Archive for the 'Beginnings' Category

Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: The adventures of… what?

Obviously, at almost a decade old, this blog is basically about nine years past its prime. My highest-trafficked post is from 2008, I haven’t posted even semi-regularly in more than two years, and the impulse to continue with this particular project just isn’t there. It was originally intended as an intellectual outlet when it looked like I wasn’t going to get in to grad school, then I got into grad school, and now… well, the whole point of what I was doing has run its course. I was blogging as a wannabe academic, then as an academic-in-training, with various observations along the way, and now… well, that whole chapter of my life seems to be over now, save for the student loan payments.

The other thing is that, ten years ago, there was a neighborhood of Orthodox bloggers within which this kind of blog could function; that doesn’t really exist anymore in the same form. Most of those people now just post their stuff on Facebook and fight things out there. “Orthoblogdom”, so far as I can tell, hasn’t been a thing for me to hang out at the margins of for awhile.

And there’s the simple matter that, while ten years ago, I got really excited when I was able to publish articles in AGAIN (remember AGAIN? No, probably not), there are a lot of different venues right now where I’m more or less an active contributor, and if I want to write something about, say, Orthodox music, I can probably find a venue that will get more traffic than Leitourgeia kai Qurbana — which, even its heyday, wasn’t difficult. My biggest post ever was a repost of somebody else’s material (something that in, retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done because it was a piece that reinforced a very unfortunate narrative); besides that, my Hansen & Quinn Greek notes and answer keys seemed to be the other major draw over time, but once I got into grad school, I didn’t have time to do those for free, and my attempt to monetize them went nowhere. I know that I’ve said before that I don’t write for hits, and that has certainly been true, but at this stage of the game, if I’m going to put in the time to write something, ideally I’d have an audience and be paid for it. If I’m not going to be paid for it, I’d at least like to have an audience.

(Which reminds me of an odd conversation I had with somebody about a year and a half ago. Somebody said to me, well, have you thought about trying to blog professionally? I said, sure, but I have no idea how I would monetize blogging sufficiently to make that work. He put me in touch with a friend of his who had made it happen, and this friend talked to me just long enough to say, essentially, yep, it can be done, but nope, I’m not at all interested in slitting my own throat by giving advice to somebody who could be a competitor. Sorry our mutual friend went to the trouble, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. Well, okay.)

And there’s also the plain reality that the last two years or so have been really tough. Deciding to make the relocation to Boston permanent sounded great on paper, and we don’t regret it, but it’s been a real struggle. After two jobs in a row that I didn’t really want to take but represented the best I could do at the time, adjuncting for a semester someplace where I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to call me back, and four months of being out of work, I’m now finally in a position where I’m not gritting my teeth in frustrated desperation, but guess what? I’m working remotely for a concern that isn’t even in Boston. You know why? Because any job you would actually want in Boston, unless hands-down there is no reason to look at anybody but you, is almost impossible to get with all of these people running around who have these degrees from a school you might have heard of called “Harvard”. Add to that having a new baby that became a point of contention for my then-employer, and… yeah. Like I say, I have a job now that is an ideal fit, but we’re going to be digging out of the hole we got ourselves into for some time. Personal reinvention has a significant cost, and I’ve had to do it several times.

I still think writing is basically the thing I do best, and that I still have something to say as a writer. However, I don’t think this blog is going to be the place where I put those words. I’ve posted on Medium a bit recently, and those pieces are the kinds of things I would have once posted here, but I don’t know that that’s going to be the long-term solution. I will leave this blog up, because it represents a lot of work over a few years, and it’s work that I frequently refer to and share with other people. There are things here I’ve never finished; it’s been five years since I’ve been able to convince myself to write any more of my “spiritual autobiography”, as it were, and I really did intend to interview Boston locals as part of a meditation on people and place and roots. The one interview I did I have the notes and the recording for, but… I don’t know, it’s not just a matter of not having the time, but a matter of feeling like this blog just isn’t the right place for it. I have a lot of writing projects aside from Leitourgeia kai Qurbana that are in various stages of incompletion (like my dissertation! ha!), and part of the problem with finishing them is not knowing what the venue would be.

I’m still reticent to call LkQ “finished” and close the book, because you never know what might inspire me to come back to this particular venue, but it’s time to call a spade and a spade and say that for right now, anyway, I’m done, and the pieces that I would have written here I’m writing elsewhere for the most part. Nonetheless, keep an eye open; if Twin Peaks can come back, maybe this will, too, eventually.



Boston and “the real Paris”

(There are two types of people in this world: those who have seen Killing Zoe and thus understand the title of this post, and those who have not. It’s entirely okay if you’re in the latter category; Killing Zoe, truly a lesser effort for all involved, isn’t really worth the bother of seeing just so you can get the joke. To explain quickly: there’s a running gag in the film about Eric Stolz being in Paris and having people telling him they’re going to show him “the real Paris”. In the main, this does not work out well for him. That’s about the extent of it.)

I’ve written a bit about the experience of seeing some of the world’s major cities for the first time in my late 20s and 30s. I’ve also talked about the struggle that I have with a sense of rootlessness. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, we moved to the eastern part of Washington state when I was four years old, then moved to the Seattle metro area after another four years, and my parents moved back to Alaska after I graduated high school. This effectively meant that our paths diverged somewhat, and then my parents’ respective paths diverged from each other a few years after that. I stayed in Washington state, living in Bellingham for four years while I made an unsuccessful initial attempt at school, then moving back to Seattle when I got a job in the software industry. I stayed in Seattle for about five years, and then we moved two thirds of the way across the country, heading to Indiana for school, and we thought we’d be there for three years tops. Eleven years later, we finished the cross-country move, and now we’re in Boston. My mom and stepdad are still in Alaska; my wife’s family is mostly still in Washington state (save for a brother in Chicago) — as much as we love New England and are seriously thinking that putting down roots there would suit us very well, a major concentration of the Barrett family is not happening there any time soon, save for that which we generate for ourselves. And, you know, we may wind up doing just that.

On the other hand, let’s be honest about something. Being in Boston has been terrific, but as somebody who is by training something of an urban historian, I’m acutely aware that our experience so far has been strictly on honeymoon terms. We’ve been in a bubble to say the least — a seminary campus in a nice part of town where we haven’t had to pay rent. Yes, it looks like Boston is someplace where there is a market for the Barretts and the skill sets we bring to the table. Fine, it’s been great to live someplace, finally, where it’s at least possible for public transportation to minimize the amount of driving we have to do. It’s been wonderful to have a density of Orthodox churches in the area and to have the luxury of figuring out what’s a good fit, and for it to be normative for me to be paid relatively well as a cantor. It was awesome to go to a Red Sox game at Fenway stadium and to have it be a night when they won. I love that a decent Cuban sandwich is a hop, skip, and a jump away. Yes, it’s been genuinely soothing to our souls, after eleven years in a landlocked state, to live in a city where we can go out on a harbor cruise. Tasty Burger.

At the same time, these all amount to floating from one self-selected tourist experience to another, and a hot dog at Fenway followed by a ride on the T to the Museum of Fine Arts does not an informed denizen make. We haven’t really been through the ups and downs of everyday life, not by a long shot. Although, the end of the academic year has brought a little bit of that; it has meant that our time as residents in the seminary community is rapidly coming to an end. Holy Cross is truly a wonderful place to feel like one belongs, and when you don’t anymore, it feels like the sun has suddenly gone behind a cloud. Relationships will have to be re-cultivated and community will have to be re-defined. That’s okay; we won’t be stumbling-distance from our friends on campus, but we’ll still be in nacho distance, let’s say, and things will be fine. Previous friendships will be strengthened, and we’ll actually start to get to know a neighborhood in Boston, not just an enclave.

The urban historian in me wants to know more, though, and I want to know more by way of people who have stories to tell, and who can refer me to other sources. I may be a Byzantinist, but Boston is here right now, and I’m right in the middle of it, so why not?

So, here’s the plan — I’m going to pick the brains of 10 people, 5 whom I know in advance, 5 whom I don’t know and will be selected from, and approached in, crowds in public places. To the extent possible, these 10 people will represent a diversity of views, stations, geographies, life experiences, etc. I will ask them about Boston, their experiences with the city, and so on. It will be a conversation that I write about, and then at the end, the key question will be — who should I talk to next? And then I will go and talk to that person, asking them as well for a reference to another person. It will go on like this until somehow it all terminates with one person, or I run out of people. Both are, I think, unlikely, so we’ll see if another logical stopping point presents itself. I will be curious to see a) what directions the social connections go in, and b) if they ever cross.

For the moment, I guess I should start with myself. Boston first appeared on my radar when a friend of mine from my first stab at undergrad went out to Boston University to study voice and opera with Phyllis Curtin. I talked to him once or twice about coming out to visit, but it never happened.

After starting to hang out in Orthodox circles, of course I started hearing about the seminary, as well as Holy Transfiguration Monastery. While I was in Greece, I heard rumors about the possibility of the Byzantine chant position at Holy Cross coming open; when I brought John Boyer out to Bloomington for the first time in 2010 he confirmed that that was the case, and he said he would probably be heading out that to Boston himself starting that fall. It came to my attention that my teacher from Greece, Ioannis Arvanitis, was a finalist for the chant position; suddenly I started wondering — wow, if he gets the job, could I find a way to spend a dissertation year there? I wanted to go out there for his campus interview, but I didn’t find out when it was happening until after it was already over, alas.

But, the idea of trying to get out that way had been planted, and when I saw that the Patristics professor of Holy Cross was presenting at the Byzantine Studies Association of North America conference in Chicago fall 2011, I made a point of getting up there so I could talk to him. I finally paid a visit in March 2012, where mostly I saw the school, followed by another trip that fall for the Byzantine Studies conference. On that visit, I got to do a bit more sightseeing, although mostly in a context of food — I went with John and his family to Union Oyster House on the Freedom Trail, which claims the distinction of being the country’s oldest restaurant, and this experience was also my introduction to raw oysters. John also took me to Tasty Burger next to Fenway Stadium, which set a standard, and ordered Sicilian-style pizza from Pino’s one night as well.

After our godchildren Lucas and Stacey and our friends Bryce and Elyse left for seminary fall 2013, the Barretts paid a visit to the Holy Hill as a family over MLKjr weekend. We got to stroll around Cambridge and Harvard Square a bit, had dinner at Grendel’s Den, had some lovely bagels in Brookline, ate an awesome breakfast at Martin’s Coffee Shop in Brookline Village, and once again patronized Tasty Burger (“What a nice little hamburger! No, that’s fine, you’re great just the way you are“). I was back a few weeks later for a grad student conference, but it was mostly an excuse to hang out with my friends there. This time, I got to go downtown a bit, spending a decent amount of time in Copley Square and at the Boston Public Library, and also eating some good sushi.

Since we’ve been in Boston, two of the major things that we’ve loved have been easy access to water and boats, and — to continue a theme — the food. We went on a harbor cruise in a tall ship almost as soon as we got to town; something about seeing the city skyline at sunset from the water brought a lot of peace, particularly after so many years of feeling like we were being slowly strangled to death in Indiana. In terms of food, I don’t mean lobster rolls and clam chowder (although the lobster rolls are pretty darn good); I mean, overall, we can find what we’re looking for in a regular grocery store, including good seafood. Specialty grocery stores are a few minutes away if we need one (as opposed to five hours away in Chicago). There have been some things that we’ve had a harder time getting — raw milk we have to go way out of our way for, unlike Bloomington; bulk sausage just doesn’t appear to be a thing here; Gehl’s Nacho Cheese Sauce is not marketed at retail in Boston — but in the main, the variety of what’s available is unbelievable. Same goes for restaurants; the North End alone is a treasure trove for Italian food.

Churches and public transportation have also been really nice. Yes, okay, the T isn’t perfect. It’s really useful regardless, and it has enabled us to avoid parking downtown. I’m able to get to my contract gig via the T pretty easily. Getting to and from the airport is mostly reasonable, depending on where you live. As for churches, I’ve gotten to chant for a lot of different parish communities in the area, and they’ve all been lovely and welcoming. One parish pulled Theodore in for their Christmas pageant at the last second, and whenever I’ve subbed there since, they still ask me about him. I’ve also had the opportunity to sing in my friend Spiro Antonopoulos’s choir a couple of times, and that’s been great — just to live someplace where there’s enough of a critical mass that there can be a Byzantine choir in the area is mind-boggling.

Yes, it is not cheap to live in Boston, and it was a bit of a punch to the gut to have to internalize a price range of $1600-2200/month for what we were looking for. On the other hand, the incomes and opportunities go a long way towards making up the difference, and Flesh of My Flesh made an excellent point — it’s an approach to living that sees the city itself as your backyard. That certainly has its benefits. It has its downsides as well, to be sure, but I’m willing to deal with those, and among other things, I’m really looking forward to taking Theodore to a Red Sox game some time this summer.

Okay, so, looking at my story, wow, is it boring. I can’t really get out of my own head telling it, and clearly I’ve missed a whole bunch of things that would actually make it interesting. I’m simultaneously myopic and over-general when it comes to what’s caught my eye; I couldn’t tell you where my favorite drink in Boston is, I couldn’t tell you what I think the city’s most pressing issues are, and I can’t really articulate clearly why this experience is significant to me. I don’t have a story with a beginning, middle, and end; I’ve got some bits and pieces of a premise, not much more. Some of this comes from having developed a pretty strong bunker mentality in Indiana, where, in absence of the things that we wanted on an external level, we came up with reasonable facsimiles at home. “Where’s your favorite restaurant?” “My house!” “What’s your favorite drink?” “A Manhattan I’ve made!” etc. I think I had a pretty good understanding of Bloomington’s issues by the end of our time there, but I have to acknowledge that a lot of what I think I know about Bloomington’s issues comes from theorizing around my own anger at and resentment of the place. Anyway, the point is, there’s still some of that going on, and it’s going to take some time before all of that breaks down and lets in new perspectives and experiences.

In the meantime, I’m going to be listening to some other people’s stories in the hopes that they can educate me about this city that we’re hoping will adopt us, and I’m going to try to tell them to you. I hope you’ll find those stories interesting, at least.

Oh, and who am I talking to next? You’ll see. All in good time.

Pushing to a finish line


I’ve been a bad blogger for… well, awhile. I had a nice stride going in 2008-2009 (you know, back when I was despairing about life and could basically blog at work); then I got into grad school, and it’s really been hit or miss since then. I’ve been busy busy busy, I’ve had to teach, I’ve had to write papers, I’ve had to study for exams, I’ve had to write a dissertation proposal, I’ve become a father, and so on.

I know, I know. Excuses.

Here’s the thing. I’ve thought about formally closing it up. Leave it online, as a snapshot of something I did for awhile, but put up one final post saying, I’m done, look for me when you see me.

But… nah.

See, I don’t write this for hits. I don’t care if nobody reads this, and I never have. I write this for myself. In the beginning, it was so I could have an excuse to do something to build up some discipline where writing was concerned. Somewhere along the way, I wrote a couple of things that a few people liked and linked to, and before I knew it, I was… a really marginal figure on the fringes of a really marginal subculture of blogging. My biggest day was 906 views; historically it’s been more like 100-150 when I’ve been really active. It’s surprised the heck out of me when people I have met have said, “Oh, yeah, I read your blog,” because that’s incredibly unlikely, statistically speaking. But whatever; that’s not the point. You don’t do public access for the ratings.

Anyway, I still have things I want to say for myself in this venue, so even if it’s not consistent enough to “build readership”, that’s not really of interest to me. I’ll say things when I have them to say. I have ongoing things here and elsewhere I need to finish; I will finish them, and I’ll continue writing other things. So, I’m still here, but look for me when you see me.

One item of national (more or less) news I want to say something about very briefly — maybe 12, 13 years ago, the friend who was my best man was telling me about a new church venture he was involved with in West Seattle. This friend had long been involved in “postmodern Christianity”, an approach to “doing church” that, as he put it, didn’t assume that anybody walking in the door knew anything about what was going on. This new project in West Seattle was going to draw on elements that contemporary American Protestants generally ignored, like liturgical seasons, and explore the reasons for why those things had become a part of the tradition in the first place; it was also going to work cooperatively with a group of other local churches, centralizing administration and using that centralization as a way of helping to organize leadership and planting across that group of churches.

(“Huh,” I remember wanting to say to him. “Kind of like, oh, I don’t know, a diocese?” But I digress.)

This West Seattle church was being organized, at least at first, by a pastor to whom many of my friends from Bellingham had been close; he had been involved with The Inn campus ministry up there, and was now getting this going.

His name was Bill Clem, and the church was called Doxa Church. The faux-diocese was called the Acts 29 Network. (A presumptuous name, to be maximally kind.)

Except now Doxa is called Mars Hill. You might have heard of it. Also, it’s not part of Acts 29 anymore. Further, Bill Clem hasn’t run it since 2006; he’s now in Portland, and is advertising his connection in his current professional biography neither to Doxa or to Mars Hill.

I have a lot I want to say, but I will limit my comments to this: if I were Bill Clem, I would be thankful that I managed to get out when I did, and whatever the circumstances were that forced me out of what I had worked my tail off to start, I would call them God’s providence.

I’ll leave that there for now.

To make at least a nod towards catching up — the last several months have been among the most stressful of my life. We learned at the beginning of April that we’d be spending the year at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology; that was awesome, but it meant we had a move to prepare for with a kid and a parakeet, to say nothing of a house that had nine years’ worth of stuff packed into it that would have to be pared down for a two bedroom apartment. At least one garage sale seemed in the offing; it turned out to be two.

I also had a summer course to teach — a six weeks long medieval survey course, starting 23 June and going two hours a day, Monday through Thursday, until 1 August. I had never taught my own course before, and I had a lot of materials to prepare.

I had three conferences over the course of the summer that I knew were coming, too; I had a paper to present at the International Medieval Studies Congress in Kalamazoo, MI, where I was also one of the organizers for two sessions sponsored by the Byzantine Studies Association of North America, and where I was also participating in activities related to my service on the Graduate Student Committee of the Medieval Academy of America. Then, in June, I had Kurt Sander’s 2014 Pan-Orthodox Liturgical Music Symposium at Northern Kentucky University, where I was going to be singing in their festival choir, presenting a status report on the Psalm 103 Project, and also giving a talk on the Anglophone tradition of Byzantine chant. Oh, and we were trying to organize another working session for all of the composers while we were there, too. Finally, in July, we had the wedding of an old friend in Cleveland (also Theodore’s godfather), in which I was an attendant. I also knew I was going to be presenting a Byzantine chant workshop at the Mid-Eastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians at the convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Right. So, preparing for a move, teaching a class, a wedding, and presenting at three conferences. That was enough, right?

During Holy Week, I got a text message from my friend Mark Powell, asking if I was available in May for two Cappella Romana concerts at the Getty Villa Museum in Los Angeles, doing a program of Holy Week and Pentecost material. Wednesday through Monday in LA — three days after getting back from Kalamazoo, which itself was Thursday through Sunday of Finals Week. And leaving from Chicago rather than Indianapolis was going to be more flexible in terms of flight options. I think my reply was “Well, of course, I’ll have to check my calendar and carefully consider my commi–YES OF COURSE I’LL DO IT”

Then there was an issue of availability with respect to the other course assistants for the professor I was working for last spring. One was an international student whose visa was expiring just in time to preclude their ability to do any grading of the final whatsoever, and the other was somebody who was just having to leave town the Monday after Finals Week. With around 150 exams to grade… yeah. Something got worked out where I got paid something extra for doing it, but from Sunday night when I got back from K’zoo to Tuesday afternoon when we were having to get ready to drive to Chicago, I was eating, sleeping, and breathing blue books.

Oh, yeah, one other thing — in April, I took my beloved 2000 Subaru Outback, which I had bought in 2000 with five miles on it, in for an oil change, tire rotation, and alignment check. I got it back with the technician saying that I needed to get some rust on the rear subframe looked at. The manager of a body shop took one look underneath the car and said, “Wow, that’s scary. You don’t want to drive on that.” (This was the week before I had to drive to Kalamazoo and then to Chicago, I should note.) When asked what it would probably cost to fix, he said that it would probably be upwards of a number that was more than the car was worth by this point. Because, you know, this was the perfect moment in our lives to be needing to buy a car.

A rental car got me to and from Kalamazoo and then to and from Chicago for the Los Angeles trip. The Subaru — of blessed memory — wound up being replaced with a 2014 Chevrolet Equinox after I got back from LA; I am eternally grateful to my mother and stepfather for what turned out to be an early PhD graduation gift.

(Ponder my progression of cars: first, a 1992 Volkswagen Golf GL, a German stick shift hatchback. Then, a 2000 Subaru Outback, a Japanese stick shift wagon. Now, a 2014 Chevrolet Equinox, an American automatic SUV. I have become the enemy. Oh well.)

The Los Angeles trip was, I have to say, a blast. A full write-up deserves its own post; suffice it to say that it’s an experience I hope to repeat.

(That said, I’m afraid that the Arctic Light review has to be my last for Cappella; too much of a conflict of interest otherwise.)

Then Lycourgos Angelopoulos passed away. Memory eternal.

Kurt Sander’s Symposium was a wonderful experience; a somewhat abbreviated version of the writeup I was asked to contribute may be found here. My presentation on the Psalm 103 Project is here; the audio of my Byzantine chant talk is here.

Then Richard Toensing passed away. Memory eternal.

And then we packed, I taught my first class as the instructor of record, we went to the wedding in Cleveland, and I went to the last of my conferences.

And then we moved, leaving our house on 1 August, with a move-in date of 11 August (that actually turned out to be 10 August). We killed time in Chicago, Cleveland, and South Canaan, PA.

Did I say that the last few months were stressful? They were stressful. Yeah.

I’m in Boston, by the way. We’ve been here for a day over four weeks; it’s been lovely so far, and we actually wound up getting a three bedroom apartment. The first three weeks was a bit of a vacation since the school year wasn’t yet going and the library had really limited hours; we enjoyed mild, beautiful, coastal weather; I’ve chanted in the chapel; I subbed unexpectedly for a few services at a Greek-only parish (that, I have to say, pays their chanters verrrrrrry reasonably); we enjoyed seafood on the wharf and a tour of Boston Harbor on a tall ship; we got unpacked; we made nachos. Last week was the start of the term, and I’ve been clearing the decks since then, dealing with a to-do list of administrivia that has managed to build up since we left Bloomington. It’s all stuff that’s had to get done for me to be productive in the way I need to be productive here, and I think I’ve got the list checked off sufficiently that I can actually get to the concrete work I need to do here on my dissertation.

A word about that: today (well, yesterday, when I started writing this) was the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin. This feast employs one of the only festal hymns shared between the Byzantine chant books and the Latin chant books:

Your birth, O Mother of God, revealed joy to the civilized world, for from you the Sun of Justice rose, Christ our God, having destroyed the curse he gave a blessing, and having abolished death, he gave us eternal life.

nativitas tua, liber usualisi gennisis sou theotoke, kypseli versionIt’s curious for a number of reasons; one is that the Latin version is in the first mode, and the received Byzantine version is in the fourth. However, 10th/11th century Menaia show an ascription of first mode rather than fourth, suggesting that the Latin books preserve an older practice.

More curious is this — in the late seventh century, one of the so-called “Byzantine popes”, Sergius I, imported the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin onto the Roman calendar as one of a group of Marian feasts. This would, theoretically, have been a moment of liturgical unity between Rome and Constantinople; and yet, this hymn is the only piece of it that really survives.

There’s a paper I wrote on this several years ago, the first paper I ever wrote for a grad school class, that collected several observations about this issue. Some of the observations might be still valid, but I probably did a lot I was in no way qualified to do at the time and probably got a lot wrong. I’ll revisit it down the road when I need articles for the tenure clock, but I think that I actually need my dissertation done first, both so I can actually get a job, and also because I think any argument I’d make about this now would depend on my dissertation’s argument.

So, I’ve got to get the dissertation done — which is what I’m here to do — in order to finish the work that helped get me thinking along the lines of my dissertation. (I’m also going to take the Byzantine Chant certification exam while I’m here, but that’s a separate post.) It’s a dissertation that is largely inspired by those observations made back in 2006, so it seems appropriate that today’s the day I finally get settled enough to get down to work.

I will keep up with things here as I can; I’m not going to close up shop until I want to, even if that means not posting as often as I’d like, or if what I post winds up being somewhat random. First priority is getting the dissertation done and out the door; I want a real job before I’m 40, even knowing full well that I’ll then be busting my chops racing the tenure clock. Oh well; that’s the life I’ve chosen, and I’ve got to get past at least the first finish line, even if it’s not really a finish line by any reasonable definition. I’ll be trying to pop back here when I can, at any rate, and hopefully that’s more often than it has been. We’ll see.10667519_10104638060805829_761200563_oThat’s what I walk past on my three minute and forty-five second commute home. It’s not a bad state of affairs by any means.

More later.

A chapter ends: 22 August 2003-1 August 2014

It’s the Barretts’ last night as residents of Bloomington, at least for the foreseeable future.

I got here 3 weeks shy of 11 years ago, coming here with the specific objectives of finishing an undergrad degree in voice, possibly going on to a Masters, all in the service of the overall goal of setting myself up to be A World Famous Operatic Tenor. Seattle was a place you could be from and do that, but not if you never left Seattle, and IU seemed like just the kind of place where I could get what I needed in terms of final polish and stage time. I figured we’d be here three years tops.

11 years is almost 30% of my life, over 80% of my marriage, 100% of my time as a father, 100% of my time as an Orthodox Christian, 100% of my time as a Byzantinist.

I arrived thinking, based on what I had been told in Seattle, that I had most of what I needed to put together a great operatic career, and I just needed to get the right opportunity onstage in front of the right people. I leave with such musical successes as I have had being elsewhere than the operatic stage, with the vast majority of my success being in the academic arena rather than in the performance arena, and with the platform I have had for that success being largely hard-won.

I arrived hoping I would get to learn French, Italian, and Russian. I leave with some competency in French and Italian, yes, but also having studied Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic (and brushed up on my German).

I arrived thinking I’d be making my name as somebody who sang high notes down center onstage. I leave building a profession of lecturing at the front of a classroom.

I arrived thinking that maybe I’d get a Masters. I leave in the process of finishing a PhD.

I arrived thinking my wife is brilliant; I leave knowing that she is, and that that is only one of her many amazing qualities.

I arrived scared of fatherhood. I leave loving it, and wanting more.

I arrived having wanted the chance to travel really badly since I was a little kid. I leave having been to some pretty cool places like Greece, England, New York, Washington, D.C., and so on.

I want to wrap this up with a simplistic “I arrived a boy; I leave a man” but that’s false. I’m 37, married, with a toddler, and I’m still — as one person phrased it — in the U-Haul stage of life. Whenever it is we do wind up in a position to buy our own home, I expect that we will probably live in that first bought home for less time than the nine years we have spent in our little rental house. I hope and pray that I will have a real job before I’m 40; God knows. I had what would count as a “real job” from the time I was 21 to the time I was 26; I guess I’ve done some things in the wrong order. Oh well. For the last five years I’ve enjoyed the ride at least, which is more than I could say about big chunks of the previous six years, and I can look at the experience in its totality and see that nothing was lost, only that some things were transformed.

Two organizations/communities in particular have meant a great deal to me in my time here and have a special place in my heart — The Archives of Traditional Music, where I worked from April 2008-June 2009, and Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church of Indianapolis, where we have gone to church since January 2013. These were both places where warm welcome and appreciation were expressed at very key moments, and they both allowed the space for me both to do things I was able to do as well as to consider bigger possibilities I hadn’t thought of before. Another thing they have in common is that I got to spend far too little time at both places — just over a year for ATM, and about a year and two-thirds for Holy Apostles. Much gratitude to Alan R. Burdette, Marilyn Graf, and Susie Mudge at ATM, and another generous helping of thanks to Fr. John Koen, Debbie O’Reilley, Panos Niarchos, Angelo Kostarides, Dr. Thomas Kocoshis, Peter Americanos, and so, so many more at Holy Apostles. Special mention to Dean Maniakas and Fr. Bill Bartz of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, who have made us feel incredibly welcome and who have made it clear that we have friends at Holy Trinity.

I have not always enjoyed the experience of the last 11 years, as both of my longtime readers doubtless well know. Still, I am grateful to have had it, even if I still massage some literal and figurative scars that serve as reminders of certain lessons.

Time to go. Tomorrow we’re out of here. See everybody in Boston when we arrive. Glory to God for all things.


For your consideration: Robotech Academy on Kickstarter

I am bringing the Kickstarter campaign to fund a proof-of-concept pilot of a new Robotech TV series called Robotech Academto your attention. I think you should fund it. However, I’m not happy about it.

Being an eight year old kid enamored with Star WarsStar Blazers and Transformers, I remember that all the advertising for Robotech caught my eye, and I thought it looked awesome. My interest was piqued, at least in part, because I had the Jetfire Autobot amongst my Transformers, I didn’t understand what this whole intermediate mode was supposed to be, and a lot of friends of mine had the Bandai/Takatoku Valkyrie VF-1S version that Hasbro repainted for Jetfire. (There used to be this extremely awesome toy store in Woodinville, Arnie’s Toys, that had a whole freaking wall of imports of the Japanese versions of lots of things. While I wish I still had a lot of the original Generation 1 Transformers I had back then, I also wish I had asked for more of the Japanese versions.)

But there was a problem — Robotech wasn’t on when I could, y’know, watch it. It was on at some ridiculous time like 7 or 7:30 in the morning, when my dad was watching the news on one TV and my mom was watching The 700 Club on the other TV. I think all I ever saw when it was broadcast was like five minutes of the Southern Cross episode “The Final Nightmare”, and I was really confused because all of the advertising was about this guy named Rick Hunter, and he was nowhere to be found. Then, by the time my family figured out how to program our VCR, it was off the air.

There was this older kid I was friends with, Stefan Hahn, who had all of the “Jack McKinney” novels (little did I know at the time that Brian Daley, writer of my beloved TRON novelization and the Han Solo books, was one half of “Jack McKinney”); he loaned them to me, and I devoured them all over the course of about a month. I was captivated. I started buying the Palladium role-playing game books. I bought the Robotech Art books. I read the comics. I kept hearing about this sequel series called Robotech II: The Sentinels that was supposed to come out. I bought the Perfect Collection soundtrack album on vinyl. My first published writing anywhere was Robotech fanfiction and a book review in the fanzine Protoculture AddictsI was into it, man.

I just had never actually seen any of the friggin’ TV series. It was kind of like reading a whole bunch of Orthodox liturgical books and listening to a lot of Orthodox music without ever having the chance to go to a service.

Somewhere along the way, Robotech Art 3 came out, which told the whole sad story of why neither The Sentinels nor the promised Robotech The Movie: The Untold Story would ever see the light of day as envisioned. What it boiled down to was that Robotech’s holding company, Harmony Gold, wasn’t a production company, as such; they were a dubbing and distribution company, and they had no facility or finances to produce anything on their own. All they really had the wherewithal to do was adapt existing properties. Carl Macek had accidentally hit upon something that resonated with people when he came up with the idea of stringing MacrossSouthern Cross, and Mospeada together, but it wasn’t like he could create animation out of thin air (even if it seemed like maybe he came up with Protoculture as the MacGuffin across the three generations out of thin air). Harmony Gold and Macek were dependent on toy sales to make the economics work for anything beyond the first couple of runs of the 85-episode cycle, and, well, to say Matchbox’s toy line fell short of expectations both in quality and sales — heartbreaking, really, when you think about how toy-friendly the series actually was, even with interesting human characters in the foreground — doesn’t even begin to cover it. It didn’t help that the dollar collapsed against the yen during the initial phases of production.

Harmony Gold squeezed out a video release of what little had been completed of The Sentinels; ironically, I think it was the first actual animation from Robotech I ever saw. Over the years I caught bits here and there; a local Blockbuster had the Family Home Entertainment VHS releases (that cut each episode down to 15 minutes from 22), and then I bought the first wave of Robotech DVDs when they were released.

Toynami started a new toyline about 13 years ago, but basically they were incredibly expensive, slightly-smaller retoolings of the Bandai toys with an extra bell here and a whistle there, and they got a small production run of a few thousand apiece. I got a couple of them, but it just wasn’t worth it. I would have loved to have gotten one of the Alpha/Beta Fighter pairs, but that was going to be a poor use of $200+, and let’s not even talk about what the Cyclone toy cost. That thing cost something like $20 at Arnie’s Toys back in 1985; don’t even try to tell me that $200 is a reasonable price for one made today.

The website seemed to promise a new series, which became a different series, which then became a movie, which then became a direct-to-video release, which took them forever to release because whatever distribution deal they’d had — or thought they’d had — when they started production fell apart. The Shadow Chronicles came out a good year or so after the website had assured people that it was done and just around the corner from a major release that surely would re-ignite the franchise and only be the first of several new OVAs, if not a new TV series, that would give the Robotech saga its due at long last.

Well, um, about that. The Shadow Chronicles wasn’t bad, exactly, it just wasn’t really worth the wait, and it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. As yet, a promised followup — Shadow Rising — has yet to materialize, and a live-action deal made in the wake of the success of Transformers in 2007 has gone nowhere. Carl Macek passed away in 2010. I didn’t bother at all with the 2012 OVA Robotech: Love, Live, Alive (a Robotech-izing of Mospeada: Love, Live, Alive, which was released in 1985). Harmony Gold, as I understand it, has largely transitioned into being a real estate company at this point; there is a team that still works on Robotech, but mostly what they seem to do is appear at conventions, maintain the website, and talk about how they can’t talk about anything.

So, now there’s a Kickstarter campaign for the pilot episode of a new series. This is being sold as an idea of Carl Macek’s, it would happen in the Sentinels timeframe, and the pilot would be used as a proof-of-concept for selling a new series.

In other words, at the end of the day, if it’s funded, you’ll have yet another standalone video release of a Robotech project that may or may not be continued or finished. This is Sentinels all over again, but instead of Matchbox’s failing toy sales paying for all of an hour’s worth of footage, the viewer is being asked directly for money to come up with “an entire 24 minute episode”. Well, okay; as dinky as the deal has gotten (“A new 65 episode series in syndication plus a movie!” has, almost 30 years later, become “Buy a Blu-Ray of a pilot that we have so little confidence will get picked up as a series we won’t pay for it ourselves!”), I’d love to see a new Robotech series get completed, and I’d love to see it breathe new life into a franchise that never seemed to get its due or be managed by people who truly knew what to do with it. The truth is, Carl Macek seemed to catch lightning in a bottle back in 1985, but he needed a bigger player behind him than he had. Harmony Gold has played small ball with the Robotech property since day one, and it’s really irritating. It’s a franchise that wants to be, can be, by all rights would be the animated version of Star Wars, and instead it winds up being Starship more often than not. It’s the right series being shepherded by the wrong people.

Still, all right, take my money. Veronica Mars has set the precedent, done so reasonably well, and heck, it can even work for Orthodox music projects. So, yeah, go support Robotech Academy, I guess. Best case scenario, there’s a new Robotech series that comes out of it that might have a chance at fulfilling the promise of those TV and print ads back in 1985, that might have a chance as being as good as Carl Macek wanted the original to be. Worst case scenario, it goes on the shelf next to Shadow Chronicles as a reminder of what could have been. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess… but can we do it right this time, please?

In which I talk about a departure and ponder what the heck to do with all the books

Wow. I haven’t posted since two days before Christmas. Yikes. Sorry about that; we spent Christmas in Alaska with my mother and stepfather, had a lovely time seeing them, spent a great Sunday afternoon with several of my relatives on my dad’s side (none of whom had yet met Theodore), attended Christmas services at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Anchorage, and then came back for New Year’s in Cleveland with our friends, the newly-engaged Benjamin and Emily, and Paul.

Since then, I’ve mostly been a stressed-out wreck, wondering just where in the heck we’re going to be after the summer.

See, it’s been the idea for some time that we would do our level best to make AY2013-2014 our last year in Bloomington. Both Doctors-to-be Barrett being at the dissertation stage, there’s no concrete reason to stay here; to the extent that there might be external opportunities that would be better-suited to the completion of our respective dissertations (dissertatia? dissertationes?) in terms of working environment and locale, then it would be well worthwhile to try to take advantage of said opportunities.

This meant a lot of fellowship applications in October and November. My sights were zeroed-in on Dumbarton Oaks, of course; I was there two summers ago, and I’d very much like to go back. Fellow housing is right there, a 2-3 minute walk from the compound, the Greek cathedral is a 15 minute walk away, and you’re right there in the middle of Georgetown. What would be not to like? That was just one of several applications, though; I applied for the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, too, and then I also applied for something called the Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship, which sets up advanced graduate students with yearlong Visiting Lecturer positions at Indiana University branch campuses. I thought perhaps I might be able to get a spot at IUPUI, and just relocate all the way to Indianapolis, since our lives have kind of re-centered around there lately anyway. Besides those, I applied for several non-residential fellowships; the Charlotte Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship, administered by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, was one, as well as several IU-internal awards — generic dissertation fellowships, and a couple of named awards that were significantly bigger, like the John Edwards Fellowship and the Herman B. Wells Fellowship. If nothing else, maybe we could take the money and go spend the year in Alaska.

The other thing that was happening was that two close friends of mine started as seminarians at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology this last fall. Holy Cross had piqued my curiosity back in 2010, when I found out that my chant teacher, Ioannis Arvanitis, was applying for the chant professor position there (and I was singularly annoyed with some friends of mine there when he was brought to campus as a finalist the following spring and nobody told me). He didn’t get it, but I was nonetheless intrigued by the possibility of spending a dissertation year there. I made some initial contact with the patristics professor there at the Byzantine Studies conference in Chicago in 2011, and visited the campus the following spring. Yes, people do come the way you’re talking about, I was told, but we’re not sure about the mechanics. Usually they come with their own funding. Hm. Well, that’s not altogether promising for a graduate student. Okay, well, maybe it’s not a realistic possibility. Still — well, who knows? When my friends got there last September, I told them, only half-joking, keep your ears to the ground. If you hear about a faculty member going on sabbatical, or a grant opportunity, or anything, let me know.

In December, one of my friends contacted me and said, hey, you realize that there’s a Fellow In Residence position outlined in the catalog? He sent me the reference in the catalog; I made some initial inquiries, and was put in touch with the Dean — who, now, is the very person I first had this conversation with in Chicago three years ago. We were going to make a visit to the campus over MLKJr weekend anyway, so we set up an in-person meeting during the trip. He was positive about the conversation, but he was nonetheless clear that it was a competitive process and subject to a faculty vote. He took my materials and said, we’ll get back to you by the end of February, I think — but if you get Dumbarton Oaks, go to Dumbarton Oaks for heavens’ sake.

Well, shortly thereafter, I started to get rejections back — the internal, generic dissertation fellowships were the first to get back to me, and those were “no”s. I got an interview for a Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship spot, but at Indiana University Columbus, which would be an hour’s commute without being worth a relocation. The interview went fine, but I think it was probably evident that I wasn’t excited about it, and ultimately that was a “no”.

Dumbarton Oaks had said that fellows would be notified in February; February came and went with no word from them or anybody else quite yet. I went back out to Holy Cross at the end of February for a conference, and the Dean made a point of telling me, hey, we hoped we’d have something to tell you by the time you got here, but we’re not going to be able to have a faculty meeting to decide until the second half of March. So, sit tight.

To say that I was tenterhooks waiting to hear where I would be in the coming year, be it Bloomington or elsewhere, was an understatement. I’ve also since realized that this is something that people tend to go through with college and grad school applications; they apply to several possibilities, wait to see what comes back, and then make the best decision they can based on the options. Well, I never did that; I only applied to one school for undergrad, and I only applied to one school for grad. This was my first time going through anything like this process.

Shortly after I got back from the conference, Dumbarton Oaks got back to me with their “no”, as did the Notre Dame folks. At the same time, the Newcombe people let me know I was a finalist, and they said I’d hear by the end of March.

The jawdropper was on Friday, 7 March, when I got the e-mail telling me I was the Wells recipient for AY2014/2015. Then, Monday, 31 March, I got a phone call from the Dean of Holy Cross, telling me that the faculty had voted to recommend me as the Fellow in Residence; the only thing left was to get the President’s office to okay it, and he didn’t anticipate that being a problem. Two days later, he called to confirm that the President had indeed approved my appointment — and that was that.

In August of 2003, I pulled into Bloomington, expecting I’d be here three years at the absolute most and then it would be back to Seattle. In August of this year, we will finally leave Bloomington, and we will do so for Boston. I am looking forward to this immensely; I’m looking forward to living in the Northeast corridor, I’m looking forward to good seafood, I’m looking forward to a 45 second walk to church — and, of course, I’m looking forward to structuring my time around writing my dissertation, something I just haven’t been able to do this year, at least not in the way that is maximally productive. I will have absolutely no excuse not to be done, that’s for sure. While I was most definitely disappointed about Dumbarton Oaks, this is probably as good of a deal as we could have possibly hoped for — and one thing that we’ll have at HCHC that we wouldn’t have had at DO is a group of people we know. That’s going to be important, particularly for Megan and Theodore.

Holy Cross was at once a somewhat after-the-fact Hail Mary pass, while also being something I had been making a nuisance of myself about for a couple of years. However it worked out, I’m not going to complain; glory to God.

I will say, though — I’m looking at our 10 large bookshelves thinking, um, yeah, so, storage. If anybody has done something like this before and has suggestions about what to do with too many damn books, I’m all ears. I’m also having to scan and return my accumulate and perpetually-renewed library books, piling up over the last 11 years. That’s going to be a project in and of itself.

I’ll also say that, while I don’t normally do this, now would be a welcome time for anybody who wants to click on the “Tip Jar” tab up above to do so, what with a move to Boston in our immediate future and all. If you’ve got any questions about any of that, drop me a line — richardbarrett (AT) johnofdamascus . org. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Okay. I have books to scan. Back in a bit with a review of Cappella Romana’s Finnish CD.

Addenda to Chapter Five: Easing back into the unintentional epic

About a year and a half ago, some commentary on the complex relationship some younger people growing up today have with organized religion prompted me to start telling my own story with respect to organized religion (while wanting to keep it from becoming the “conversion story” that has rather become its own genre in American Orthodox Christianity). It was by necessity divided into pieces, and I got here before life as a new father, husband to a new mother, and as a PhD student racing to candidacy status meant that I just didn’t have time to write long blog posts.

I’m trying to get some momentum back, because I’d like to finish that particular project. The pattern I was following was this — post about religious developments followed by post giving some life context for those religious developments. So, I guess what that means is that life context for summer 1997 through summer 2003 is up next.

Summer 1997 saw me as somebody who had dropped out of college in disgrace and who was scraping out an existence in Bellingham selling classified ads for the local newspaper. The  major developments (that I’ll talk about here, anyway) during those few months were that I bought my first car (a teal 1992 Volkswagen Golf GL), I got a relatively substantial settlement from a car accident I had been in the summer before, I resumed voice lessons with Dennis Kruse, my high school voice teacher, and I got my first non-ecclesial professional singing gig with The Tudor Choir. The first of these developments enabled the latter two, since they required me to drive to Seattle (an hour and a half each way), and this got me pondering how I might be able to move back south, since there was really no great reason anymore for me to stay in Bellingham.

An old friend of mine was working for one of the major software companies in the Seattle area, and he suggested that I might be able to get a agency temp position as a software tester. He helped me prepare for the interview process, and when his team had some spots they were looking to fill, he was able to recommend me. I successfully got through the interview, and in February 1998 I moved back to Seattle and started my five-year excursion into the tech industry. It really was only ever going to be a stop on the way to someplace else for me, but it was definitely a nice stopover for a while.

The next year basically consisted of me trying to clean up the mess my four years in Bloomington had left in my life; I lost some weight I needed to lose, I fixed some financial issues, I got my voice back, I developed a relationship with a priest and a parish that was important to me, I bought my first Mac (an iMac Rev B), I fulfilled part of a teenage fantasy by getting to be friends, at least for a while, with Hammerbox’s Carrie Akre, and Megan McKamey re-entered my life.

Sometime during the summer of 1998 I was cleaning out a box I had found in my closet, and I came across an old address book. (“Old” meaning it I had bought it in 1994, four years previous. Four years ago I had just gotten back from Greece and was about to start graduate school. There’s nothing from 2009 that I consider “old”. Oh, perspective.) I found, among other things, the last home address I had for Megan, and for one reason or another, it hit me hard. I had started thinking of her in the back of my head as “the one that got away”, or more accurately, “the one I had foolishly let go”, and other circumstances in my life had emphasized for me how foolish I had been in letting her go. Anyway, I wrote a letter that amounted to, “Hey, haven’t seen you in about a year, and I suppose you’ve graduated by now and are back home figuring out what to do next. I’m back in the Seattle area too; let’s hang out sometime.” Time passed, and I got no response.

Then, in October (I think), a letter showed up in my mailbox from, of all places, Shanghai, China. I opened it up, and it was a letter from none other than Megan, where she was spending six months teaching English at a girls’ school. She seemed more or less happy to hear from me, or at least happy to get mail from home (declining to give me an e-mail address because, as she said, she’d rather get paper letters), and with that encouragement, I started writing her a handwritten, six-page letter a week. It would be wrong for me to suggest that she replied with the same kind of frequency; I think I got three more letters from her between October 1998 and when she returned in February 1999.

Anyway, by 28 February 1999, I been waiting to hear from her all month, since she had never said precisely when she was coming back to the States, and that afternoon I looked up her parents’ home phone number in the phone book (remember that people used to look up such things in such publications?), left a message on the answering machine, and basically paced around the apartment for awhile. Sometime in the early evening she called me back; we chatted briefly, she said we needed to hang out in person sometime soon, and I asked, well, what are you doing right now?

“Uh, I’m in Sumner.” (A little over half an hour away from where I was.)

“So what? I’ll be there in a bit.”

I drove down to Sumner immediately (I was excited), saw her for the first time in probably two years, met her family for the first time (well, not entirely true — I had met her brother Teague a couple of times in 1995), and the two of us went out for dinner and then to a movie (Shakespeare in Love, as I recall). It was very much like a date, and we made plans to hang out in my end of town the next weekend.

The next Saturday, I drove down to Sumner, picked Megan up (she did not yet have a car), and brought her back up to the Eastside. She showed me China pictures for awhile, we decided to go see Analyze This!, and then we went out to dinner. As we pulled into the parking lot of Redmond Town Center to go to Cucina! Cucina!, I decided it would probably be a good idea for me to have some clarity in my own head as to what we were doing. “Just so I know,” I asked, “is this a date?”

It took Megan about a minute to stop fumbling over her words sufficiently to answer me. The answer was “no”. The reason why the answer was “no” was, she explained, because she had started dating an old friend from high school shortly after she had gotten back from China.

Shortly after her “no”, it seemed that Cucina! Cucina! had an hourlong wait.

No worries, I told her; there was another place I could take her just up the road that was maybe a bit better, and I took her to the Salish Lodge in North Bend. Why not? It wasn’t exactly like I was just going to sullenly drive her home and never talk to her again; that’s not how I do things. May as well have an evening out as friends in as high a style as I could manage to improvise. We had crab cakes as an appetizer and expensive cocktails. It was fun, and I started making that my M.O. when we saw each other.

At the risk of this becoming a blow-by-blow of the following eight weekends, I’ll just sum up a number of events by saying that, by the end of April, she and the high school friend had decided that they were better off as friends, I had been invited to spend Easter with her family, I’d also been invited to come to her little brother’s confirmation, her stepdad had made the offhand comment to her that “I like Richard — he’s trying harder”, and we spent a very nice Saturday in Seattle, taking her to my old friend Bryn Martin (memory eternal) to have her hair done, going to The Owl ‘N Thistle for dinner, then taking advantage of the Pioneer Square joint cover (something that seems to no longer exist in that form, exactly, alas) to go dancing.

As we were walking back to the car, around 1:30 in the morning or so, we were holding hands, and Megan said, “We need to talk about where we’re at, don’t we? Because I think it’s changed.” She was quite right.

Around the same time, two other things happened — I was hired as a permanent employee at the company I was temping for, and my parents also announced, once and for all, that they were getting a divorce, once and for all. They had made similar announcements before only to reconcile, but this time was the real deal, ironically right as the relationship that would become my marriage was starting up.

The divorce was made more awkward by the fact that my dad had a heart attack in June of 1999, and my mom was the only person who could really help him in rehab. Whatever good that possibly may have been done was completely unraveled by the hard feelings and sharp words exchanged in the mediation proceedings. I took Megan up to Alaska at Christmas to introduce her to everybody (we were already looking at rings by that point), and the first of exactly two times she ever saw them in the same room together, the second being our wedding, was when my dad came by my mom’s house to claim a snowblower. We’ll just say that’s not a pleasant memory.

I also started to get busy as a singer starting in the fall of 1999. I put together a recital over the summer that was intended to be the junior recital I never actually got to do at Western, and that emboldened me to start auditioning for things. In the Seattle area, there’s a fair amount for a young tenor to do if he’s willing to work for nothing (or next to), and I started getting some of those gigs. Gilbert and Sullivan kind of became a niche of mine, falling in with a group called Bellevue Opera and doing three shows for them as the tenor lead — The MikadoH. M. S. Pinafore, and The Gondoliers. I also got to do Tony in West Side Story, I did a very ill-advised Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia (a job that I got without being heard first, and in retrospect, I think everybody, including me, would have liked there to have been an audition, because I learned the hard way with that show that my voice doesn’t do Rossini), I had a bizarre experience as a backup singer for a Sarah Brightman concert, I got a very small handful of oratorio gigs (those were pretty hard to come by, truthfully, if you weren’t already one of the 2-3 singers in each voice type that most conductors in the area used), some opera previews, some operetta with Seattle musical institution Hans Wolf, eventually I got a regular slot with the Seattle Opera chorus, a demo recording of an opera about the 2000 presidential election titled Al and George, I did little church gigs here and there while also singing regularly in the St. Margaret’s choir, I still did things with the Tudor Choir, and I also did four summers with the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society. It was a heady, busy time, and it was a group of experiences that seemed to point to something bigger. There were a lot of teachers and coaches who helped get me through all of this; besides Dennis Kruse, I had two teachers who were invaluable, Roberta Manion and Erich Parce, and then Glenda Williams, Beth Kirchhoff, and Dean Williamson gave me a lot of extremely helpful advice as coaches.

The best advice that I got, however, was from Ellen McLain (yes, that Ellen McLain), who ran the Seattle Opera Guild previews. I auditioned for her and she flatly said, “Absolutely not. Could you sing these previews? Yes, and you’d be fine. But you have not yet even come close to finishing your training as a singer, you need to go back to school and finish at least your Bachelors, there isn’t a halfway decent school of music in the country that wouldn’t give you a full ride with what you’ve got to offer, and I am not going to hire you and contribute to any perception you may have of yourself as anything close to a finished product.” Well, it was certainly good advice (and in some ways, I feel like she was honest with me in a way that some others weren’t), and I started thinking about what my next move was going to be. I had always figured that I would spend 5 years working before contemplating my next move, which meant that 2003 was what I was looking at as when I would move on to the next chapter.

On 24 February 2001, Megan and I got married. It was one of the very best days of my life, and is a story unto itself that I’ll tell another time. We honeymooned in Victoria, B. C., which was an absolutely lovely trip; we stayed a week at Abigail’s Hotel, which I’d recommend wholeheartedly, and I hope to get to go back someday.

Meeting the wonderful Joey Evans when he sang Captain Vere in Seattle Opera’s production of Billy Budd, I decided to pay a visit to University of Houston to see if it might be a viable option as a place to finish the B. Mus. The school was lovely, and Joey would have been a great help to me I’m sure, but the thing was, I arrived in Houston on Monday, 10 September 2001. I’m sure you can imagine that was not a great week to be trying to get an impression of a school, and I just didn’t love Houston enough otherwise to want to go there. Big, flat, and hot are not exactly my thing.

Fall of 2002, I started applying for Young Artist Programs. At the advice of Dean Williamson, I applied for Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, and a third I can’t recall. The third didn’t even give me an audition (probably why I don’t remember which one it was); I made the huge mistake of thinking that Houston’s audition, being held in San Francisco, could be done as a day trip (SINGERS! DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN POSITIONS WHERE YOU HAVE TO SING RIGHT AFTER GETTING OFF A PLANE! BAD IDEA!), so it was an audition that sucked to say the least, and then Seattle was looking for tenors who could sing Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, and “Un’aura amorosa” was just never an aria I sang if I didn’t have to, so that audition also sucked.

The truth is, I just wasn’t ever all that good. I could be heard past the front row, I sang on pitch, but I wasn’t very musical, and I had neither fabulous high notes nor amazing flexibility nor incredible expressive ability nor anything else going for me. I was tall, I wasn’t the size of a house (then), I could learn repertoire fairly quickly, I seemed reasonably comfortable onstage, and I could be funny when I needed to be. At 25, I was pretty good for a 22 year old, and that was sort of the extent of it. I wasn’t a freak of nature, I wasn’t a Wunderkind, I wasn’t a “natural voice” (whatever that means), I was just somebody who had to work hard at it for it to be any good, and who enjoyed working hard at it, but “has to work hard at it” is very much not necessarily the same thing as “born performer”; “making it look easy” is the qualifier there, and I was never really able to do that.

Still, I won an Encouragement Award at the district Met auditions that fall, and I took that as, well, encouragement. I needed to move on to something else (I was getting to a point where I needed to commit to either my day job or to whatever I was going to do with singing). I found out that a singer friend of mine whom I had thought had been a shoo-in for Seattle’s Young Artist Program had also not gotten in and was instead going to go to Indiana University; well, I thought, if he can do it, then I can do it. I quickly made arrangements to visit IU during the first audition weekend, and I took a lesson with a teacher who was willing to back my (late) application and get me a special audition slot. I flew back to Indiana in the middle of March to do the audition, I got in, and after some favorable negotiating over scholarships (Ellen McLain wasn’t entirely accurate in her assessment, I’ll say, but close enough), I told my managers at the software company that I would be leaving at the end of July (and we’ll just say that what had been an optimistic appraisal in 1999 of what my new-hire stock option package might be worth by 2003 was optimistic indeed, to be maximally kind — thank God nobody ever tried to convince me to borrow money against it; more on that professional experience as a whole here). My Washington state chapter was coming to a close after twenty-three years.

Okay. More to come.

This is what happens when you tell me I can’t do it

Seven years ago today, somebody who was very well-informed about how such things worked told me that it was highly unlikely that I could ever be competitive for IU’s History graduate program, given an undergraduate degree in music performance rather than in something properly considered part of the Humanities, and particularly given no real background in Latin or Greek.

I’m pleased to note that as of this week, I have passed my doctoral-level Greek and Latin exams. The Greek exam requirement was satisfied last summer (thank you, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Greek Summer School), and I took my Latin exam this last Tuesday, which consisted of passages from St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion, The Acts of the Divine Augustus, and Agnellus’ Book of the Pontiffs of Ravenna. My examiners seemed very pleased.

Now, on to my oral exams, which are scheduled for 29 March. Because I never do anything in the right order, I more or less have a dissertation proposal once my orals are out of the way, so God willing, I’ll have advanced to candidacy by the end of the semester.

I may still yet have a real job before I’m 40. We’ll see.

“When we name our children, we should do so as ones who are identifying them as God’s heirs”

There’s a page from a church website making the usual rounds right now titled about Orthodox practices with a newborn. As somebody who is going through those steps right now and having to explain various things (what’s the difference between churching and baptism? Why do you have to do the churching? What’s the whole naming thing when you’re going to do a christening? etc.), I think it’s pretty good. We wound up churching Theodore after, well, ten days, I suppose — it was sort of curious how it worked out, since our priest came over to do the naming on a Tuesday, and told us, “Well, there’s no hard and fast reason to do 40 days if it’s not practical to do 40 days, but it’s theoretically supposed to be the first real trip outside of the house for the mother and child.” Megan looked sheepish and said, Um, I went to Target yesterday. The priest gave a dismissive wave and said, not a big deal. Let’s just do the churching on Thursday.

Well, the reason we could do the churching on a Thursday was because it was the same day that Fr. Peter E. Gillquist’s body was lying in the center of the church, and we were serving a Divine Liturgy before he was to be taken up to Holy Trinity in Indianapolis for the funeral services proper. (There were around 32 clergy at the altar for his funeral. There’s no freaking way All Saints could have done that.) So, Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist carried Theodore Harvey Barrett II down the aisle, past the body of his own father, Fr. Peter E. Gillquist, into the altar. There was something weirdly normal-seeming about the whole thing — in the midst of death, we are in life — and there were a number of people who said to me that it wasn’t every day that the whole circle of life seemed to get represented like that.

Anyway. Something that hit me about the Orthodox newborn practices piece was this bit about names:

Orthodox Christian naming practices vary. A child is sometimes named after the saint commemorated on the day of birth, sometimes in honour of some other saint or biblical figure. Sometimes, however, the child receives the name of a virtue, an ancestor, or some other name entirely (see for example, early saints who were named after pagan philosophers like Plato). There are no “hard and fast” rules (as there might have been in ancient Judaism), except that Christian parents should name their child in a thoughtful and prayerful manner, not whimsically, idly, or merely according to some prevailing fashion. Our names embody our identities and point to our vocation. When we name our children, we should do so as ones who are identifying them as God’s heirs and dedicating them to His service.

A philosopher (and by a “philosopher” I mean Bruce Willis speaking Roger Avary’s words) once said, “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.” Well, that’s not quite right. My name has a meaning; “Richard” means “king” (it’s cognate with rex, Reichert, etc. and it’s the semantic equivalent of the Greek name Βασίλης), “Raymond” means “protector”, and then “Barrett” can mean “strong man”, “hatmaker”, or something like “con man”, depending on what part of Europe your family is from. My family appears to be from the part of Europe where it means “con man” (evidently the only remaining reflex of this meaning in Modern English is the legal term “barratry”, which itself seems to mean something akin to “ambulance chasing”); of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m the strong king of con men (…or does it…?). No, what it means is that my father, Richard Ellis Barrett, wanted me to have his name but didn’t want me to be a junior. My middle name comes from my maternal grandfather, Raymond Myrick, whom I never got to meet.

Theodore is named for his great-great-great-grandfather, about whom I’ve written a decent amount. Theodore means “gift of God” (Theo- “God” doros “gift”, with the appropriate inflected Greek masculine ending), and is apparently semantically equivalent to the Hebrew form of “Matthew”. His namesake was a general (if perhaps not necessarily a great or even a good one, although this much is not entirely clear to me), so it was a no-brainer to us that Theodore the General should be his patron saint. But wait — “Harvey” apparently meant “battle worthy” in Breton. So he’s the battle worthy general who’s a gift from God. Of course, there’s still the whole problem of being a con man — but anyway.

Of course, the point isn’t that our firstborn is going to be a battle-worthy general of an army of con men who all think they’re God’s gift. (Although he might be, I suppose.) The point is that, “Harvey” and “II” and all, he has the best name we could give him, with the best link to his family’s legacy that we could possibly provide, however tenuous of a connection it may be and however forgotten his namesake may have been. The argument could be made that it’s constructed and contrived and trying to revive a memory that had already apparently passed away within two generations, but one doesn’t rebuild bridges by throwing up one’s hands and saying, “I guess we can’t get there from here.”

Perhaps it’s a lot of weight to place on a little boy’s name, but at the same time, there’s no question at the very least that he’s a gift from God. Besides, Theodore has gained 23 ounces and grown an inch since being discharged from the hospital, and he was eight pounds to begin with. I think he’ll manage.

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