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So it has come to this.

As I suspected might happen, the talks I gave as a Lenten retreat at St. Paul’s Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA this last weekend have been posted to Ancient Faith Radio.

A few things: I’ll have a full write-up of the Emmaus trip a little later, but I had a lovely time. Fr. Andrew Damick is a wonderful priest with a wonderful parish, and I very much enjoyed getting to know all of them.

Nobody needs to tell me that there are some baubles in both talks, certainly in the musical examples, and then there are a couple of points that I certainly simplified for purposes of time. I also got a couple of things wrong (Philotheos Kokkinos is in fact a saint, as Fr. Andrew pointed out to me afterward, and Timothy McGee appears to be Canadian, not American, but at least he’s North American, I suppose). Fr. Andrew also mentions in my introduction that I’m “fluent” in Greek, which I most certainly am not, but he was being kind. On the musical baubles, I was also there as a guest cantor, by the time the first talk happened I had already sung three services, and while I was just mentally waking up by the time I went on, I was starting to lose a bit of musical steam. I know, excuses, excuses. Nonetheless, on the whole, I’m pleased with how they turned out.

This does represent at least a “soft opening” for the Saint John of Damascus Society, and while we’re still waiting for our tax-exempt status to come back before we really unveil everything, I can say that http://www.johnofdamascus.org is registered and will be live once tax-exempt status is in hand and we can really be open for business, as it were. In the meantime, if you’re intrigued by anything you hear in these talks, by all means ask me.

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4 Responses to “So it has come to this.”


  1. 1 Bill M 14 March 2012 at 9:22 am

    Enjoyed listening to your sessions. As someone coming in from outside, as it were, I don’t always get the appeal or “beauty” of chant and the Eastern modes. But your input here was interesting and helpful.

    In one session you joked by putting an English text to the tune of Amazing Grace, and I agree that particular joining was horrid. But I also wonder if there is a way to adopt American-sounding melodies and modes that would be appropriate to the text and the tradition. (I know this is a Big Topic, and much work is being done in that regard.)

    • 2 Richard Barrett 14 March 2012 at 10:01 am

      Well, I talk about that to some extent at the end of the second talk. I think there are ways to take certain elements of American vernacular music and see how they might interact with the framework of something like Byzantine chant. Church architect Andrew Gould’s process when designing churches that are recognizably Orthodox but also look like they belong in the place where they are is to say, What if Orthodox missionaries came here 200 years ago? What might have developed over time by the building tradition using local materials and so on? It seems to me you can do similar things with music. What happens if you sing Byzantine chant with a vocal quality used for Appalachian ballad or sacred harp singing? What happens if you assume that certain ornaments are going to be re-articulated in a way that might be intuitive for somebody from that kind of musical background? There is a counterargument that calls this “arbitrary historicization” and nothing more than a speculative exercise that constructs an imagined “authenticity”, and there might be something to that, but it strikes me as a better way to go than trying to figure out how to shoehorn these texts into melodies that were conceived of for a completely different context and function.

      I’ve encountered the argument that we shouldn’t be afraid to use Western settings of the texts we already use — maybe William Byrd’s Nunc dimittis at Vespers, for example. There’s something attractive about that; in that particular case, Byrd’s writing in Latin, so you know he meant it, so why not? I’d love to be part of the choir that could do that, I suppose, but to what end? Particularly given that it wouldn’t sound like anything else in your service, what would be the point except to draw attention to itself?

      These are interesting questions, and I think it’s interesting to play with what could be. (A couple of examples of my own experiments are posted under the “liturgical music” tab.) Over the years, though, I’ve been more and more persuaded that the best thing we can do is try to do the music that already is in use as well as we can, and rearticulate those music idioms into English as well as we can, using the best translations possible. Doing that will already go along way towards making it sound “American”, as far as I’m concerned.

  2. 3 Bill M 14 March 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. Good thoughts. I’ll confess I missed the last part of the second session, thanks to my Internet Connection From Perdition. I hope to get back to it again later, when streaming is working better.

    As someone who is trying to (a) flee from banal “worship” music ala Evangelicalism or (b) embrace Orthodox fullness or (c) some combination, I’m especially interested in the conversation about music and singing. I appreciate your blog, and your conversations with others more insightful than I.

    BTW – when do you pick up the thread of your life story posts? You left us hanging. (I say this as someone who has left his own blog to languish for a year. Irony.)

    • 4 Richard Barrett 14 March 2012 at 10:30 pm

      If there’s anything I can help illuminate any further for you, don’t hesitate to ask!

      Heh — I wasn’t sure anybody was actually reading those posts. I’ve had a rather adventuresome month, but I’m sitting still for a bit, so I’ll get back to that in the next day or so.


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