinge of Sadness, Unemployed,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009).

[18] J. B. Shank, “A. H. R. Forum. Crisis: A Useful Category of Post-Social Scientific Historical Analysis?,” American Historical Review 113, no. 4 (2008)., 1096.

[19] Ibid., 1097.

[20] Richard Barrett, “Things You Think About When You’re Trying Not to Fall,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009).

[21] ———, “On Forgiveness Sunday, the Alleged Plurality of Methods by Which One May Relieve a Feline of Its Flesh, and Other Musings,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009). The Latin means, “Richard is an unworthy applicant.”

[22] ———, “More on the Alleged Plurality of Means by Which One May Remove Flesh from a Feline,” in Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist (Bloomington, Indiana: WordPress, 2009).

[23] Debra Melsheimer, Electronic mail, 23 April 2008.

[24] Dan Smail, “In the Grip of Sacred History,” American Historical Review 110, no. 5 (2005)., 1361.

[25] Richard Barrett, Letter, 26 February 2006.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Larry A. Braskamp, “The Religious and Spiritual Journeys of College Students,” in The American University in a Post-Secular Age, ed. Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008)., 133.

[28] Georges Florovsky, “The Predicament of the Christian Historian,” in Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, ed. Walter Leibrecht (New York, NY: Ayer Publishing, 1959; reprint, 1972)., 141.

[29] Richard Barrett, “13 February 2005,” (Bloomington, Indiana, 2005).

[30] Christine Caldwell Ames, “Does Inquisition Belong to Religious History?,” American Historical Review 110, no. 1 (2005)., 13.

[31] Richard Barrett, Letter, 15 May 2005.

[32] For a contemporary account of the issue, see Stephen Koepp, “Cheap Oil!,” TIME Magazine, 14 April 1986.

[33] For background on Office Depot and Office Club as an example, see In Lee, “Office Depot’s E-Commerce Evolution,” International Journal of Cases on Electronic Commerce 1, no. 2 (2005)., 45.

[34] For a contemporary account of the economic situation in the greater Seattle area in the late 1980s, see Neal Peirce, Curtis W. Johnson, and Betty Jane Narver, “The Peirce Report: 1. Congestion and Sprawl: A Thousand and One Delayed Decisions Are Taking Their Toll, and Environmental Time Is Running out Fast in Puget Paradise,” The Seattle Times, 1 October 1989.

[35] Steven Ruggles, “The Transformation of the American Family Structure,” American Historical Review 99, no. 1 (1994)., 126.

[36] Ibid., 127.

[37] Jr. Lynn White, “Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian,” American Historical Review 79, no. 1 (1974)., 1.

[38] Jack’s own grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) was something of a footnote in Civil War history, being Colonel Theodore H. Barrett of the Union, commander of the 62nd U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment, winner of the Battle of Palmetto Ranch, the final conflict of the War Between the States – over a month after Appomattox. See Jeffrey Hunt, The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002).

[39] For a brief overview, see Francisco R. Parra, Oil Politics: A Modern History of Petroleum (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004)., 269.

[40] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage Books, 1978; reprint, 1990)., 120-7.

[41] Claus-M Naske and Herman E. Slotnick, Alaska: A History of the 49th State, 2 ed. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994)., 265.

[42] Florovsky, “The Predicament of the Christian Historian.”, 166.

[43] Augustine of Hippo, “Confessions.” Book 10, ch. 8. Translation mine.

Just posted: Hansen and Quinn notes and answers, Unit 5

Yes, believe it or not, I got it done before the fiery death of the universe. It’s amazing what having the semester over with will do for you. I’ll try to have another couple of units up before the end of the break.

(Yes, this break. Why do you ask?)

As always, if you have comments, corrections, or anything else, let me know. If you would like to motivate me to give this project a higher priority, I am all for it; you can PayPal me at richardtenor [AT] gmail.com.

(Crickets chirping)

Ah. Well, I guess I’m doing it my way and on my own time, then.

Review — Cappella Romana The Divine Liturgy by Peter Michaelides and Ensemble Organum: Chant de l’Eglise de Rome: VIe-XIIIe Siecles

My copies of The Divine Liturgy by Peter Michaelides and the latest installment of Ensemble Organum’s Chant de l’Eglise de Rome arrived while I was traveling for Thanksgiving, and upon my return I was neck deep in finishing things up for the semester. Now that fall term of 2009/2010 is in the books, time to give these recordings its due attention.

My experience with a lot of the four-part Orthodox liturgical music that’s out there is that, frankly, it’s either terrible or plain mediocre. I have sometimes heard it said that Western ears are too used to harmony to like unison singing, so we have to add parts to chant melodies, and this attitude seems to be borne out in much of what we sing in our churches today. A lot of what I’ve encountered consists of Byzantine melodies harmonized very badly, as though somebody said suddenly, “Oh! I need a four-part arrangement of this hymn for tomorrow!”, proceeded to bang the melody out on some keyboard instruments, and wrote down whatever progression underneath it that was simplest and most tonal (and which also typically produced part-writing errors). A related problem is an overabundance, at least in some scenarios, of simplistic utility music. At the other end of the spectrum is really overblown, self-consciously polyphonic music — I can think of one example (which I decline to name) that seems to essentially ask the question, “What if Palestrina wrote a Divine Liturgy?” There are, of course, exceptions; Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s music is very nice and singable, for example, and I’ve expressed my appreciation for Kurt Sander before.

I am very happy to add Peter Michaelides’ Divine Liturgy to the list of exceptions. Michaelides’ choral music is certainly prayerful, and while it is certainly not an exercise in compositional excess (like, say, Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy), neither is it so restrained as to simply be an unnecessary sheen over the text. The character of the music is evocative enough of the Byzantine tradition that it is identifiably Orthodox music; some of the melodies of Sakellarides are used as a jumping-off point, but then the medium of the mixed choir is used to its advantage, always sounding like a completion of, rather than an addition to, the melody. That is to say, the music actually needs the harmonies — the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the music are complementary rather than one being tacked on. The Cherubic Hymn of the setting is perfect example of this balance; the different voices intertwine and interlock beautifully but never gratuitously.

The recording strikes a very nice aural balance of clarity of text and resonance of the room, and it is a credit to Cappella Romana that they have the flexibility to sing this kind of choral music and the Byzantine repertoire as beautifully as they consistently do. One thing I am very appreciative of is that the setting is presented practically, as a real Divine Liturgy, with the Very Rev. Archpriest George A. Gray III singing the priest’s parts (including the Gospel reading) and Alexander Lingas chanting the Epistle. This is music that should be presented in a liturgical, rather than a concert, setting. As an additional “realistic” detail, parts of the setting are alternated between Greek, English and Arabic — both a nice touch and a nod towards the pastoral reality in many parishes. It is exactly because of this attention to liturgical authenticity, however, that Lingas speaking the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer by himself, rather than these parts being said by the entire choir, comes off as a bit jarring.

It has been said that, in terms of how Orthodox liturgical music might develop in this country, what the Byzantine repertoire has to offer is a richness of melody, and what the Western idiom has to offer is a richness of harmony. Along these lines, while acknowledging that the Sakellarides material does not necessarily represent the best of what the Byzantine tradition has to offer, Michaelides’ music nonetheless suggests what could be a way forward. Rather than haphazardly forcing modal melodies into a tonal box with sloppy part writing that’s little more than a sop to “that guy” in the congregation who instinctively sings parallel thirds to everything, with the result sounding neither like good chant or good four part music, it is possible for these melodies to serve as a springboard into something more carefully crafted and more, dare I say it, iconographic in quality.

Now, what does any of this have to do with Ensemble Organum’s recording? Hang on for a second and I’ll explain.

Over the last twenty years, Ensemble Organum has put out a series of recordings of Western liturgical music off of manuscripts that represent the so-called “Old Roman” repertoire. I’m probably the wrong guy, at least at this stage of the game, to try to go into all the issues surrounding this music; suffice it to say that the liner notes of these recordings present this is as the older, pre-Gregorian chant repertoire of the Roman church.

Now, these recordings are, essentially, reconstructions of what they think the chants sounded like; knowing what notes the signs represent are only half the battle, of course, there are also the questions of rhythm, tuning, ornamentation, and overall vocal approach. Working with Lycourgos Angelopoulos, Ensemble Organum has taken the approach of interpreting these manuscripts more like Byzantine chant than Gregorian chant, complete with isokratema (drone) and very Greek ornamentation. Are they right? I don’t know — it sure sounds convincing enough. On the other hand, I can imagine that there is no shortage of counterarguments. Maybe something like this: how convenient for Byzantine psaltai that the Old Roman repertoire, which may or may not date from before the sixth century, sounds exactly the same as their music (which of course isn’t really Byzantine at all, but Ottoman, per the “narrative of decline” which I’ve discussed earlier). I’m not a musicologist, so I can’t really argue one way or the other for Ensemble Organum’s performance practice, but I do think that seeing the diversity of liturgical practice within the context of a unified Roman Christian identity is a fascinating idea.

What I can say is that these recordings sound really beautiful. For that reason alone, whatever their musicological merit might be, I find them quite compelling.

The latest in the series is hymnody from Christmas; the Vigil Mass, the Midnight Mass, the Mass at dawn, and the Mass of the day itself. If you’re used to the Gregorian repertoire, something like “Puer natus est nobis,” the introit for the Mass of Christmas day, is going to be quite foreign to you. It’s over twice as long as presented by EO (almost six minutes, as opposed to the two and a half minutes the Gregorian version typically takes), it’s a much more elaborate melody, it’s in a different mode, and the earthy, rich Byzantine approach is very different from the austerity employed by the typical Gregorian schola.

I suppose the value of a recording like this is that it gets people thinking differently about the context in which the Gregorian repertoire emerged and what that might imply for how it should be approached. It also suggests a way we might aurally frame the united Christendom of the Roman world, and how could have been both alike and different from the modern received chant traditions inherited from that world.

In the case of both of these recordings — told you I’d get to this eventually — you have a suggested musical ethos that draws from both the Christian East and West. Michaelides uses Western harmonic vocabulary to elaborate Eastern melodies and does so in a way that creates something new; Ensemble Organum uses Eastern stylistic practice to interpret Western melodies in order to suggest something very old.

These recordings share a common problem, too — essentially, what is the impact either of these recordings could potentially have on modern parish practice? Is there a Catholic church out there that is going to be rushing out to incorporate the Old Roman repertoire in their Christmas festivities? Despite Cappella Romana’s presentation of the Michaelides setting as music for practical use in worship rather than as a concert piece, is it likely to find a place in a church culture that sees the Liturgy as a sing-along and defines “participation” as “everybody sings everything”? Are people going to hear the recording and say, “Wow, our choir should sing this!” or are they going to say, “Boy, that sounds like it would be too hard for the congregation to be able to sing along with.” One thing about bad part-writing that caters to parts people are improvising anyway — it makes congregational singing very easy, if that’s the goal.

At any rate, I would love for the answer for both recordings to be “yes”. I would love to think that this kind of music could find a place in the venue for which it was written, the church, and not be treated as concert pieces best appreciated at arm’s length. I would love for Catholic and Orthodox churches to be striving for musical excellence, and to be incorporating music like this as a way to pursue that excellence. Time will tell.

In any case, both recordings would make excellent stocking stuffers, and consider them recommended.

Richard Barrett, poet

About this time last year there were a couple of moments that struck some kind of a chord with me and got scribbled down in something vaguely resembling verse form. I figured that I might as well see if anybody else thought they were any good, and submitted them to a particular publication with which I was familiar. They said no thanks, but I thought it was worth a second try. The second publication liked one of them enough (with one minor revision) to run it, and it looks like it will be coming out within the next month or two.

My poem “Moments in a Suddenly Fasting Kitchen” will be published in the Winter 2010 (36:3) issue of A Time of Singing: A Magazine of Christian Poetry. I get a contributor’s copy, but if anybody else would like one, please let me know before 19 December so I can get additional copies at contributor prices ($3.33 apiece if I buy them in multiples of three, as opposed to regular cover price of $6).

Strange how things work out sometimes — I never thought that “published poet” would be words that one could apply to me. There still is the one that Lora (Zill, the editor) did not use, plus a couple of others I’ve jotted down here and there, so maybe this could be more than just a one-time fluke, who knows.

(hack) Thanksgiving leftovers (koff)

It’s the first day of December. How the heck did that happen?

On the way out to New Mexico last week, I sat between a married couple who were both sick and kept coughing across me. It was Southwest Airlines, so seating was first come first serve, and they made it clear they would rather have me in the crossfire than give up either an aisle or a window seat. It must have been clear how this came across, because as we were getting off the plane, the wife said to me, “Don’t worry, you won’t catch anything from us — we’ve had this for the last four weeks.”

My stepfather was sick when I got to New Mexico. Flesh of My Flesh was sick on Thanksgiving day. My mom was getting sick over the weekend as we were preparing to leave.

So, perhaps it was inevitable, but Sunday evening I started developing a sore throat on the flight home, yesterday it was getting worse, and today I’m staying home trying to keep from getting worse or giving it to lots of people. I hate to be “that guy” who suspiciously gets sick immediately following a break, but here we are.

As I drink my gallon of Throat Coat tea, there are a few things upon which to muse:

  • My review copy of Cappella Romana’s recording of the Michaelides Divine Liturgy arrived in my absence, as did the Ensemble Organum disc I mentioned earlier. A full review will come shortly; for the moment, I will say only that both are worth your time and represent, in an odd way, flip sides of the same coin.
  • If you do iTunes, Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ 1993 album of Byzantine hymnody for Christmas has been rereleased in that format. It has been out of print for years as an actual disc, although there seem to be some used copies on Amazon. (Note that the iTunes release has a slightly different title: The Glory of Byzantium: Christmas Hymns.)
  • Rod Dreher is leaving the Dallas Morning News to become director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation. Close to four years ago, I started hearing various grumpy old men murmuring about “crunchy cons”. My godson Lucas at some point started reading the book and recommended I read it. It resonated quite a bit with me as somebody who looks more to Russell Kirk than Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin as a model of what conservatism should look like, and the point of the book seemed to me to be to ask how conservatives might, y’know, actually conserve something other than money or power or status. I gave copies of it to a lot of people, and I’m reasonably sure I know everybody in Bloomington who has read it (I’ll let you decide if I’m joking). I’ll fess up that, while a lot of Dreher’s critics had no patience for how he discussed food, I really appreciated what he had to say about a sacramental approach to it, and even if Michael Pollan isn’t using the word “sacramental”, his work and Dreher’s demonstrate that it can be a topic where liberals and conservatives can make common cause (and of course, Dreher interviewed Pollan for The American Conservative last year). Since the book came out, it has seemed as though he was searching unsuccessfully for a way to follow up what should have served as a strong statement of purpose; what he touted as a “sensibility” never quite materialized as a movement, exactly, eventually Crunchy Cons went out of print, and the hinted-at sequel about “the Benedict Option” never materialized, presumably because (as he kept saying in his blog) his newspaper job had become an exercise in self-preservation. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last four years; Dreher converted to Orthodox Christianity, and right now conservatism seems to be floundering on the very cultural essentials the importance of which he was trying to stress, consequently lurching even more towards negativity and hostility. My hope is that a break from political commentary will allow Dreher to follow up on the issues discussed in Crunchy Cons from a more purely cultural perspective, because I think that’s where his heart has wanted to go with it anyway.
  • There was an interesting article in the New York Times this last Sunday about the traditional Latin Mass. Even more interesting has been the discussion of it in places like The New Liturgical Movement and Commonweal. I’m really not sure what a “liturgist” is — a liturgical scholar? a liturgical composer? a person who interprets rubrics? — but what I find striking is how for many modern Catholics, it seems like the rupture from tradition is in fact a selling point. I was in a large, old stone Catholic church once where they were doing a lot of work to restore the interior. The high altar was still in place, and I asked somebody if it ever got used; the person I asked looked highly offended that I would even dare to mention the high altar’s existence, and said, “No, Vatican II turned the altars around and returned the focus of the Mass to the people,” and made it clear that was the end of the conversation. Sometimes it seems like the majority of Westerners truly and actively yearn for their worship to be sentimental, banal, and tacky. At any rate, I don’t have a dog in this fight (except insofar as I strongly disagree with certain parties who think Orthodoxy needs its own Vatican II), but it seems to me that the traditionalist and modernist narratives are irreconcilable, as the comments on Wolfe’s article indicate. What I will say is that the invocation by a commenter at Commonweal of C. S. Lewis (“The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual”) seems quite apt, and the apparent need, not just for the 1970 Missal to be embraced but for anything that ever came before it to be wiped from the face of the earth, is very telling — at least to me. At the risk of elevating aesthetics over all other concerns, I’ll point out that the Mass of St. Gregory inspired people like Josquin and Palestrina; the kinds of composers the Novus Ordo appears to have inspired are, shall we say, not even close.

Okay. I need more tea.


Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 212,600 hits

Flickr Photos

IMG_3558





More Photos