Notes from the psalterion

I have been the choir director and cantor at All Saints since the summer of 2005. I sang there for two years before that, and I had been a professional church singer in Anglican circles for several years before that (in fact, an Episcopal church was the very first place that ever paid me to sing). As an Orthodox church musician, I’ve tried on several fronts to contribute to the conversation about our liturgical music; if you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you’ll be familiar with some of the ways I’ve tried to contribute, so I won’t recap all of that here.
Lately, I’ve had a number of discussions with people about what the operating principles should be for music in our churches. What is the function of the cantor/choir director? How should they conceive of doing their jobs? How should the quality of their work be measured? In the spirit of my recent post about principles regarding church buildings, I wanted to try to list some of my conclusions. There will be some definite overlap with the principles about building; in a way, the person who sings in church interacts with the building in a manner that others do not, so perhaps this should not be surprising. Some of this I also talk about here,
  • Principle #0: The act that you are performing as a singer in church is the sung worship of God according to the practice and tradition of Orthodox Christianity. One may fairly insist that this is something different than a concert; one may also fairly insist that this is also something different than a campfire singalong, an exercise in nostalgia, the affirmation of somebody’s childhood, or the salving of one’s insecurities. At any rate, understood this way, singing in church is at once a privilege, a craft, and a discipline.
  • Principle #1: As the object of this sung worship is God, it is to be performed as prayerfully, skillfully, and within the parameters of the traditions governing the chosen style of music as the singer is capable of doing.
    • Principle #1a: This assumes that “performance” and “worship”, properly understood, do not constitute a dichotomy but parts of the same whole.
  • Principle #2: The easiest way to establish a tradition of good singing in a parish is to do it right from the start.
    • Principle #2a: At the very least, “doing it right from the start” means identifying and cultivating and talent (assuming you don’t have somebody from the get-go who knows what they’re doing), and providing the person who has that talent with the necessary resources to continue to improve.
    • Principle #2b: It will be far more practical in the long run to pick one musical idiom that you can do well than to try to do several and do them all at varying levels of mediocrity. 19th century Russian polyphony and Byzantine chant were never intended to coexist in the same service, and they require two entirely different musical skill sets.
      • Principle #2b.1: When picking this musical idiom, fight your weight. If you have a choir of five or six people and are meeting in borrowed office space, big Russian polyphony probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.
    • Principle #2c: “Doing it right from the start” requires the will to do so from more parties than just the cantor or choir director.
  • Principle #3: Musicians are your friends. They are the ones trained to think about how musical matters need to be addressed, much as how an iconographer is the one trained to know how something is supposed to work with an icon or  an architect is the one trained to know how to design a building. If they hear something you can’t, that’s a good thing; that means that they’re doing their job.
    • Principle #3a: The best musicians will also be able to teach the non-musician how to do it properly. Let them.
    • Principle #3b: In the same way that you would expect to pay an iconographer or an architect, expect to pay your cantor/choir director. The worker is worthy of his wages. If this is simply not an option, then there needs to be some way that the value of the cantor’s job is expressed.
  • Principle #4: The amount of singing in our services, to say nothing of the number of “moving parts”, as it were, in any given service, means that rehearsal should be considered a non-negotiable point. If you wish to be among those singing in the choir, it is your responsibility to come to rehearsal. This is the “discipline” part of the equation.
    • Principle #4a: Along these lines, always be mindful of improvement; don’t be satisfied with maintenance. If we truly have God as the object of our worship, then there is no “good enough” as such.
    • Principle #4b: If you are fortunate enough to have a choir of people that can read music in multiple notation systems and four different languages more or less perfectly the first time, then you might be able to reconsider the need for rehearsal.
  • Principle #5: Another non-negotiable point needs to be provision of physical resources for the singers. At bare minimum, these should include proper acoustics, an intentional space for the choir, necessary liturgical furniture, and necessary liturgical books. Acoustics and space cannot be afterthoughts; a cantor who has to make up for a dead room will not be able to do so indefinitely — it really constitutes a physical danger to the voice, and I cannot stress that enough. In terms of space, people (and music stands) still take up space no matter how small your building is, and you must plan properly for that. There are traditional places for singers to stand, and generally those places work very well if planned for.
  • Principle #6: The various systems of modes and special melodies (and yes, even notation), as impossibly complex as they may initially seem, are actually there to help organize and simplify the cantor’s job. The better you learn them, the less stressful of a time you will have in the long run.
  • Principle #7: Good liturgy and good music aid each other. Good settings will do a good job of cooperating with the liturgical action that they accompany; clergy that are celebrating properly will also help good settings fit in naturally with the liturgical action. In other words, a good Cherubic Hymn will be long enough to cover what’s happening at the altar while it’s being sung, and a priest will find that a properly-set Cherubic Hymn means that he doesn’t have to rush through everything in preparation for the Great Entrance.

As I said, this has all come out of my experience as a church musician. As with the building principles, it’s a set of “core ideals” rather than a step-by-step guide — this doesn’t tell you when to schedule rehearsals or how to run them or what repertoire to choose and so on. These are all very, very important things, to be sure. This is, put simply, what I suggest as what the base assumptions should be.

So — thoughts? What am I leaving out? What do I have wrong?


43 Responses to “Notes from the psalterion”

  1. 1 kevinbasil 22 April 2012 at 5:05 pm

    While you are mostly correct about the incongruity of “19th century Russian polyphony and Byzantine chant,” Russian chant comes in many textures, and wide, eight-part harmony is only one of these. Ideally, a church should be using variety in musical texture to support the arc of the service as well as invite* the faithful to participate on appropriate levels.** When a service has such a textural variety, there is no reason why Byzantine chant sung monophonically with an ison cannot transition seamlessly into a Russian chant sung to an ison (vis å vis Valaam, among others) or a simple two-part harmonization. Also, the harmonizations of Karam are part of your tradition. (Thank God.)

    *We ignore the inherent psychological power of music (by calling it sentimentality or nostalgia) at our peril.

    **For example, meditative contemplation during stichera and cherubica, and singing during refrains and well-known apolytikia.

    • 2 Richard Barrett 22 April 2012 at 5:24 pm

      The harmonizations of Karam are in use in Antiochian parishes, yes. I’m not comfortable calling them part of any particular tradition; I’ve no doubt that Dr. Karam was a capable musician, but his 4-part arrangements strike me as generally failed experiments. Harmonizing modal melodies in a way that doesn’t destroy the modal character of said melodies is always a tricky matter.

      I agree that variety in musical texture should be used to support the arc of the service, but I think I mean it differently than the way you do. In the repertoire of Byzantine chant, for example, there are several textures and styles depending on the liturgical action; syllabic, melismatic, papadic. If one is using Byzantine chant, one does not particularly need to look for those different textures outside of that repertoire. I’m not as familiar with the variety of Slavic repertoires to know how they solve those particular problems. In any event, maybe I’ve just never heard it done well, but I always find the transition from one idiom to another to be awkward, jarring, and unnecessary.

      In terms of the psychological power of music, I don’t disagree with you; however, I find that catering to sentimentality and nostalgia generally tends to cultivate a sense of entitlement that is completely out of place when one is talking about the liturgy. If it’s a result and not a starting point, that strikes me as a better balance. For me, it’s along the lines of what Lewis says about shooting for heaven and getting earth thrown in, but if you shoot for earth, you get neither. Shoot for the heavenly dimension of the liturgy, and the earthly benefits will get thrown in.

      • 3 Ole Kern 24 April 2012 at 12:59 am

        A few things:

        1) Regarding “failed expirements”, the Karam stuff is not really “failed”…yet. Time will tell. I actually like some of the Desby stuff…even if I don’t really agree with the general concept of harmonizing Byzantine in general. Now, when you want to talk “fail”, or should I say, has failed, and those who use it need to come out of denial and accept it and move on, then this refers to most Fr. John Finley stuff. I love him and his family dearly, I really do, but that stuff he wrote in the late 80’s and 90’s needs to be put to rest in the musical graveyard. (I shouldn’t be able to [in some facetious sense] proudly and/or confidently say that I know the tenor part to the Great Doxology in Byzantine Tone 8….but I do.)

        2) On picking one musical idiom, I agree more with Kevin Basil on this and think that your sense of needing to conform to one idiom betrays your own musical experience and background. It seems to be caught in the old cultural “purist” influences of those that we both know that I will not name. 🙂 On the other hand, you do have a point – I would just clarify that one needs to be VERY CAREFUL about mixing musical idioms, due to the reasons you mentioned of mediocrity, awkwardness, etc. I’ve mentioned before and will again. I think the biggest elephant in the room to defining an American Orthodox Church (and music), is the concept of what is “American” regarding culture. Too often, those with good intentions (and I think foremost of those I grew up with in the EOC, but others as well), calling something “American” sounding when what they really unintentionally mean is “Protestant” sounding (tonally speaking). To start with, think of food: how is Mexican or Chinese not American food? It is to me! I never grew up with Bluegrass (living in the Santa Barbara area) – it’s not tyipcal American to me! We need to figure out our culture first before things can really solidify. In the meantime, yes, just as the USA is a melting pot, so is the Church in America. Of course, this varies GREATLY form parish to parish. So, really, on a practical level, the music in a parish should reflect the makeup of the parish, or the changing makeup of the parish. Some parishes, it will make sense to be rather mono-idiom in the musicality for a parish, while others it should be rather diverse.

  2. 4 Richard Barrett 24 April 2012 at 9:47 am

    1) When I say “failed”, I’m talking musically. No doubt there are parishes that have embraced the Karam settings, but strictly from a musical standpoint, “failed experiment” is the kindest thing I can say. Fr. John’s music I can’t say that I’ve sung very much except at big events like PSALM or SMI, and I think the best thing for me to say is that it comes across to me like the product of a completely different era. I’m curious, do you know any of old EOC music of David Wey? He’s a priest in the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA now. He and his family live in Indianapolis, and his son is a good friend of mine as well as a very talented composer in his own right. Fr. David has, shall we say, distanced himself from a lot of his old compositions, but the interesting thing is that we have an old-time EOC-er from WAY back at our parish who proudly talks about still using Fr. David’s music (particularly the Trisagion) in his own personal prayer life and complains that we don’t sing any of it in the choir. “That’s what I think of when I think of what American Orthodox church music should sound like,” he’s said before.

    2) I don’t think “needing to conform to one idiom” is precisely what I said. I’m talking about practicality. If you have the limited musical resources that seem to be typical, to me it doesn’t make any sense to say, “Let’s do this part this way, that part that way,” etc. A choir that is jack (at best) of all trades and master of none seems to me to be the wrong solution, is my point. Better to focus energies on one thing you can do well. Also, I understand what you’re getting at with “reflecting the makeup of the parish, or the changing makeup of the parish,” and the motivating impulse is good, but as a choir director, that phrase gives me a heart attack, because that’s telling me that my job will always be one of playing catchup and, frankly, figuring out quotas. I’ve already seen how that can go bad, and it horrifies me on multiple fronts. No, thank you.

  3. 6 Ole Kern 24 April 2012 at 2:52 pm

    1) I’m not familiar with Fr. David Wey. I looked on and only see a few JDF things and none were the harmonized Byz stuff I remember. I recall having this conversation with a friend recently, and he mentioned something like that even Fr. John now is distancing himself and not a fan of some of this older harmonized Byz. I think those at St. Athanasius itself just want to hang on to some of his music for the sake of nostalgia instead of letting it peacefully go into the musical graveyard. On another note (no pun intended), I remember hearing a former HOOM/CSB priest say, “Bluegrass music is Orthodox music.” and me just rolling my eyes. Those from that part of the country just seem some inherent sacredness in that music I guess.

    2) I think we be talking past each other partly. Besides the makup of your parish, musical resources definitely need to be taken into consideration. And I don’t think it would be “playing cathup” or figuring out quotas. You just slowly introduce new pieces and keep what works. It is a rather gradual thing. Keep in open mind and don’t focus on those problem situations you may have seen.

    • 7 Richard Barrett 24 April 2012 at 6:37 pm

      Here’s the thing – I’m not making a black-and-white case that “musical diversity is bad”. That isn’t what I said. If there is a way it makes sense, can be done well, and flows organically from the situation you have, great. Good on you. I’ve never seen a church actually make it work, and I’ve seen a lot of examples of it being done badly and self-consciously, but I don’t rule out the possibility that it can be done. I’m saying that the number of times I’ve seen it done badly leads me to believe that it is at least questionable for a parish with limited musical resources to make it an explicit objective, and that a better guiding principle, at least from a musical standpoint, is pick one thing you can do, not just well, but also gradually better and better.

      Honestly, the kind of musical diversity that strikes me as possibly ideal is on a service to service basis, not on a hymn to hymn basis. That’s treating each service as a unit rather than a crazy quilt of bits and pieces, and it seems to me to be more in keeping with the organic nature of our services. The first time I ever went to a Divine Liturgy where it was clear that the chanters just pulled the book off the shelf and sang the service for that day as written in their books, it gave me a completely different picture than the hodgepodge that had been previously presented to me as normative. The service was a seamless garment, with no committees, no self-conscious accommodations of this or that group, no need to throw bones. It was just the Divine Liturgy. That seems to me to be an ideal. Whether that’s Byz chant or Znamenny or whatever perhaps is less important than that organic unity itself.

      It also seems to me that the heritage of the jurisdiction is also a factor to consider.

      As far as “Bluegrass music is Orthodox music” goes, there’s something authentic being expressed there, I think, in that Orthodox liturgical music generally draws on elements of local folk tradition. What actually constitutes “local folk tradition” in this country is a complicated question, but I actually think there are more shared qualities between certain kinds of American vernacular singing, including bluegrass and something like shapenote, and traditional forms of Orthodox music. Byz chant and shapenote both are sung with robust vocal quality, melisma and ornamentation I would argue are executed in identifiably similar ways between Byz and some of those folk idioms, and so on. If you listen to a shapenote recording, then listen to the Boston Byzantine Choir, then listen to the Cappella Romana Divine Liturgy in English, then listen to the Lycourgos Angelopoulos Divine Liturgy (for example), I think there’s an audible common thread. This is part of why I think the argument that “Western ears don’t like Byz chant” is nonsense. They’ll like it just fine if you actually sing it well with well-composed materials in English, because similarities to things that should sound “local” will be less obscured. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear Byzantine chant, if actually transmitted in its traditional form in this country (albeit in English), start to sound like bluegrass after a couple of generations, at least in some places.

      • 8 Steve Allen 24 April 2012 at 9:55 pm

        I am not a Reader or Psalti, but I have been doing music since I was 7 officially, and probably before that unofficially. I was raised Baptist and my musical roots go deep in the hills of Appalachia. To say I appreciate bluegrass is an understatement.

        I can definitely feel where the one who said, “bluegrass is Orthodox music” is coming from. I wholeheartedly second the motion. Your statement about Byz morphing into bluegrass-ish sound after a couple of generations is spot on, I think.

        Dr. Clark Carlton would agree, I think, also. 🙂 (

        Just listen to these songs, which he mentions, by the Old Regular Baptists ( and tell me that that style doesn’t capture both the simplicity and complexity, heavenly but grounded (“earthy”, “rooted”) ethos of Orthodox music done right!

        A couple of examples. When I first heard Monk Martin’s arrangement of It is Meet (, I heard it sung in a local mission parish in Chico, CA, not on the monastery’s CD. I point out the difference b/c the monastery’s CD edition, while quite beautiful, is, in my opinion, balanced wrong and too “straight-laced” for the style of music Monk Martin has told me in person that he was trying to capture: Appalachia and the Smokey Mountains.

        When I heard it sung in Chico, during the Liturgy, the cantor performed it from the depths of the soul (as all worship should be, of course). I could almost see the smoke rising from the hills of North Carolina. But that was an effect, and not the main one. It awoke in me a true sense of joy and fittingness, and all of the other wonderful things that come with praising the Theotokos. Most importantly, it drew me much deeper into the flow of the Liturgy, which up to that point had been in mostly Russian polyphony, although in English.

        My home parish now is an Antiochian parish, with a healthy blend of Russian, “americanized byzantine” and simple byzantine done by a Psalti of immense talent (and deep spirituality as far as I can tell). So yes, it can be done right. I hear it every Sunday.

        I do enjoy Byzantine (done right) also: more so, in fact, than polyphony of any kind. At the same time, I can’t wait to begin to hear that “bluegrassy byzantine”. Perhaps in my lifetime? I don’t know. I just know that one of the smaller motivations to become holy is that (in my humble opinion) that blend will definitely be sung in heaven. 😉

        Now, that doesn’t mean that we are limited to monophonic or ison-based music with a Bluegrass twist! No…this next example’s style might be a little much for Church, but…you see where this could go if blended with Russian polyphony also. ( The possibilities are endless.

      • 9 Richard Barrett 24 April 2012 at 10:05 pm

        Hi Steve,

        Thanks for your comment, especially for the link to Monk Martin’s Megalynarion. I wasn’t familiar with his work. It is perhaps not unlike some experimental settings of the Cherubic Hymn and Gladsome Light I played with a few years ago (you can find them under the “Liturgical Music” tab).

        Glad to make your acquaintance; pull up a chair and stay awhile!


      • 10 Ole Kern 25 April 2012 at 1:23 pm

        You guys just keep bringing topics familiar to me…

        Bluegrass/Orthodox: while I can understand the sentiment, keep in mind that this ONLY applies to those areas in the eastern United States with that background. Think of the Greater Rus with all of it’s diverse subcultures and related different tonal systems. “Bluegrass” would just be a small subset that applies to an ever-shrinking population group. Could work for the Orthodox of the eastern-Midwest and southeast, but likely not for the populous Northeast, Alaska and Western US. From how I see it, this idea is propagated more by those convert-type with roots in the Midwest/Southeast and/or Baptist backgrounds. Doesn’t really apply to the rest of us. I don’t think the idea should be tossed, but at least kept in check.

        As far as Chico and Fr. Martin goes, I was one of the founding members of that parish and I’ve known Fr. Martin for about 10 years. I find it rather interesting that you think Fr. Martin’s It Is Truly Meet was done better in Chico (maybe by their choir director Ruth Greenfield, an awesome Mezzo-Soprano herself) than by the Monastery Choir of which Fr. Martin directs. I’ll have to check out that Wayfaring Stranger link tonight – there are so many versions out there of that song.


        Re: shapenote singing. I had heard the term, but had no idea what it was until a year or so ago. Nicolas Custer (my choir director) and myself were at the the Kohl’s to sing some Renaissance and other stuff for fun (Lia was in town between semesters). Juliana (Lia’s mom) brought out some shapenote pieces for us to sing. From singing through them, I realized that I knew them from the Anonymous 4 American Angels album. I guess the shapenotes can help some people, but they just looked like some curious novelty to me and didn’t really help me at all. It looks to me like some visual version of “Fixed Do”.

      • 11 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 2:54 pm

        Well, this gets to some of why I don’t think “American Orthodoxy” works, conceptually. There’s no cohesive national culture. One could argue that there are more or less cohesive regional or local cultures, so perhaps you could do it that way.

        The Anonymous 4 recording is lovely, but it’s actually a really bad representation of what “authentic” Sacred Harp singing sounds like. It’s beautifully sung by an ethereal-sounding women’s early music ensemble, and that’s the antithesis of what shapenote sounds like in its proper context. The Tudor Choir’s Shapenote Album is a lot closer, but it’s still a little too “nice” sounding. You’re absolutely right about it being a visual mnemonic for a fixed Do system.

        As for the next installment, I’m working on it. Sometime in the next week, I think, now that Holy Week is past us and I’m on the mend physically.

  4. 12 Julia Campbell 25 April 2012 at 1:42 pm

    As the director of a small Antiochian church choir I really struggle with mixing the Russian and Byzantine styles. I am often asked to do this.
    Every year we sing bishop Basil’s setting of the Pascal Canon and then for the 9th ode I am asked to sing the Russian setting of The Angel Cried. It really bothers me. I also can’t stand singing a Russian tropar at the entrance and then going into a harmonized Byzantine kontakion. If anyone has some suggestions for me I would be grateful. It has been very difficult for me to explain that musically it is very unsettling, compositionally unsatisfying, and totally breaks the flow of worship.
    Awkward does not even begin to explain it. Thankful for this site.I really need other chanters and directors to explore these ideas.


    • 13 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Julia — I think the St. John of Damascus Society will hopefully be able to be of some help to you in the long run.

      The Balakirev “The Angel Cried”, for reasons unbeknownst to me, appears to be the national anthem of Midwestern Orthodoxy (and you just said a “Russian setting”, so I don’t know if it’s the same one, I’m just commiserating). One gets horrified, aghast facial expressions akin to what one might get if skinning puppies alive were to be proposed if one suggests to anybody anywhere that there might be other settings worth singing. I find it, personally, to be ham-handed and bombastic, but the looks of beatific bliss that one sees looking out over the congregation at the Megalynarion during Paschaltide, even when it’s sung really badly, make it clear that angry pitchforks and torches would be the result of replacing it.

      There aren’t really easy answers. What I suggest requires some advance planning, but could well be worth it. Pick a feast — NOT Pascha — where you might have fewer people than normal, say on a weekday. Make sure it’s 2-3 (if not 4-5) months down the road. Pick a musical idiom that you can do an entire Liturgy with for that feast and rehearse it thoroughly over the course of that 4-5 months so that when the Liturgy for that feast arrives, the complaint CAN’T be, “It wasn’t sung very well.” See how the cohesion works, see how the subsection of people who are there for that feast respond to it, see how your priest responds to it. As I’ve suggested, if you do it right, it should actually work very well liturgically and should make things smoother for clergy and choir. The congregation will probably hear things they don’t know, but for some feasts that perhaps should be expected, so they may be less eager to pull out the knives.

      Does that help? Feel free to e-mail me if I can be of any help — rrbarret AT indiana . edu.

      • 14 Steve Allen 25 April 2012 at 3:55 pm

        “ham-handed and bombastic”…haha….that’s probably why they like it. Same goes for most shape note and bluegrass music. In fact, now that I think about it…that’s pretty much the Appalachian/Southern/mid-western cultural ethos in just about every area. “We’re Americans, damn it. Go big or go home.”

        Maybe that’s why it strikes such a chord (pun fully intended) with them. Ok, who am I kidding…with -us-? (to include myself)

        On another note, “ham-handed and bombastic” definitely describes the general feeling of Pascha in general….to me anyway. I think it’s maybe the only approach that can carry the full weight of the joy and glory that is the Feast of Feasts. 🙂

      • 15 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 4:09 pm

        …yyyyyyyyeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhh. This is where I just have to shake my head and plead cultural difference, because it drives me nuts. I find “the weight of the joy and glory that is the Feast of Feasts” to carry plenty of gravitas on its own without including theater for the deaf. I have said before that I’m not convinced that Americans do “reverently and enthusiastically” well, at least not at the same time, and this is one of the kinds of things I’m thinking about. Call me a godless Pacific Northwesterner, but there we go.

      • 16 Steve Allen 25 April 2012 at 4:27 pm

        “Theater for the deaf” …. I actually LOL’d. 🙂

      • 17 Ole Kern 25 April 2012 at 6:56 pm

        Psshhhh….”ham-handed and bombastic”? Not at all…try the Markarov then. That’s what I remember St. Athanasius doing…but I think they may have also done the Balakriev.

        More on the Balakriev per se. Fr. Stephan Meholick was saying during a PSALM seminar that the Balakriev only came into popular use over the past 40-50 years. Carpatho-Russians in Pennsylvannia sang some other version 50+ years ago.

        As to awkardness/transition, refer back to Kevinbasil’s post. Think of it maybe more as changing gears, transitioning to another part of the service (e.g. Canon to Praises), waking up the congregation or something else. In the case of The Angel Cried, what about other using something to help transition to the beginning of liturgy, like other pieces for the Exapostalarion and praises with Harmony. As to Pascha specifically, w/o using Richard’s hyperbole, you’re only going to cause undue angst among the congregation. Probably not worth fighting that battle, but other things can be changed to soften transitions.

      • 18 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 10:08 pm

        I think ultimately what you have to do, if a comprehensive re-thinking inclusive of Pascha is what you want to do, is do the rest of the year the way you want to do it really well, don’t touch Pascha, but nonetheless make it noticeable that somehow Pascha doesn’t fit in with the rest of what you’re doing. It’s a long-term project, to be sure.

      • 19 Ole Kern 25 April 2012 at 6:58 pm

        A Richard? What about that certain Greek island where rival parishes shoot fireworks at each other during the paschal services? Doesn’t seem reverant to me. 😉

      • 20 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 10:08 pm

        Oh, trust me, that’s not the kind of thing I would ever seek out (or defend) either.

      • 21 Julia Campbell 25 April 2012 at 7:36 pm

        Thank you, Richard. I am definitely going pursue your suggestions and stick to my guns.

      • 22 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 10:09 pm

        You’re welcome! Please let me know how I can help.

  5. 23 Steve Allen 25 April 2012 at 2:14 pm

    As for Chico vs. monastery CD…yes, IMHO, Ruth and that choir did a better job. But I mean no disrespect to the monastery choir. The CD was just balanced wrong, plain and simple. I go up to the monastery quite a bit (about once a quarter), and have heard it in person as well several times. It sounds better in person, but is still very….”tight-laced”….if you will; better, though, than the CD. I love Fr. Martin and the monastery choir to death. I just happen to prefer Ruth’s style of performing his arrangement because….well, it had more “hills” in it. 🙂

    Anyway…regarding the “local” character of bluegrass…Yes, you’re right. Bluegrass proper is a very regional thing. Except that it’s musical forms are the basis for pretty much all of Country, and Western, and it shares the same roots in the Celtic lands as just about every other “American” genre out there, to one extent or another.

    It is one of the three predominant musical “parent sounds” in this country. (The other two being classical European composition, and African folk music.)

    I think that for these reasons, adopting some of bluegrass’s structure (organically, of course), would be the best “bridge” if you will, between old world Byzantine and a sound genuinely palatable to the American ear.

    On the other hand, as was pointed out previously, the gap between Byzantine and the American ear isn’t actually that much (sometimes, as in my case, nonexistent), when Byzantine is done right.

    So…maybe the problem is not so much that we need to make an American Orthodox musical sound, but rather that we need to start viewing our musical service as a demanding craft, to be actively mastered in love for and exultation in our Lord. See 1 Chronicles 15:22 (compare KJV & ESV, particularly). Also verse 16. Also 25:7. But that’s what the blog post said already. 🙂

  6. 24 Steve Allen 25 April 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Oh, and Richard…thanks for the welcome. I quite enjoyed listening to your Ancient Faith Radio presentations.

    • 25 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Thank you, Steve. I haven’t been at all clear what, if any, reception those have been getting. There are some angry e-mails I expect to get from certain people that haven’t come, so I’ve been inclined to think that they’ve mostly just been ignored.

  7. 26 kevinbasil 25 April 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Look, let’s get this straight: The angels are singing Balakirev’s harmonization of Valaam chant before the throne right this minute, because it’s our Lady’s favorite. And she sings along. So if you like your hellfire with extra hot sauce, keep up the jokes. 😉

    • 27 Steve Allen 25 April 2012 at 6:32 pm

      I haven’t laughed that hard while at my work desk in a very long time. Thanks! 🙂

    • 28 Richard Barrett 25 April 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Okay, man. If you say so. 🙂

    • 29 Dan 5 May 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Sorry to post over a week later – just perusing back.

      Anyway, you make a good satirical point here, but don’t get too judgmental either. The first time I heard this setting, after being in a Greek church for several years, I suddenly found myself weeping uncontrollably – the reality of pascha hit me like a sack full of bricks. Easily the most powerful experience of church music in my life. And it wasn’t even done ‘well.’ I still cry every year hearing this ‘ham-handed’ hymn.

      Just remember you’re dealing with real people. Charlatans we may be, but we are also Christians. And even if we don’t know a thing about music, we appreciate being considered from time to time.

      • 30 Richard Barrett 5 May 2012 at 11:26 pm

        I’m not entirely sure if you’re taking me to task or Kevin Basil, but here’s the thing. For the most part, the inevitable place for this to devolve to is “I like what I like and you like what you like, and I prefer my gut reactions to be given preference over yours.” And that’s fine (kind of — I thought our worship was intended to quell the passions?), but there seem to me to be a lot of assumptions that probably should be teased out and looked at regarding whose gut reactions should be preferable and whose we can safely discount as irrelevant. From where I sit, for example, I get to hear a lot about how Byzantine chant is “inappropriate” and “unfriendly” to “Western” ears, how it’s “nasal” and “harsh”, how it’s “camel-driving music”, how it “sounds Muslim”, and to be frank, more often than not I’m just expected to take it as “indisputable fact” that the “American mission” is going to “respond better” to the stuff like Balakirev (whatever all these terms actually mean). Given where the discourse generally is when it comes to how this stuff is talked about in English, I think a “ham-fisted” or two about Russian polyphony can be taken in stride amongst friends. There’s a discussion actively going on right now about this stuff having implications for the fitness of a particular man for a particular episcopate, and I have to ask myself — really?

        To get this away from subjective “But I like this!” “Oh yeah? But I like THAT!” approaches, here’s a practical point that is one of the many things I get hung up on when singing Balakirev gets treated as a foregone conclusion independent of any other circumstances. The thing is, “The Angel Cried” isn’t just “The Angel Cried”. It’s the Megalynarion sung during the Divine Liturgy of Paschaltide, yes. It’s also the refrain and irmos of the ninth ode of the canon, which means it’s also a link back to Matins, and which also means it should sound like the rest of the canon. If you’re doing a setting of the canon that can manage some kind of continuity with Balakirev’s “The Angel Cried”, great. I won’t argue with that. But, if you’re not, then why are you singing it? It seems to me to be a “greatest hits” and “crowd pleasers” approach to music selection that, from my perspective, does violence to the unity of the services — something that, as the cantor, I have to think about, even if the congregation just wants to hear what they want to hear. It’s not about any one particular person’s gut reaction, whether that person be in the congregation or in the choir.

        Now, I’ve had this conversation a sufficient number of times to know that these are thoughts that tend to be received with roughly the same level of ruffled feathers as if I were threatening to kill puppies, and I doubt this is likely to be any different. Still, I assure you, when people like me think about these things and raise these issues, we’re really not trying to be the elite bad guys taking something away from the people. More often than not, we’re just trying to do the best we can with what we have.

      • 31 Julia Campbell 6 May 2012 at 8:50 pm

        Wow, I really wasn’t prepared for this kind of emotional dialogue. I am simply trying to learn how choir directors handle these kind of situations. I was trying to find my way on how to sing non-byzantine settings in a sensible way within the context of what my church has adopted as an Antioochian convert church with many of our newest parishoners being Russian. Being the primary chanter and choir director I often have to decide how hard I will object to the preferences of my priest when I feel that musically something doesn’t fit and actually disturbs the flow of the worship. I really liked the idea of looking at a service as a whole and choosing pieces with that in mind and I feel at peace with this as an approach. I,
        at one time was a liberty to do this, but I have yielded cowardly perhaps to non musician preferences.

        Today I experienced the uncomfortable task of singing The Doxastikon for the Parlytic in tone 8 Byzantine sandwiched in between the Russian canon. It was not pretty and it caught me off guard, embarrassed me as the chanter responsible for the execution.This has pushed me to CALMLY realize that this is unacceptable and as a musician I cannot do it anymore.

        I appreciate this site and the thoughtfulness of the many who addressed this issue with me. I am continuing to learn and with counsel and support I hope to make the right decisions and to learn much.

        Thank you Richard for your input.

        Julia Campbell

      • 32 Dan 6 May 2012 at 8:32 pm

        Thanks for a good response, Richard. I should say that I agree with virtually everything you’ve said in this post and its replies. I love what you’re seeking to do here, and I don’t consider you an elite bad guy. But, alas, it’s very hard on the internet to make the kind of comment I wanted to make while also conveying that it’s just a point for consideration, not an accusation of any kind. So, anyway, no ruffled feathers here, although I have heard those rumours about the puppy killing… 😉

        I don’t think people’s feelings, even feelings as strong as mine, are a trump card on these issues, or that they should be one. Otherwise, we’ve just got trump cards trumping more trump cards, and everything goes crazy. But, for those out there actually making these decisions, people’s feelings and preferences, I think, ought to be factored in. What I don’t like to see is any of us just deciding the “right” way to do things and not being sensitive about the real impact we might be having (I’m not accusing you of that, by the way, just warning against it). We can deal with that in a number of ways, including just talking about it in a way that takes the other seriously, and ranging all the way to sometimes doing something musically or artistically “wrong” because that’s what everyone else in the room really wants and needs. Like any service in the Church, this is all about responsibility in the end, not control (again, not accusing you of forgetting that). I posted because I thought the tone of a little of what was said might reveal some slippage in our remembrance of these facts, and I figured I could constructively bring that up without creating a stupid fight about nothing (which is where these things usually go, as you well know).

        To be honest, I’m mostly speaking here against my personal failings, hints of which I see in the above conversation. I have a tendency to just see what I think is the “right” way to do things, and then dismiss whoever it is that wants them done some other way. But, I’ve learned over time that when those tables are turned, it can be difficult – and so I struggle to be more understanding, and more patient. I just wanted to add a reminder that we should all do that to this conversation. You can still choose not to do Balakirev at your church, and you have every right to hate it musically! Your practical points are good and quite rational, though I’d also point out that this isn’t all about rationality either. But anyway when you make any kind of decision like this, it requires prayerful patience, love and forgiveness, and it also requires entertaining the possibility of giving in to your congregants even when they’re wrong. Let me be quick to note, though, it also requires from them accepting the possibility that you will change something, and they will have to adapt.

        Anyway, my guess is you don’t violate any of those principles in what you do – I just wanted to post them here for those who read, and for myself, frankly.

        By the way, I absolutely realize that what I’m saying here cuts both ways, and I’m very well aware that people attached to something are probably even more likely than someone like you to fail to act with loving patience. So, I’m not trying to single you out. But, this is all worth remembering, I think.

        Ah, and I love Byzantine chant and I think its exotic qualities actually add to its appeal for many outsiders. Certainly did for me. I’d trade my Balakirev hymn for well-done Byzantine chant in English in a heartbeat. But, here in Canada, the latter simply doesn’t exist. Anyway, I TOTALLY resonate with your underlying point that tailoring our worship to a perceived appeal to “outsiders” doesn’t work and should never motivate us – especially because I think a lot of the time we’re actually wrong about what those outsiders want in the first place. If we are worshiping with all our hearts and all our minds, that is what will be seen. Thank you for your incredible efforts to help your parish, and the whole Church in North America to do that better and better in our music.

      • 33 Richard Barrett 6 May 2012 at 11:34 pm

        Thanks for the discussion, all; this is stuff that becomes difficult and emotional — perhaps more difficult and emotional than it needs to be — because there are lots of pet subjectivities at play. For my own part, as a church musician, I don’t like unfunded mandates. There’s a lot I’d like to be able to say to elucidate exactly what I mean and why the Balakirev is somewhat emblematic of this for me, but I think it would be wiser not to do so at this stage. Rather, what I will say is that there are times, when discussing these issues, when I get the impression that when the choir is talked about as “leading worship”, what is actually meant by some when they use the phrase “leading worship” is something very different than what I assume it means as a church musician — setting a tone, establishing an appropriate musical ethos, effectively forming the congregation’s experience of this part of the liturgical aesthetic, conveying that which is in the hymn, etc. What is meant is perhaps not leadership at all, but actually following — “Sing what we expect you to sing so that we can sing what we want to sing.” There are circumstances I’m familiar with when I think that simply cueing up a recording would be a much simpler way to go and would ultimately make such people a lot happier (and lest that be taken as hyperbole, I have read of instances where exactly that has been done).

        But part of the problem is that, as I see it, in our handwringing North American setting, we’ve made so many things negotiable, so many things dependent on this or that preference, that there’s really no way out of pretty much everything being a question of somebody’s preference, and everybody knows it, so there’s constant jockeying over whose preference wins. I’m familiar with one case where there was a weekday Vespers that was doubling as something of a gathering for a number of parishes in a particular area. In the typikon applicable to this parish, one does not sing “O Gladsome Light” except for a Great Vespers, which this was not. A parishioner and sometime choir member approached the choir director and asked, Hey, can we sing this setting of Gladsome Light by composer X for this Vespers service, since everybody from the other churches will be there and they’ll probably know it? The choir director told this person, Oh, I’m sorry, this is a weekday Vespers, and that hymn is just read for a weekday Vespers, so that’s what we’ll be doing. Well, the person who was asking got very upset at this answer, gave a speech about how in their church growing up (which was in a different jurisdiction) there was never a Vespers where “Gladsome Light” wasn’t sung. Later on, that choir director got a call from the priest saying, “Sing ‘Gladsome Light’ for this Vespers. I know it’s a weekday Vespers, but it’s the only way this person will leave me alone about it.” From what I’m told, the person who complained about not singing Gladsome Light for a weekday Vespers was ultimately emboldened to pick fights with the choir director on all sorts of things. Better to have told this person no, inevitably making them feel like they weren’t listened to in the short run but keeping them from being contentious about other things down the road? Well, I might say yes, but as I often tell my own priest, perhaps this is why it’s good I’m not a priest. Perhaps if I were a priest I’d understand why that just isn’t really an option.

        Still, the point remains, we make everything negotiable and we wind up enabling a lot of problematic behavior that makes it harder, not easier, for musicians (and I daresay priests and deacons) to do their jobs. Their job becomes less serving the appointed services and more making sure people X, Y, and Z all feel like they’ve been affirmed somehow. There may well be value in that, but at some point I submit it’s unreasonable to expect a choir director to function as a therapist or, in extreme situations perhaps, a babysitter. Stories like that make me really wary of identifying “the people” as a discrete interest group whose “needs” have to be “considered”. It strikes me as making it too easy for individuals to see it as all about them. Again, this is puppy-killing territory in my experience, and I don’t know how you resolve it, but I have learned from my own experience, as well as the experiences of others, to be distrustful of emotional reactions from individuals in the congregation and to be disinclined to weight them favorably when having to make musical choices. Of course, there are “pastoral circumstances” far and wide where those emotional reactions are given lots and lots of weight and the judgment of somebody like me is overruled.

        I don’t know what the answer is. I might very well be totally wrong. There are times when it seems to me that if everybody could be reliably expected to act like adults, then these things would be more or less non-issues, but that in and of itself seems to treated as a problematic approach much of the time.

      • 34 Dan 7 May 2012 at 10:47 am

        More good comments, Richard, and Julia also.

        I completely understand the dilemma you’re describing here, Richard. Frankly, if it were you and me talking this out, I would simply want to discuss it with you, and would let the final decision lie with you, the choir director. All I’m saying is that I would feel much much better, if this situation arose between us, knowing that my point of view had really been considered, and the decision made with me as a factor. I’d want you to understand and really acknowledge that the change has implications for me as a real human being, and reflects on one of the most important worship experiences of my life. Not every decision can go my way, but I should have a right as a member of a parish to be heard out on things important to me. I also have a responsibility to accept that that doesn’t mean I’ll get my way, even when my feelings are very strong. My guess is that between the two of us, we’d have a good talk about things, and then we’d do the music the way you want. That would be fine with me as long as I didn’t feel dismissed or as though I hadn’t been heard. For me to feel that way would require the choir director in this situation to entertain the very real possibility of doing things my way and, if rejecting that path, not to do so without seriously considering it. Then, of course, it would require a good explanation back to me, delivered in love. Most important, though, we owe the same even to those droves of Orthodox who come out of the woodwork only on Pascha and then get mad that we’ve changed things during the course of the year when they weren’t at a single service. Frustrating as it is, we have to extend this kind of courtesy even to them.

        I know EXACTLY what you mean about ‘unfunded mandates’ – a beautiful phrase for it that I’ve been searching for myself.

        We can’t control the way others might complain, and force us to sing “gladsome light” in contradiction with the rubrics – but we can control our own side of things. I know how it feels now to have johnny-come-lately converts start telling me what to do differently, and I don’t like it. So, I repent for doing that to others myself once. I just want us all to remember that those people who want the music done their way are children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when they’re wrong, even when we haven’t seen them all year, even when their requests are far more outrageous and untenable than simply asking that we do Balakirev, and even when (maybe especially when) we tell them ‘no’. If they can remember the same about the readers, choir directors and priests who have to actually organize our services, our dilemma will dissolve into love, beauty, and most importantly, real worship.

      • 35 Richard Barrett 7 May 2012 at 12:34 pm

        I agree that if it were you and I, probably we’d talk, it would go the way of us explaining things to each other, the decision would be what it would be, and you’d depart feeling heard even if you didn’t get your way.

        If only that were actually the normative case. I know from my own experience as well as the experience of others that, regrettably, that scenario is a pretty rare outcome. People approach those kinds of conversations expecting to get their way because they’re complaining, “not being heard” is defined as “not getting their way”, and they’ve already put the choir director at a disadvantage because it’s clear, whether explicitly stated or not, that they reserve the right to be offended if they don’t get their way. Another outcome of how we’ve made everything negotiable is that everybody expects to be treated as a special case and thus they expect their complaint to receive special consideration. To some extent, it boils down to a question of who has the authority and who doesn’t; does the choir director have any authority to tell somebody who is complaining “no”? Does the priest, for that matter? Even if they ostensibly do, does it matter if the person complaining doesn’t acknowledge that authority? Let’s disconnect the question from music for a moment just to demonstrate the point — I’m aware of a situation where, for various reasons, an iconostasis was installed in a new church building without royal doors. The priest intended for them to be installed, but they were a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have” when the sanctuary was first outfitted. When he was ready to move forward on the doors, he hit an unexpected roadblock in the form of a parishioner who was adamant that he wasn’t going to do so. The issue was evidently the icons that were planned for the doors (and I don’t know much more beyond that). This person threatened to not only leave, but to convince other people to leave as well. So the priest said, fine, I’m not going to split my parish over the royal doors, and left it for a couple of years. There came a point when this parishioner said, okay, I’ve calmed down, do what you want to do, and the royal doors went in, but it seems to me that’s a situation where an individual parishioner was allowed to throw a temper tantrum and have a much-inflated sense of power, and the priest effectively abdicated their own authority because he knew that this other person didn’t recognize it anyway.

        There comes a point where things like that have to be identified and named for what they are — immaturity. Now, maybe one can have a discussion over the best way and the best time to point out said immaturity, but it’s still immaturity and should be treated as such. We don’t like to do so because we’re paranoid about offending people (and, I think, particularly for smaller parishes, what that really means is that we’re afraid people will leave and we’ll lose our fragile critical mass), but it seems to me you don’t solve immaturity by rewarding it.

        As I’m sure you’ve figured out, “[Feast X] isn’t [Feast X] without [composer Y]’s setting of [hymn Z]” comes across to me as a manifestation of another kind of immaturity (and again I think I hear the howls of puppies being slaughtered). To be fair about that, my preference overall is to address the problem less on an individual basis that can too easily devolve to an argument over whose taste is superior — besides the other things I’ve said, I really don’t like the atomization of the liturgy into a crazy quilt of irreconcilable personal tastes that implies. I’d rather go about it via education of the communities we’re theoretically supposed to be subjecting ourselves to (hence the Saint John of Damascus Society, among other things). That’s the harder way and the longer way (a friend of mine is an OB-GYN who says that it’s easier to give birth than to change a congregation’s bad habits), but hopefully it’s the way that has the deepest roots.

        I guess what I’m saying is, I understand what you’re getting at, but I’ve never seen it work the way you describe. That said, the kind of leadership I’m talking about doesn’t really work either unless there is the will to make it work from somebody else in addition to the choir director (i.e., Principle #2c above).

        If there’s one more thing that I think needs to be said here, it’s that, yes, of course, the people who argue with us about whether or not we should sing “Gladsome light” at a weekday Vespers with the affirmation of their childhood at stake are children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. But our services really are “vertical” rather than “horizontal” — it’s not about them and their childhood, nor — so we’re clear — is it about the choir director. If one is principally venerating either their own nostalgia or their own authority, then the whole thing is upended. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares,” as the Cherubikon says. Tradition is supposed to regulate how these things work, and yes, unfortunately, the crazy thing about our North American situation is how Tradition, ethnic custom, convert zeal, and Western modernity have collided in postmodernity, but the way in many parishes we’ve allowed that to manifest itself as a disintegration of Tradition into a relativism of custom strikes me as incredibly problematic. There is likely no quick and easy solution; maybe there’s a necessary tension that’s going to require a few swings of the pendulum to reach some kind of proper equilibrium.

      • 36 Dan 7 May 2012 at 2:58 pm

        I think I’m speaking a little more on the level of the theoretical and ideal, and you a little more on the level of the practical. You’re absolutely right that the way this conversation has gone between the two of us is not at all typical. But, that’s really my point – it should be, and those in leadership positions do play a role in making it more like this. They don’t hold all the cards, or even most of them, but they do hold some.

        So, I’m here posting to a blog that’s coming at this from the side of the choir director, and trying to encourage patience within those in leadership roles. Would that I could find a blog where all the irritated parishioners hang out! I’d have more words for them than you, believe me, and I suspect you would find no more vigorous advocate of your approach than me, were the audience different. And, exactly as you say, without them, the whole system breaks down.

        But I do want to take a pause on your example of the royal doors and ask whether it’s really such a bad thing, what happened. Yes, the parishioner’s immaturity created an unnecessary conflict, but look at the priest’s actions for a moment. By re-tacking he got done what needed to be done in the long run. One thing I’ve really learned in the last couple of years (and not just from sailing) is that it sometimes takes a long time – it sometimes takes years and delicacy – but that’s okay. I remember after first converting that a new priest in a nearby parish had a fight over removing some pews, and taking down an icon depicting the ancient of days. What did he do? Took away only some pews, and moved the uncanonical icon to the basement. Then, waited. The icon, I believe, is now gone. A few pews remain. As a new convert I thought that that was just terrible! How could he give in when his parishioners were so wrong? But, I see why it was the right strategy now, and not just because it kept people in the parish, but because it is a Christian virtue to try to teach others gently, just as God teaches us all.

        Is doing things that way frustrating – of course! Was the problem with the parishioners and not the priest? Yes! But, we have to be prepared for that and, when there does arise a problem from the congregation, we must make sure that it remains there, and not start contributing to it ourselves. That only fixes our half, but our half is the only one we can fix.

        Is worship about our childhood? Well, it shouldn’t be – but when it is for a given person, we have to make sure we’re striving to encourage them onto the path between the place that they are and the place that they should be. We need to try and make sure that the right thing happens – but that cannot be the entire goal. The other, even more important goal is to make sure that the people rise up to actually want to do things the right way – so that the services will not only be sung correctly, but the people will have grown spiritually. You and I know full well that Tradition isn’t just “whatever yia-yia did” – but how do we bring everyone else to realize that? I don’t think we’ll succeed in doing that by force most of the time. And I definitely think that doing so requires that we hear complainants out.

        To that end, I couldn’t possibly agree more about the need for education. That, in the end, is the only thing that can really unravel all of this. But until it begins to do so in a given parish, we also need to be prepared to do things like leave the royal doors off for a while, or only take out half the pews. In essence, I really do think we have to be prepared to lose some battles in pursuit of winning the war. We cannot educate a person who has cursed our name and walked out the door. We don’t have complete control over their choice to do that, either, but what control we have, we must recognize.

        I think we’re more or less on the exact same page, here, judging by your responses – I just thought it was important for that to be made clear and for us all to be reminded of it.

        And, like I said, THIS is how these conversations should go – which is what I expected, and is therefore one of the reasons I decided to post. Jeez, Richard, I need the practice! My parish is typically an example of the monkeys running the zoo – and I waffle between feeling like the worst monkey of all to feeling like a zoo-keeper that all the monkeys THINK is the worst monkey of all. Ugh! It’s nice to talk through this a bit for once and remind myself of how it can actually be when two people engage this kind of problem with respect, love and understanding.


        You going to NAPS by any chance?

      • 37 Richard Barrett 7 May 2012 at 3:49 pm

        Yep, I’ll be at NAPS presenting a paper. You?

        I have no qualm with “teaching gently”, but I do think that entails the assumption that there will be “teaching”. Going in steps by taking out only half the pews is one thing — another situation I’m familiar with where a single row of chairs was taken out, only to be responded to with one family immediately leaving “because the crazies are taking over” and another person taking it upon themselves to count the number of people choosing to stand in the now-open space for the next two months in order to prove that “nobody’s standing there with the chairs taken out, so it’s not working”, and that seems to me to be something else. If people simply refuse to learn, to adapt to any change whatsoever, then you have a problem that “teaching gently” won’t solve. An outlier of a case that requires genuine pastoral sensitivity strikes me as a different scenario entirely than a community with entitlement issues because the priest has simply handed the people all of the reins and refused to lead. I’ve no doubt that these situations require solutions that are complex and patient, but it also seems to me that rewarding bad behavior contributes to the problem. If the nuclear scenario of “splitting the parish” can be resorted to so quickly and easily to get one’s way, then it’s going to become the default threat, and problems can never be solved. Some might even be inclined to describe such situations as, if not abusive, laying the groundwork for abuse. Let’s say that I’m all for “teaching gently”, but it seems to me that means that at the very least a) people will be willing and able to learn and b) baby steps will have to be insisted upon by somebody. If these two conditions aren’t met, then teaching at all won’t be possible, gently or not. Sometimes, in my experience and in other situations I know about, people are just thin-skinned and ready to be offended, and nothing you tell them will accomplish anything no matter how you explain it.

        Another image that I sometimes resort to is this: If you’re trying to pick up a load of laundry (and let’s say you just don’t have a basket handy at that moment), you drop a sock, and in trying to pick up that sock you drop more socks, and no matter what you do you can’t pick anything up without dropping something else, eventually you’ve got to acknowledge that it’s futile to try to hold it all at once, parable of the shepherd going after the one lost sheep notwithstanding. Hold what you can, take it where you need to take it, set it down, come back, and hope the dog hasn’t dragged away the one you dropped. I don’t know that there’s any other way that isn’t an exercise in insanity.

        I’m all about rational, respectful, loving discussion between adults who can disagree and not have it be the shattering of somebody’s psyche, and I’m grateful for how this conversation has gone. I wish it were more possible than it seems to be at times.

      • 38 Dan 7 May 2012 at 4:48 pm

        Would you be open to commiserating over a beer in Chicago? I’ll try to find you, and I’ll plan to be at your paper.

      • 39 Richard Barrett 7 May 2012 at 7:43 pm

        But of course! E-mail me at rrbarret AT indiana . edu and we’ll figure it out.

  8. 40 Julia Campbell 6 May 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I liked your comments,Thank you.

  1. 1 Orthodox Collective Trackback on 22 April 2012 at 5:12 pm
  2. 2 “Always start out with a few good jokes” — a choir director’s initial and parting thoughts « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 21 December 2012 at 12:54 pm
  3. 3 Notes from the psalterion, updated and annotated — part VI, in which technical points are considered and a wrap-up is offered – Orthodox Arts Journal Trackback on 24 March 2015 at 12:36 pm

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