Archive for the 'College' Category

What did you do on #elevennine?

Every generation has days where they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. John F. Kennedy’s assassination was one for my parents. The earliest one I remember is the Challenger explosion; also Princess Diana’s death, maybe. 9/11 is, of course, one of those days as well, and still very much in recent memory.

11/9 is, I think, going to be another one. It already has been a day of note in past years; 9 November 1938 was Kristallnacht, and 9 November 1989 was the fall of the Berlin Wall. It remains to be seen just what kind of a marker 9 November 2016 will be remembered as; one way or the other, though — as I tell other historians — we are seeing periodization in action. This is close of one chapter and the beginning of the other; 11/9 is a day we will see as a dividing line of some kind.

So where was I and what did I do on 11/9?

We had been up watching the returns since the first polls closed Tuesday night. We watched his speech, and at 3:30 in the morning turned in. I got up to go chant Orthros and Divine Liturgy for St. Nektarios of Aegina, praising God and his saints with my voice as best I could, and then I went to go teach the undergraduates taking my Ancient Greek History survey course.

I walked in and saw a lot of low, low faces. Some of them were gathered around a laptop. “She’s speaking right now,” one of them said.

“Right,” I said. “I’ll put it up on the projector screen.”

We watched her concede.

I had a lesson planned for the day. I thought to myself, screw it.

“Okay, folks, obviously today is going to be a little different –”

“The next four years are going to be a little different,” one of my students said.

“Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you what.” I pulled up an article from “Patriotic Folks dot Com”, one of the alt-right sites to which some of my ultra-conservative Facebook connections are always posting links, and put it up on the projector screen. “You know why I’m always harping on questions like audience, genre, agenda, view of the past, and so on? Because of pieces like this.” I show them the article, which seemed to assert that some famous Hollywood actor had posted a picture of himself holding up a pro-Trump sign, and then aggregated tweets from both right and left showing their reactions. Of course, the headline presented it as “Liberal Twitter melting down”. Of course the picture is fake, and the article even acknowledges that it’s fake, at the very end. The only point of the piece is to point out how the image punks the “other side”, while naturally ignoring that “their” side got punk’d, too.

“I make you think about those questions precisely because we all get bombarded with this stuff every day, and unlike the tabloids when I was a kid, where you could distinguish based on format and location in the store, everything looks equally authoritative when shared as a Facebook link. You have to evaluate based on content, not format, and if you can’t do that, we’re all going to be in trouble. My generation has not been well-educated about this, neither has the generation before mine. You have to figure it out. The point isn’t really whether Thucydides is ‘more reliable’ as a ‘scientific historian’ than Herodotus; the point is, that’s an exercise that will help you evaluate garbage like this. If a historian five hundred years from now sees this website and can’t answer those kinds of questions, then this is going to be useless as a source; but if you can think about it and answer those questions, then it can tell you a lot.”

A Mexican woman told me, We’re not rapists and criminals. And nobody gets “sent” here in the first place.

An African American woman told me, I grew up in Boston. I had heard about racism and xenophobia as issues, but I had never really seen the extent to which they were things real people actually did.

“See, for eleven years, I lived twenty minutes south of the birthplace of the KKK, right on the edge of what is, for all intents and purposes, rural and culturally Southern. That’s an experience that means I’m surprised by this outcome, but not blindsided. I’ve seen this face to face.”

Then I showed them the video from Monday night of Pres. Obama in New Hampshire telling the story of the woman in Greenwood, South Carolina, one of twenty people at one of his early 2008 campaign meetings, who got the room excited for him by saying “All fired up! Ready to go!” This was the woman, he said, who made him realize that “…one voice can change a room… And if it can change a room, it can change a city. And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world.”

Be the voice that changes the room, I told them.

Then I went to a rehearsal and sang beautiful music as best as I could.

That is how I spent 11/9. What did you do?

And then, today, on 11/10, the real question — what are you and I going to do? Because there’s a lot to be done.

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.


A vision for Orthodox university ministry — at Indiana University, and beyond

I’m somewhere between 3-6 weeks from leaving Bloomington. Our lease is up 1 August; we have a move-in date at Holy Cross of 21 August. We’re seeing if we can close the gap at all, but we won’t know if that will work until next week. We’re getting ready to sell one of our cars. We’re packing. I took a load of clothes to Goodwill two days ago. We just wrapped up our last moving sale. We’re selling books.

I’m thinking a lot about what I’ve learned from living in Bloomington the last 11 years. The vast majority of my marriage has been here. The entirety of my experience as a father has been here. I have been in school for all but eight months of that time. I converted to Orthodox Christianity here. We’ve not only outlasted just about everybody who started here with us, we’ve outlasted just about everybody who ever knew them. The nine years we’ve lived in our little rental house has been the longest I have ever lived in the same place, and it has been a home even when, at times, Bloomington itself has defiantly refused to be.

I have written a lot in this blog about the experience of this town (like this, for example) from my vantage point as a university student, an Orthodox Christian, a worker bee, the spouse of a graduate student, and a church musician. I have found myself deeply concerned about and involved with mission from those perspectives; I have been, in many ways, an envoy on behalf of Orthodox Christianity to this strange university town that is Bloomington, but I have also had to represent the university to Orthodoxy at least as often.

As a result of these activities, I believe very strongly that there is much to be done in and for Bloomington that is not being done. Before I go into that, though, you need to read this. Also, there’s something we have to establish first.

There is not an Orthodox church in Bloomington.

There is an Orthodox church with a Bloomington address, yes, but particularly from the standpoint of an Indiana University undergrad without a car, that really is not the same thing. Regardless of what post office serves it, it is two and a half miles into unincorporated county; none of Bloomington’s municipal services reach it (including the bus), it is part of Perry Township, and it is closer to Smithville’s town center (1.6 miles) than Bloomington’s (6.2). (“But Smithville isn’t a town! It’s nothing!” I’m hearing some people say. Right. That actually underscores my point.) For all practical purposes, it is the closest Orthodox church to Bloomington, perhaps, but it is not a Bloomington church. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; it’s a great thing for the people who go there. As I’ve written before, its own population is made up largely of people from areas peripheral to Bloomington; a fair number of people drive up from points south to attend there, and it serves that population very well. But, again, it is not a Bloomington church in the sense of being accessible to people who live and work in and around the university campus and the downtown area. This is manifest in the fact that IU’s OCF chapter isn’t even part of the Campus Religious Leaders Association here.

Along those lines — a friend of mine posted this on his Facebook timeline today:

it’s not a competition, but today I remembered that Bloomington is the best place to live in the world. Everything you could ever want in a city…on a much smaller scale.
Walk from church to coffee shop: 15 seconds. From coffee shop to music store: 2 minutes. From music store to comic book store: 30 seconds. From comic book store to amazing restaurant: 45 seconds. From restaurant to bike shop: 2 minutes

Now, there are multiple churches in Bloomington for which this is true, and what is further implied is proximity to the university; if you are Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Unitarian, Methodist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Mormon, Christian Scientist, American Baptist, Church of Christ, United Church of Christ, Korean Methodist, Jewish, or Muslim, there is at least one congregation within a 5 minute bike ride or so from campus if not a 5 minute walk. Then, yes, from there a short hop, skip, and a jump to a coffee shop etc. And, if you’re Lutheran or Anglican, there’s even a campus house for you.

Let’s at once broaden and narrow the scope. Let’s broaden to the whole of the Big 10, and narrow to Orthodox churches specifically. Here’s a quick ‘n dirty chart for Orthodox churches in the Big 10 (click to enlarge). For each school, I list the number of parishes within 10 miles of campus (according to Google Maps and, the parish that’s closest to campus and its distance from campus (again, according to Google Maps), whether or not that’s walkable (that is, 2 miles or less from campus), walking time if so, transit time from campus to church via public transportation if applicable (again, according to transit data provided on Google Maps), drive time, the size of the metro area by population, and other relevant data.

We have to be careful here — these numbers don’t adequately take into account the size of the campus’ footprint and how that might impact distance from church, for example, and not everybody lives on campus. Still, I think there’s a decent initial picture that emerges here, even if it is a little rough.Orthodox Churches in the Big 10

So, with those numbers, on average, throughout the Big 10, there are about 5 Orthodox churches within 10 miles of the campus, and the closest church is an average of 3.14 miles away. Again, we have to be careful with what we’re looking at; these averages are driven up by Northwestern, for example. Northwestern has 19 Orthodox churches within 10 miles by virtue of being in Chicago, but their closest church is also, across the Big 10, the second farthest, at 5.3 miles away (and a pain in the neck to get to from campus, I’m told).

Also, Penn State, University of Iowa, and University of Urbana-Champaign are doing really well in terms of proximity; I know from personal experience how walkable St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Church is from University of Iowa, I’ve visited St. Nicholas at UIUC, friends of mine live in State College, PA, and those parishes really are standouts in terms of making themselves accessible (plus UIUC’s OCF has a house and an alumni association). Throughout the rest of the Big 10, in the main it’s not too bad, with churches being basically a 5-10 minute drive away. Public transportation doesn’t tell a great story there, with 5 schools not having Sunday bus service, and it taking 30-40 minutes to go 2-4 miles in those places that do have it on Sunday. We could be doing better in specific cases; we could also be doing a lot worse in terms of averages.

Here in Bloomington, the church that’s here is the one that’s the farthest away from campus in the whole Big 10; if you look at the campus religious guide linked to above, you’ll see that, except for an independent Baptist church one town over, it’s the farthest listed congregation away from campus of all of them. A 15 second walk to a coffee shop afterward? Heck, even a 15 minute walk? Nope, the nearest coffee shop according to Yelp is 2.6 miles away. My friend’s praises of Bloomington’s walkable accessibility simply don’t apply here; for an Orthodox undergrad without a car, getting to church on Sunday here is an exercise in tracking down a ride and going out to the middle of nowhere. To refer back to the linked article above, in which ACROD’s Bp. Gregory expresses the hope that “our young college students will not only stay connected but deepen their faith during their years in post-secondary education and graduate to be faithful stewards of parishes across the country”, I have seen this lack of proximity and accessibility function as a major barrier from keeping young college students connected. I have also seen it work, to be sure, but the distance remains something that has to be overcome a lot of the time.

Indiana University is home to around 42,000 students, 3,000 faculty members, and I have no idea how many other staff members. There is a humongous international population here. It is home to major centers of scholarship for early Christianity, Modern Greek, the Middle East, Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe (and that’s all about to become a much bigger deal with the School of Global and International Studies). It is a very attractive place to be for people who are either cradle Orthodox or otherwise interested parties. There are a lot of thoughtful people here in general who would likely be open to what Orthodox Christianity is if it were but visible in the middle of the community. The parish with a Bloomington address but that isn’t actually in Bloomington is not in a position to engage such a population; they are more of a mission to rural southern Indiana, and, again, they are doing very well with that as their mission field.

The situation that is here in Bloomington is one that is ripe for a jurisdiction to take advantage of, and to build a flagship parish that would be a model of pan-Orthodox (in the best sense, where distinct traditions are acknowledged and embraced) university ministry. A parish close to campus, that can be accessible to students and faculty (and anybody else), that can be a resource for the departments and faculty whose work involves Orthodox Christianity, that can be a resource to the greater community about Orthodoxy. A congregation that can be connected to the IU community, and that can be home-away-from-home for students, be they Greek, Russian, Arab, Anglo, Georgian, or whatever. A place where serious, sincere conversations about Orthodox Christianity, be they with students who need an ear or with adults who have hard questions, can happen on Orthodoxy’s own turf and terms. Perhaps a parish that can support a house. A parish where students who want to learn more about Orthodox music can do so. A place where the greater Bloomington community is just a walk of a minute or two away, where the parish can throw open its doors to the greater community and the university, and where the parish can function in a manner that is connected with the community and the university.

Is this all a tall order? Yes. This would require, first and foremost, a great deal of prayer and guidance; it would require a bishop (if not multiple bishops) with vision and savvy; it would require a multitalented priest; it would require some cooperative and interested faculty (perhaps the easiest part, frankly); and it would require a lot of money and clever marshaling of resources, plain and simple. This is a big idea. At the same time, I have seen how this place works for the last eleven years; I’ve been an undergrad, staff, and a grad student here; I was actively involved in OCF for three years, hosting it at our house for one of them; I’ve organized a lot of events on campus; I was part of an attempt to cultivate an IU Orthodox alumni association; I have listened to what a lot of people have to say about why some things work here and some don’t in terms of church, university, and community. From what I’ve seen and heard, I firmly believe that it can be done with good planning, good leadership, and building of goodwill. More importantly than it being possible — it is needed.

There’s another component that’s vital here, and that’s creating an opportunity for Bloomington’s cradle community to fulfill the Great Commission in their own lives. For various complicated reasons, some of which I understand and others I don’t, many of them choose to not attend the parish that has set up shop in unincorporated county; some of them have lamented to me that, were there a church closer to campus, they would be more involved. Well, this would be exactly that chance — but besides being close to campus, it would be a chance to reach out to young people who wouldn’t really be able to pay them back, or even really be able to support the parish. Nonetheless, this would be good soil for those young people and students. It would be an opportunity for Bloomington’s cradle community to gather together, pool their resources, build something, hire someone, and pray hard. Even beyond that — here’s an opportunity to make this a movement, a change in the way jurisdictions think about how they plant churches in college towns, with cradles and converts alike encouraging their families in other college towns to make sure that there is a church within walking distance for Orthodox young people, and supporting exactly that in their own areas. Bloomington definitely isn’t the only college or university that needs this vision; it isn’t even the only Big 10 school that needs it. Still, it might need to be the place where it gets started.

How might such an undertaking be planned? Well, as long we’re dreaming here — if there were already sufficient seed funding to get something established, as well as a blessing from a bishop to form a parish with an assigned priest, two things would be important immediately, from where I sit. The first thing to do would be to form a non-profit organization that would serve as the umbrella organization for the education and culture side of things, with the board consisting of people in the community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, who have an interest in furthering those aims, with at least one student representative. Then, what would be great in terms of establishing initial visibility as well as the pan-Orthodox nature of the effort, would get it set up at a location — even if it is temporary at first — that is visible and easily accessible from campus, then inviting all of the bishops for the area — Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit (GOA), Bp. ANTHONY of Toledo (AOCANA), Bp. Peter of Chicago (ROCOR), and whomever else would be appropriate — along with somebody like Donna Elias, National Programs Manager for OCF, and then the priest for the chapel as well as all other area clergy to come to open it, with a procession from the Monroe County Courthouse in the square to the chapel’s location. It would be vital to see that it is well-publicized, and to treat it like a public event of community interest.

That’s where I think it could start. You’d have to do it in phases, certainly, and those would be negotiable — but something that would need to be treated as absolutely non-negotiable and vital to the exercise is proximity and accessibility to the university. It would be a tragedy to start out in a temporary location that’s a 30 second walk from Kirkwood Avenue only to wind up on the far west end of town halfway to Bloomfield. That would require, again, being smart and careful in terms of planning.

Now, I know full well that nobody is going to read this and say, “Well, heck, what are waiting for? Let’s do it!” I have no illusions about that. My point is simply that there is so much that can be done here, so much that needs to be done in terms of revealing Christ to Bloomington in the Orthodox Church; it’s not going to get done by one person with a vision, not by a long shot, but somebody has to be willing to commit to forming a vision for this kind of university ministry, articulating it to the people who can participate, and then bringing it about with God’s help. It can be done here, it can be done right, and I think it can even be a model for how you do it right. The harvest is plentiful if the workers will be there.

Okay, back to packing.


A curriculum proposal for Byzantine chant

So, a couple of months ago, I suggested that learning to sing needs to be part of learning to chant, and even suggested that language and diction in the appropriate languages should be an expected part of one’s training, just as it is for a classical singer.

I’ve continued to chew on some of the implications of that post, and one of the outcomes of that was to draft a proposed curriculum for what a Byzantine chant concentration could look like in the context of an undergraduate music program. Obviously, this is all entirely hypothetical; I don’t know of any music schools that are itching to add this as a concentration. St. Katherine’s College could, I suppose, eventually try to incorporate something like this into their curriculum, but who knows. Hellenic College would probably be reasonably well set-up to do something like this, but they don’t even presently offer a music major.

A few assumptions I’m making: first and foremost, that there is an on-campus chapel with regular services. Second, that chapel services would make a full-on recital unnecessary; rather, have the student do a junior and senior exam that basically are an extended jury — where they prepare a certain number of compositions ranging in difficulty and sing 2-3 of them at the request of a committee. Third, that building a good cantor who is also a good musician will require some knowledge of Western music theory and notation (I’m less sold on keyboard skills, but it still seems instinctive to me to include) in addition to Byzantine music theory and notation. Fourth, that voice lessons won’t concentrate on things like “Caro mio ben” or “Silent Noon”. They may well include that kind of repertoire if the student really wants it and the teacher is able to do it, but beyond the universals of healthy production, the specifics will by and large be those of psaltic technique. Fifth, that the academic environment would be such that it would allow for patristic and theological discussion to occur within the context of music history courses.

One observation I make immediately is that this is a very full undergraduate degree. I started off with IU’s B. Mus. in Vocal Performance as a basis, while also consulting their Early Music Vocal Performance B. Mus., and then worked from there to focus it specifically on the requirements of Byzantine chant. As with IU’s Vocal Performance B. Mus., the general education requirements are quite minimal, but it’s still jam-packed. I think the keyboard skills part could perhaps be taken out/made an elective, maybe a case is made for 2 languages rather than three, and maybe you either don’t do credits for Chapel Choir or tweak the number of credits for voice lessons. But, all that said, the B. Mus. at IU is a very full degree, and that’s just how it is.

It seems that a couple of other useful curricula to come up with would be a B. A. degree, and perhaps a more general “Orthodox Liturgical Music” degree. It’d be nice to also include a course or two on Mediterranean folk music to be able to show the relationship between liturgical and vernacular musics (hinted at in the bit about “Mediterranean instruments”, which also assumes that such instruction would be available), but maybe that would have to be kept for the Masters degree.

Anyway, here’s the draft. I’m curious to hear thoughts.

Bachelor of Music in Performance, Byzantine Chant

Major Ensemble

Chapel Choir (1 cr.) required every semester of enrollment.

Performance Study

Voice. 3 credit hours each semester until senior exam is passed, at which point they may be reduced to 2. Required: entrance audition, freshman jury, upper-division examination, junior exam, senior exam.

Secondary Piano and Keyboard Proficiency

All students must pass a keyboard proficiency examination. Voice majors must take an examination for placement in a 3-semester class piano sequence (2 credits per semester) or take elective individual lessons (1-2 credits per semester) and continue study each semester until the keyboard proficiency examination is passed.

Core Music Courses

26 credit hours

  • Placement examination or Introduction to Musical Concepts (1 cr.)
  • Core Musical Skills I (1 cr.), Western Music Theory and Literature I (3 cr.)
  • Western Music Theory and Literature II (3 cr.)
  • Western Musical Skills II (1 cr.)
  • Byzantine Musical Skills I (1 cr.)
  • Byzantine Musical Skills II (1 cr.)
  • Byzantine Music Theory and Literature I (3 cr.)
  • Byzantine Music Theory and Literature II (3 cr.)
  • Byzantine Music Theory and Literature III (3 cr.)
  • History and Literature of Western Music (3 cr.)
  • History and Literature of Byzantine Music I (2 cr.)
  • History and Literature of Byzantine Music II (2 cr.)

The above must be passed with a C or better.

Advanced Music Literature and Music Theory

3 credit hours selected from:

  • Composer or Genre (3 cr.)
  • Topics in Byzantine Music Theory (3 cr.)
  • Pre-Reform Notation (3 cr.)
  • Analysis of Modal Music (3 cr.)
Other Music Courses

25 credit hours


  • Liturgics & Chant Literature: Services and Service Structure I (3 cr.)
  • Liturgics & Chant Literature: Services and Service Structure II (3 cr.)
  • Liturgics & Chant Literature: Idiomela I (3 cr.)
  • Liturgics & Chant Literature: Idiomela II (3 cr.)
  • Liturgics & Chant Literature: Anastasimatarion and Irmologion (3 cr.)
  • Applied Greek Diction for Singers (1 cr.)
  • Applied Arabic Diction for Singers (1 cr.)
  • Applied Romanian Diction for Singers (1 cr.) OR Applied Slavonic Diction for Singers (1 cr.)
  • English Diction for Singers (1 cr.).
  • Electives: 6 credit hours, including a minimum of 2 credit hours in pedagogy courses such as Introduction to Music Learning (2 cr.) or Vocal Pedagogy (3 cr.).

Electives may also include courses for music majors in sacred music, music education, techniques, conducting, composition, music history, music theory, opera, and unclassified courses. A maximum of 4 credit hours in early or Mediterranean instruments may be counted in this area.

General Education

23-35 credit hours

  • Written and Oral Expression English composition, 2 credit hours or competency.
  • Foreign Language 12-24 credit hours or proficiency, equivalent to two semesters of first-year language study.
    • Greek: Elementary Ecclesiastical Greek I (4 cr.) and Elementary Ecclesiastical Greek II (4 cr.); or Accelerated Ecclesiastical Greek (4 cr.).
    • Arabic: Elementary Arabic I (4 cr.) and Elementary Arabic II; or Accelerated Elementary Arabic (4 cr.).
    • Choice of:
      • Romanian: Elementary Romanian I (4 cr.) and Elementary Romanian II (4 cr.); or Accelerated Elementary Romanian (4 cr.). OR
      • Slavonic: Elementary Church Slavonic I (4 cr.) and Elementary Church Slavonic II (4 cr.); or Accelerated Church Slavonic (4 cr.)
  • Humanities 3 credit hours.
  • Life and Physical Sciences and Mathematics 3 credit hours.
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences 3 credit hours.
To Complete Degree

Free music or non-music electives as needed to bring the total credit hours to 120, excluding Chapel Choir.

Addenda to Kapitel Vier: The post-high school, struggling through junior year of college, and giving up to enter the workforce blues

Exactly what would happen to me following high school graduation was a point of no small controversy. My parents wanted me in Alaska with them as soon as possible and to stay up there as long as possible. The stated reason was so I could work as long as possible; there were at least two other reasons, however, that are probably best summed up by saying that me going to college “in state” (that is, in Washington), while it had seemed like a great idea up until summer of 1993, now didn’t seem like such a hot deal from a familial perspective. At best I’d now be a three hour flight away instead of an hour and a half’s drive (not that I had a car anyway), and while I still had incentives to go back to the Seattle area on the weekends, they weren’t part of it. My parents were going to have to deal with an empty nest in a place that had never actually been our nest, and they would have to do so with me relatively inaccessible. This is, I am certain, difficult under the best of circumstances, and the family difficulties we had been struggling with for the past several years meant that these were not the best of circumstances.

The bottom line was that, for that last summer before college, I really didn’t want to go to Alaska and they really didn’t want me to stay in Seattle. I had no desire to go someplace that I had no real memory of to be around two people who were likely to re-negotiate the manner of their life together after a year apart in a way that was going to be extremely unpleasant for any additional parties. If the point was for me to work, I could do that in Seattle without paying for a plane ticket; from where I sat, that made a heck of a lot more sense than forcing me to be a continuing participant in their drama. I had people I wanted to be around, but that was also part of the issue for my parents; they weren’t people they wanted me to be around. There’s not much more I can say about that without getting into specifics that aren’t appropriate for me to get into, so I’ll leave this by noting that I had a conversation with one parent where I expressed all of my concerns quite openly; this parent replied, well, yes, that’s all probably true. It isn’t going to be fun, and you’re probably going to have to deal with us fighting a lot. But that’s the way it goes, we’re a family, messed up though we may be, this is the way we want it for you right now, and we’re still in charge.

This was a growing source of tension as high school graduation neared; ultimately, however, there were two things that threw a wrench into the plan for me to be in Alaska for the entire summer — one was early orientation for Western Washington University, and the other was the aforementioned opportunity to work as an extra on the movie Mad Love. Again, don’t bother looking for me; everything I was in was cut. I could have worked more, but the three days I did work meant a two week delay in my departure for Alaska, and my parents weren’t willing to delay it any more. Still, as it worked out, I had to be back a month later anyway for early orientation and registration. The schedule became a month up, three weeks back, and a month up.

Yes, the time in Anchorage was rough, for all of the reasons I expected it to be. However, I will be the first person to say that there are parts of it I’m glad for; I had the chance to reconnect with some family members I hadn’t seen in years, and I was able to continue some of my vocal momentum with a voice teacher named Bettyrae Easley, who did the very practical thing of getting me ready to audition for Western’s music major, something in the post-graduation whirlwind that there just hadn’t been time to discuss with Dennis once my voice had finally opened up. Among other things, Bettyrae taught me my first French mélodie, Fauré’s “Lydia”, which served as my introduction to an entirely new song paradigm (to say nothing of the beginning of a, shall we say, complex relationship with French diction).

I did wind up working a bit in Anchorage; not overly much due to the time constraints, but there were a couple of odd jobs here and there that I did for friends of my dad. Among other things, I helped a future protest candidate for the United States Senate and right-wing filmmaker move out of a landmark Lloyd Wright home, and I also spent a couple of weeks assembling and finishing ulus.

One of the things that was difficult for me conceptually about preparing to go to college was that nobody seemed to actually have a clear idea in their head why I was going, or how to relate it to anything I was interested in doing, or how to relate any of those things to how I might actually earn a living on the other end. I was supposed to have been a smart kid, but none of the various things I was good at really lent themselves to careers, per se, at least as my parents or the people in their circles understood them. I was a voracious reader, I retained information, I read about all kinds of things as a kid from astronomy to cryptography to computer science to paleontology to mythology and everything in between, but what did that mean in terms of what I could do to feed myself? Coming into high school, math and science bored me silly, I hated sports, I was more interested in what computers could be used for than what they did under the hood, I enjoyed creative writing, I seemed to have some aptitudes for drawing and painting up to a point, and I enjoyed music but puberty had freaked me out with my voice change and I convinced myself I couldn’t sing anymore. There really wasn’t anything obvious in there in terms of “normal” career paths; not business, not medicine, none of that. Neither of my parents finished college and academia wasn’t anything I had ever heard of as a career.

Once I got into high school and discovered that I seemed to have an aptitude for theatre and music, that was a relief in some respects and it gave me some idea of a path. The thing was, nobody took it seriously. I remember my senior year of high school telling people, I’m going to major in music and theatre. Typically, that would generate a condescending smile and a sentence that sounded something like, “Oh, well, it really doesn’t matter what you start with, because you’ll probably change ten times before you’re done.” That, frankly, pissed me off; it was clear that I was being patronized and not listened to. At the same time, I had to acknowledge that having it in my head that I would finish a major wasn’t the same thing as knowing exactly how to get to the “pay your bills” part of the deal.

My parents didn’t know what to tell me. They didn’t really understand my interests, and they didn’t have any advice regarding college except get good grades and finish as soon as possible. Neither was there was ever any clear idea of what the trajectory of life post-high school was going to be for us, even before they moved back to Alaska. Was there an expectation that I was going to live with them until I got married? Was there an expectation about when it would be “okay” for me to think about getting married? None of this was discussed. At least when they were still going to be in Seattle, some small level of continuity could be assumed, but the mechanics and specifics still weren’t really talked about. After the move, all bets were off.

Thus it was that I found myself in Bellingham in September of 1994, living in a dorm room in Ridgeway Sigma with one Will Bass, and most of my worldly possessions were under my then-girlfriend’s house (many of which never to be seen again, alas, as will be explained in a future installment). I auditioned for the voice major, got in, then walked over to the other side of the Performing Arts Center and declared myself a theatre major. My very first class on the first day of my freshman year was Music Theory I, taught by Prof. Jeffrey Gilliam (to this day perhaps the single most naturally musical person I have ever met, to say nothing of the very best music theory instructor I have ever had). It was off to the races.

There were a number of highlights to that year: I was in my very first opera, singing Marco, one of i parenti in Gianni Schicchi (with the previously-mentioned future Metropolitan Opera baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson in the title role). I also got to sing the high baritone drunken abbot solo in Carmina Burana (“Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis… WAAAAAAAAAAAAFNA!”). My friend Gavin Shearer sat me down at some point in the fall to show me this awesome thing that was happening in computers called “the World Wide Web” that used this amazing program called Mosaic to do what Prodigy and AOL had utterly failed to do up to that point. Two portentous occurrences: a master class with a voice teacher named Roy Samuelsen from Indiana University, a school I had never heard of before but that apparently had quite a reputation for opera, and dating very briefly this lovely brunette named Megan McKamey, who was absolutely wonderful in every way, but everything going on around me made it difficult to feel capable of committing at the level I felt she deserved.

The trouble was, my parents and I didn’t even get through the first quarter without some massive meltdowns. The situation was complex; Seattle was still home for me, and I would go back on the weekends, because I felt very much alone at Western. My parents didn’t want Seattle to continue to feel like home for me, since from their perspective I needed to start thinking of Anchorage as home, but from where I sat they had moved, not me; I was just following the plan we had always had, and… yeah. The whole situation had nowhere to go but down. At some point it was suggested that maybe the whole idea of me going to college at Western was no longer tenable, and that marked the point where the irreconcilable differences in how we saw what was happening meant that there was basically no reasonable conversation to be had about anything. There was a brief period of rapprochement over spring break; my paternal grandmother passed away, and my dad and I spent the week together while he cleaned out her condo. Still, once summer came and I made it clear I wasn’t going back to Alaska, whatever brief peace had been achieved was broken. “In ten years you’re going to remember this moment as the day you pissed your life away,” I recall being told on the phone. What drove me absolutely batty about all of this was how inevitable it had all seemed from the time my dad had announced that he was going back to Anchorage, and everything was happening exactly as I had feared it would. Nobody had listened to me, and somehow I was being blamed for it. The stress made me a charmer to deal with, I’m sure; certainly it impacted a number of relationships I valued, but there just wasn’t anything I could do. I wasn’t equipped to deal with any of it, and I had no particular support system to fall back onto.

That summer I worked at Computer City, sold the first copy of Windows 95 at midnight of 24 August 1995 (there used to be a photo online of me ringing it up, not sure where it might be found these days), and took voice lessons from Dennis Kruse. We were working on preparing me for opera auditions at Western in the fall — the opera was Marriage of Figaro, not exactly a huge tenor show, but Basilio would be worth it for a kid like me. “O wie ängstlich” from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio was the audition piece we worked up, and Dennis put me as the last singer on his summer studio recital, even over some of his students who were ostensibly his stars and who had made it clear much of the time I had worked with Dennis that they thought I was a waste of his time.

Sophomore year wasn’t exactly an amazing improvement over freshman year. A high school friend and his mother — J. P. had been the Danny Zuko in Grease! and Tony in West Side Story, and was also a student of Dennis Kruse — were killed in a car crash in the fall, which led to a reunion nobody particularly wanted. Fallout from that, plus still trying to figure out how to resolve the family situation, meant that I was even more of a wreck that year than I had been my freshman year. I agreed to spend the holidays and the following summer in Alaska, hoping that it would ease off some of the tension, but if anything, it ratcheted it up.

Marriage of Figaro was fun, but it was a bizarre reconstruction/translation that basically turned it into musical theatre — the recitatives were replaced with spoken dialogue from the Beaumarchais play. There were a number of practical reasons to do this, I suppose; hiring a harpsichordist and having the time to coach the recits properly being two of the major concerns, as I understand it. They had piddled away the fall quarter with a lot of political nonsense over sets and casting professionals for Figaro and the Count in one of the casts, and didn’t even post the cast list until sometime towards the end of the quarter, even though auditions had been in September and the performances were set for March. It was a strange experience all around.

I wound up in Alaska three weeks before the end of the quarter. I was supposed to work for my mother’s company over the summer, and they had revised their policies sometime in the spring so that everybody for the summer needed to be in place by 1 May. “So, you’ll just have to come up here early,” I was told. Um, the school year isn’t over? Not even close? “The opportunity cost of you finishing the quarter isn’t worth it. Anybody with half a brain should be able to see that.” Did I mention that I was a first generation college graduate?

I negotiated what I could with my professors (which in some cases, meant taking Fs). I can’t say I exactly made myself popular with anybody during this time, and not for no reason. I was a basketcase through and through, and nothing I was trying to do seemed to work out in a straightforward fashion. Going to college right out of high school had turned into a disaster; I was unprepared for it, my parents were unprepared for it, additional circumstances meant that there was additional burden for all of us to bear, and my friends were unprepared for how unpleasant of a person the whole experience was making me.

Summer of 1996 I cannot describe in much detail without going into things that I’d rather not discuss publicly. Suffice it to say that I got a front row seat for much of why my parents were freaked out over me being 2,500 miles away; a lot of the unpleasantness that had been plaguing our family life since the mid-1980s had come home to roost with their move, we were all now having to confront it head on, and none of us were doing a particularly good job. I returned to Bellingham in September unsure of what kind of a relationship would be possible with my parents after certain events, conversations, and revelations. I focused on what I could, namely, trying to rebuild my relationships at Western.

In short, however, that ship had sailed, and now I had to sleep in the bed of frustrations I had made the previous two years. Whatever had been the cause of all my erratic behavior, certain relationships were damaged beyond repair, and I continued to make unhealthy decisions with respect to other relationships. I couldn’t find a way to focus on being at school, partially because the muddied reasons I had for being there continued to get muddier, partially because all of my personal issues made it impossible to ever feel sufficiently centered and stable. I also made some poor choices vocally — Dennis had gone to a lot of trouble to figure out how to work much of the tension I usually carried with me out of my voice, a wonderful teacher named Virginia Hunter had done a very nice job teaching me to sing with the instrument Dennis had shown me I’d had, but that year, for reasons that seemed great at the time, I switched to a teacher who went out of their way to work all of that tension back in. Within three months my top was completely gone and my voice had regained a strangled quality that I thought had been left behind after graduating high school.

There was one more factor in this equation. In fall of ’96, I became aware of some behavior on a faculty member’s part that I believed (and believe) to be unethical, and at the very least political maneuvering at the expense of students. I attempted to seek advice on how to deal with these things in a way which I thought to be private which instead publicly blew up in my face. Later, I understood that whatever my concerns were, the way I sought to deal with it was totally unprofessional on my part and embarrassing to the faculty member in question. This culminated in a letter from the chair of the department telling me that all three of us — he, the faculty member, and I — would likely be happier if I went someplace else. So, midway through winter quarter, so many threads having come unraveled, I decided that college had become a gigantic, expensive exercise in beating my head against a brick wall, and it was time to acknowledge that it just wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing at that moment. I subsequently dropped out in disgrace, with the straw that broke the camel’s back being something which really was entirely my own fault. Today I would deal with a similar situation very differently because I would understand better what was happening; the bottom line is that when someone’s on a tenure track, you either play along or get out of the way, particularly under circumstances where resources are scarce and only so many people can get what they want. Anyway, after flailing about for a few months and still making really bad decisions (almost reflexively, at this point), I started selling classified advertising for the Bellingham Herald and trying to figure out how I might be able to move back to the Seattle area.

1994-1997 was a difficult, unpleasant time. It is difficult to even know where to begin explaining that the poor, confused, unhappy person who arrived at WWU in the fall of 1994 was not me at my best, not by a long shot. I started college not having any idea which way was up and having nobody, really, to whom I could turn. I was trying to do everything right which I possibly could, but there was just very little good that anybody could do for me, and trying to do everything right when one doesn’t even know what all one needs to do means one is bound to get quite a bit wrong. There continue to be ramifications to this day — people who don’t talk to me because some of my choices, people who, even if they’re still friends with me, can get easily upset when discussing some of what happened, and other consequences. A few years later, I did my best to apologize to everybody I hurt in those years, with somewhat mixed results. Whenever I think about that period, it is with a lot of pain and regret, but also a lot of confusion. In broad strokes, under the circumstances, I have a hard time imagining what I could have done differently that would have been any better beyond, quite simply, dropping out earlier. The kind of wrench my parents’ move threw into the works was comprehensive, I had no idea how to deal with it, my parents had no ideal how to deal with it, and they had no ideal how to help me deal with it. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better for me to find a way to work full-time while doing an Associate’s degree at a community college and continuing to study with Dennis. The trouble with that, however, was that I didn’t really have a place to live available to me full-time. Moving to Anchorage would have cut me off from much of what I was trying to do post-high school, and would likely have only hastened the inevitable. Maybe I could have just taken a year off out of high school to figure things out — I was starting college at 17, after all, thanks to my skipped grade — but that wasn’t really presented as an option. The expectation had always been that I would go to a four year college right out of high school; it was exactly what I would do while I was there and what would happen after that were all quite vague.

I should note that there are a number of people from this time for whom I remain grateful: an incomplete list includes Brian Ward, Holly Zehnder, Mike Cook (memory eternal), Peter and Arwyn Smalley (née Moilanen), Suzann Miller (née Welch), Jon Haupt, JOHHHHHHHHHHHHN Davies, David Harsh, Jon Lutyens, Matthew Murray, Kai Morrison, Dennis Kruse, Tom and Jordin Baugh (née Peters), Matt Carter, Sue Fletcher, Sarah O’Brien (née Wright), Liz Holmes, Eric Rachner, and, of course, Flesh of My Flesh herself, Megan Barrett (née McKamey).

Addenda to Part the Third: Never before has so much been said about so little

It’s been close to a month and a half since I’ve had a chance to return to telling this story, and believe it or not, there have been a couple of people who have asked, “Hey, when are you getting back to that?” Of course, then there was maniacal laughter on the other end of the phone, followed by something that sounded like maybe one person being subdued by several, so you have to consider the source. Anyway, the last installment dealt with my religious formation from the end of my seventh grade year to the end of high school, approximately 1989-94. We’re effectively dealing with the years of my adolescence — messy years in any kid’s life, to be sure, and I’d rather this not turn into an after-the-fact tween confessional, but there are maybe some details worth talking about.

If I had to come up with a particular narrative arc to describe those five years of my life, I suppose I might call it a quest for community. I had a number of interests, and I tried to find ways of using them to make friends. Taking after my dad, I took up the guitar, first learning from him and then from a teacher, a great guy named Dave Head. I became a reasonable rhythm player, and I could learn the mechanics of other peoples’ solos pretty quickly, and so I tried to see what I could do about getting into a band. Can’t say it worked terribly well; bottom line is that I was neither cool enough as a person nor flashy enough as a player to be terribly attractive to anybody who actually knew what they were doing (plus I couldn’t exactly afford the highest end equipment). Eventually my teacher and I realized that being a rock guitar player just didn’t fit my personality — and part of it seemed to be that I actually had a teacher and wasn’t self-taught — and he put a piece of Bach in front of me and said, “Learn this. See what it does for you.” That marked my first step into the world of classical music, and my life was not to be the same. Anyway, I became acquaintances with some other band-minded musicians my age, and I got the impression that they respected my efforts and enthusiasm even if I wasn’t really up to snuff as a performer (or perhaps I have just wistfully constructed the memory of that impression), but it just wasn’t meant to be.

In January of 1990, winter trimester of my 8th grade year, my mom brought home a computer. It was an old IBM XT — two 5.25″ floppy drives, no hard drive, 128k RAM, monochrome monitor with no graphics card, and an internal 1200 baud modem, all running on PC-DOS 3.0 (as I recall — might have been 2.0). It also came with a printer — a Commodore 6400 daisywheel model that was larger and heavier than the PC and had something like a 6 characters-per-second output. The whole setup was a dinosaur even for 1990, but it had cost all of $100, and I’ll tell you what, I squeezed every last drop of value out of that $100. My first computer was an Atari 800XL that was a Christmas present in 1983, but I had never been able to quite figure out how to get the use out of that machine I wanted. The IBM, with all of its capabilities current to, well, at least 1985, I was able to still use in 1990 for word processing (even if it did take 20 minutes to print out a lab report), uh… word processing, and… well, word processing…

…but then I realized it had a modem.

In seventh grade, much like many other adolescents of my generation, I had read, and been captivated by, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. As a kid in “gifted programs” (whatever that meant) who seemed to have a hard time not being a target for others, obviously there was a lot of relatable material. Particularly fascinating, however, was the way that Valentine and Peter took over the world via some kind of anonymous electronic presence.

So when it was pointed out to me that the modem allowed me to use my computer to call up things called “bulletin board systems” — well, that just sounded like the coolest thing I had ever heard of. An issue of Puget Sound Computer User provided some phone numbers, and soon I was “Synthman” (just sounded cool) on Miranda S. Station, as well as “Demosthenes” (and that was the sound of everybody who’s ever read Ender’s Game rolling their eyes simultaneously) on The Centuriate Assembly and other boards. Here it was, a social (arguably) context where it didn’t matter what I looked like, whether I was awkward — it was entirely a matter of how I was able to express myself. And, while I had a bit of a learning curve about the etiquette and protocol of BBS interaction, I found I was able to express myself reasonably well.

My parents were not entirely thrilled; when the topic of BBS in-person meetups arose, it became a real conceptual problem for them and a bit of a catch-22 for me. These were largely high school and college people; I was in the 8th grade. “What could possibly be a good reason that somebody in high school or college would want to spend time with somebody your age?” was the barrier for them. The thing that was crazy-making for me was that they already knew full well that I had always tended to get along better with people older than me, but the entire idea of establishing any kind of basis for interaction independent of concrete external factors was completely foreign to them. It also meant that I was hearing concerns expressed about establishing online friendships for purposes of kidnapping and sexual abuse years before instances of these became national news. Anyway, eventually my parents relented, and it just became something that I was regularly involved with. I didn’t do any extracurricular activities in junior high, so BBS-land rather became my social circle. What in-person friends I did have in junior high seemed to follow me into the electronic realm; among this group is one Eric Rachner, a computer security expert and famous Seattle urban golfer. I remember going to his house and him showing me their Prodigy subscription; shortly after he came over to my house and saw what I was doing on various boards, he had written his own BBS hosting software.

My interactions on BBSes had a great deal of decisive influence on my musical tastes. My guitar playing took me down a path that included Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and lots of classic and progressive rock like Led Zeppelin and Rush (which also led to a brief dalliance with Ayn Rand in eighth and ninth grade); the BBS folks turned me on to Cocteau Twins, Lush, Gary Numan, the Smiths, et al. — everything a socially awkward young man needed in the early 1990s. Cocteau Twins in particular was my first foray into singing where there was an assumption that you weren’t necessarily going to understand the words, which was an important leap for me to take.

My taste in music also brought to my attention the Seattle bands that would eventually hit the big time — Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone (Pearl Jam’s predecessor), all right around the first wave of major label debuts hit from these acts (i.e., the first batch to be entirely ignored). I also recall the death of Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone’s lead singer) being announced on one of the BBSes I frequented by somebody who was a friend of his. I can remember doing a presentation for my ninth grade Social Studies class sometime in the spring of 1991 about Seattle music starting to get national attention; Queensryche’s “Empire” and “Silent Lucidity” were getting some play on MTV, as was Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box”, but it was to be another six months or so before the hype would really hit with Nirvana’s Nevermind, so for the most part I remember a lot of vacant expressions on the part of my classmates during the talk.

My favorite Seattle band from the period was called Hammerbox. Right before I started my sophomore year of high school, I wandered into their Bumbershoot show, Labor Day weekend 1991, knowing nothing about them except that they were supposedly good, and I didn’t really want to go with my parents to see Tony Bennett. They were amazing. Carrie Akre was a great rock singer and had a stunning stage presence; I’m pretty sure that just about every guy who ever saw one of their concerts developed some kind of crush on her, and I was no exception. The songs were balls of energy that bounced through the Mercer Arena (a trope in their press clippings was that their sound was “whirling”), and all I knew coming out of there was that I had to find their CD, I had to see them again live, and I had to find some way to make Carrie fall in love with me. Well, I accomplished two out of the three; I was lucky enough to get to see Hammerbox a total of three times over the next couple of years, and I found their album. Carrie I would eventually meet and get to be at least friendly acquaintances with for a brief period in my early 20s, but, you know, by that point we had both moved on, you know what I mean?

Hammerbox, by the way, was a great cautionary example of what could happen to a Seattle band. I still maintain that the self-titled C/Z Records debut is one of the best releases of any local artist from that period; “When 3 is 2” should have been picked up as a radio-friendly hit for the same reasons that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was, and Carrie should have been somebody that the label realized could have been a gold mine. They signed with A&M Records, Soundgarden’s label, released Numb, their major-label debut, in 1993 (complete with a redo of “When 3 is 2”, clearly recognizing its potential as a breakout hit), and… well, and nothing. No MTV play, no airplay, nothing. Part of the trouble is that Numb sounded like somebody had tried to make a Nirvana record with Carrie behind the microphone, and even “When 3 is 2” came across as overproduced in all the wrong ways, as though the producer and engineer had completely misunderstood what made the song work both onstage and on the first album. Everything that was distinctive about the band’s stage presence and live sound had been sort of run through a grunge filter, and as a result there was nothing to distinguish the album. It’s sad, because the songs that are on the album were great live; on the CD, something just didn’t work the same way. By 1994 the band had broken up, and Carrie went on to form another band called Goodness… where just about exactly the same series of events happened, beat by beat, right down to the major label debut that should have been a smash but went nowhere because clearly the A&R guys had a completely misinformed picture of what they were selling. Girl just could not catch the break that she should have. Hammerbox had a very brief reunion about 8 years ago or so, but it doesn’t seem to have been meant to be.

In 1991, I started my sophomore year at Inglemoor High School. For the most part, all of my junior high friends were heading off to Woodinville High School, so I was faced with starting afresh, for better or for worse. As it worked out, this problem largely solved itself. For some reason that was never made clear, the schedules we had received in August were tossed out and completely reformulated right before the beginning of the year, which left me with some unexpected blanks in my day. In a move that turned out to be pivotal, I decided to take a bunch of English electives, which meant that in the fall I took both Speech and Drama, and in the winter I took Journalism. The combination of Speech and Drama did much to bring me out of my shell; I found that I could speak in front of people without really caring what they thought, and I also found that I had some ability to be onstage.

I auditioned for the fall play, a 1920s period piece from the 1950s called The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge (perhaps best known for the Warren Beatty film Splendor in the Grass). Much to my surprise, I got the part of Sammy Goldenbaum, a key supporting role, and what do you know? Suddenly I had a social circle, suddenly I had something to do after school, and suddenly I had something that I seemed to be good at. Dr. Chumley in Harvey followed in the spring, as well as the “Best New Actor” award from the drama club. Journalism, as it happened, was also something I turned out to be good at, so for my junior year, Advanced Drama and the school paper were both rather foregone conclusions.

Junior year was very busy indeed; PSATs, newspaper, and lots of shows. Clement in The Wisdom of Eve, Norm in Present Tense, Stuart in The Enigma, and then in another pivotal happenstance, Doody in Grease!. Short version there is that I knew a musical was coming. I hadn’t sung since elementary school, but I figured I had two options: try to sing and maybe get a role, or not try to sing and definitely not get a role. As it worked out, I was the only guy, besides the kid who was the foregone conclusion for Danny, who was able to hit Doody’s high notes in “Those Magic Changes” without looking like he was in pain, and I could play the guitar. As for the high notes, all I can say is, I didn’t know they were supposed to be high. It was a positive enough experience all around that I decided to do choir the next year, which became another pivot point, and I won the drama club’s Best Supporting Actor award that year.

Still another pivot point was my decision to tag along with Woodinville High School on their trip to the International Thespian Society’s high school festival at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, June 1993. We didn’t really have the money for me to go, but I was bound and determined to make it work. I participated as fully as I could in the fundraising, and particularly since I was the only one doing that fundraising at my own high school, I was able to do pretty well. It all worked out; I went, had a ball (as it were), and even came back with my first girlfriend.

Here I should note that just because I was in theatre and had a social circle, it didn’t automatically solve all of my awkwardness. Our theatre crowd at Inglemoor wasn’t made up of The Beautiful People in the first place, and we all had our eccentricities, to say the least. Even in that context, I was a late bloomer, and kind of tended to be The Nice Guy Who Was Everybody’s Friend rather than anybody who girls might look upon with interest beyond that. I certainly had my share of girls I was interested in, but it was plain that it just wasn’t reciprocated. There was a lot of fumbling on my part my junior year with respect to The Girlfriend Issue, and it was all very frustrating.

A practical point is that I didn’t drive; I had taken driver’s ed the summer after my sophomore year, but Dad was very strict about the parameters of me practicing; short version is that unless he was the one in the passenger seat with nobody else in the car, I was not to be allowed to practice — he did not want me driving with my mother under any circumstances, for reasons I’m still not certain I understand. Anyway, because — as I’ve suggested — he and my mom were enduring their own circles of hell around this time, that meant he did not generally have the energy or presence of mind to allow me to drive, and the few times that he did, he argued with virtually everything I had been taught in class. His fear turned to anger so rapidly in those rare occasions that it was not an uncommon outcome for us to be pulled over with him screaming at me while I was sobbing. I almost failed the class itself because he refused to let me practice outside of class; his argument was, “We’ve paid for them to teach you to drive. If I’ve signed a check to relegate that responsibility to them, why is it still my responsibility to let you practice on my time?” The behind-the-wheel instructor (a kind gentleman, even if he was somewhat bewildered at my situation, named Vance Spangler) eventually realized what was happening, took pity on me, and started spending extra time with me outside of class so that I could pass the behind-the-wheel portion. For several months after the class was over, Dad and I had a ritual; I would go with him somewhere, ask if I could drive, and he would say, “No, not today.” If I asked something along the lines of, “If not now, when?” he would get mad and say, “When I think it is the right time. You driving is not at the top of my list of priorities right now, so drop it. I’ll let you know when you can practice.” There came a point when finally he said, “I want you to forget everything you learned. If we’ve satisfied a formality with you taking the class, fine, but I will be the one to teach you how to drive.” I thought that was a sign that we would be practicing more often, but it wasn’t, and before long he moved back to Alaska anyway (I’ll get to that). As I have said, this was a very difficult period in our lives at home, so this all has to be understood in that context, but it was what it was, and the practical effect was that I was The Kid Who Always Needed A Ride. Not exactly something to endear one to members of the opposite sex.

My not driving, incidentally, led to one of my more infamous goof-ups with the newspaper. Through Say Anything… and Singles, I had become somewhat enamored of Cameron Crowe, and was inspired to try to get an interview with Hammerbox for the school paper. I wrote letters to both The Rocket, the local rock weekly, and C/Z Records, trying to see what I could come up with. Turned out the person I connected with at The Rocket was the girlfriend of Harris Thurmond, the band’s guitarist, and she sent me a Hammerbox press kit as well as put me in touch with Harris. Harris and I talked on the phone several times, he was more than amenable to the idea, we set a date and a time, I found a photographer who could also drive, and we were set.

Except that I, the non-driver, had no idea how to get where we were going. I had assumed the driver/photographer would, since she spent a lot of time in Seattle. She assumed I would know how to get there. I had an address, and that was it — in 1993, long before the days of GPS or Google Maps or high schoolers having cell phones or things like this.

After about an hour and a half of driving around downtown Seattle, it became clear we weren’t going to find the place. When I got home, I tried calling Harris, I explained to his answering machine what happened as apologetically as I could, begged for a rescheduled time, and… yeah. Never heard from him again. “Getting Hammerboxed” shortly became a new expression amongst the rest of the newspaper crew.

Anyway, I was talking about my somewhat late development on the girls front. Somehow in the run-up to the Muncie trip (as Anna Russell might say, “D’you remember Muncie?”), I befriended a nice Woodinville High School girl who was on the tech end named Michelle. There was a level of mutual attraction, the week in Indiana turned out to be a good context for that to be investigated, and there it was. It wasn’t to last very long, but she has remained a good friend throughout the last twenty years regardless, so I guess it couldn’t have gone too horribly badly.

So, I was starting up my senior year as Drama Club president, editor of the school paper (getting Hammerboxed and all), and I had a girlfriend finally. I was getting ready to start what seemed like would be a triumphant last year of high school…

…and I got knocked down a few pegs, and I found myself going in a totally different direction by the end of the year than I thought I was going at the beginning.

That summer, Dad got an offer from a friend of his in Alaska to come work for his family’s bank in Anchorage. I have said that 1986-1993 represented years of hell for our family. This represented, more or less, the end of part of that hell for Dad. His attempt at being a small businessman in the suburbs of Seattle had gone nowhere fast since the rise of big box office supply outlets, to say nothing of Costco, and he was spending 70+ hours a week just trying to not sink too quickly. He had contemplated other options over the years (including the one he eventually took in 2003, Arizona), but could never quite bring himself to pull the trigger on what it would take to make the move. He had let go all of his employees, he was doing absolutely everything himself (except filing, that was my job), and there was no real way for it to get any better. As he said later, his friend lured him back to Alaska with one word: “Saturday.” He couldn’t get out of there fast enough; he closed up the shop as quickly as he responsibly could, and in September of 1993 he left for Alaska, marking the last time he was a regular, everyday part of my life. My mom and I stayed in Seattle so that I could finish high school; it was brutally difficult for both of us, but the options were between bad and worse. Staying was hard, but leaving would be harder.

In the fall, there was good news and bad news on the theatrical front. We were doing another musical, West Side Story, and I had my sights set on Riff. I knew there was no way I was going to be cast as Tony (that already seemed to be intended for the guy who had played Danny Zuko), since I wasn’t a good enough singer, but if I approached Riff as an acting challenge, then that could work. I was also enamored with Russ Tamblyn at the time — I had gotten into him thanks to Twin Peaks, and had become really impressed with his multitalented work in West Side StoryFastest Gun in the WestSeven Brides for Seven Brothers, and so on. Well, I got the part, but I also got totally shut out of the fall play — a student teacher was directing that one, and she decided she wanted to go with a cast that didn’t consist of the “regulars”. Well, fair enough, but it was the first time I hadn’t been cast in something in two years, and it stung a bit, to say the least (particularly when, late in the game, I was asked to be on standby for one of the roles when that particular cast member got a bit flaky).

I started Concert Choir at the same time, and it became very obvious to me very quickly, between that daily experience and West Side Story auditions, that I was well behind where I needed to be vocally. So, I started taking voice lessons from the guy all of the great singers in choir and in the musical were with, Dennis Kruse. No, we couldn’t really afford it, it meant giving up guitar lessons, but the choir director not only was able to get Music Boosters to pick up part of it, she herself paid for a chunk out of her own pocket. We made it work.

It was in this context that I was quite unwise with my heart for the first time. I won’t go into this story too terribly much (it’s boring, it’s exactly the kind of “tween confessional” nonsense I don’t want this to turn into, and I don’t really want to tell those kinds of stories about somebody who has a totally different life now), but I’ll just say that the main problem was that I fell in love with a voice and not a person, my surrounding circumstances were such that they constituted an emotional vacuum, and as a result the person to whom that voice was attached wound up getting the full force of my attempt to fill that vacuum, which was far more than she should have been expected to handle. It was a mistake that wound up being far more painful before, during, and after its making than really should have been the case for a high school relationship, but there we are. Under different circumstances, I would have been better equipped to keep what was going on in perspective, but that wasn’t what I had to work with at the time. Έτσι είναι ζωή (Greek for “C’est la vie”, which is French for “Life sucks, get a helmet”).

(Somewhere in here I finally got my driver’s license. Didn’t do me a heck of a lot of good without a car, and that was still a few years away.)

The upshot of that, though, was that opera first came onto my radar. This girl was being primed big time for the opera world, and my thought was, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it.” I sometimes gloss this by saying that I got into opera to impress a girl, which is not entirely untrue by any means. Thing is, I wasn’t really an obvious candidate vocally for that kind of thing — I had, effectively, an actor’s singing voice. I could carry a tune well enough to get through musical theatre, but I didn’t have the clear, clarion instrument that theoretically one should have if they want to be on the operatic stage. I wasn’t a “natural voice” by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I kept at it, and little by little I got better. Opera, I thought, would be the perfect melding of the things I was trying to be good at, acting and singing — so what if I didn’t know anything about it and had never been to one? I could act, and I was learning to sing. If I could get better and keep getting better, then it would be workable. Everything else was just detail. Somewhere in here I got admitted to Western Washington University; it was the only school I had applied to (being broke sort of made the whole exercise of applying for colleges moot), it was where we had talked about me going since sophomore year, and while the looming Alaska move meant that its advantages of location and being in-state were called into question if not eliminated entirely, I figured hey, what the heck, I’ll do a double major of theatre and music. No problem, right?

Being newspaper editor, by the way, was a disaster. Short version is that I was doing too much. Concert choir, jazz choir, theatre, voice lessons, school paper — I just wasn’t able to be the guy who could stay and put the paper to bed no matter what. The teacher who was the advisor later told me that he had had that concern from the beginning, but he figured if anybody could successfully keep all the balls in the air, it would have been me. “All you proved is that nobody can do all of that, which isn’t your fault,” he said, but he asked for my resignation anyway, and I was smart enough to know that retreat, at that point, was the wiser part of valor.

West Side Story went well, but some of us got stupid and decided to ruin closing night by replacing the fake profanity in the script (“…when you’re a Jet, if the spit hits the fan…”) with the real words. It was my idea, the impetus came from me, and I’ll totally own that; it was a dumb, dumb, dumb stunt, even moreso since the superintendent of the school district was in the audience that night. A two-day suspension and six hours of Saturday school later, and it was evident to me that things like that really weren’t as cool as they seemed when you were thinking them up.

Even so, I got cast as Charlie Baker, the lead role of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, the very last play of my senior year. It almost didn’t happen (after the West Side Story incident, the principal wanted to make not casting me a condition of allowing the play to go forward, since she had concerns about its subject matter to begin with), but it did nonetheless. All I will say about it is that it, in my own estimation, it was the best performance I ever gave anywhere in anything, and I won the drama club’s Best Actor award that spring. Unfortunately, the audio levels of the videotape were set too low, so there is no way to get anything useful out of it and you’ll simply have to take my word for it.

I also had a curious experience that year going to an open call for the role of Robin in what was then being called Batman 3. If you ever see the name “Mali Finn” in the credits for a movie as the casting director, well, I met her, I still have her card, and I even got a callback (which was the same night as the winter formal, but there you go). They wanted an unknown, they wanted somebody who could be believably street smart, and presumably they wanted somebody who was going to be shorter than Michael Keaton (who was still attached to the part of Bruce Wayne at that point). Well, I was unknown, at least (I’m a good 3 inches taller than Keaton), and of course it didn’t get any further than that, but it’s one of the cool things that I can say happened to me in high school. Obviously, since they ultimately went with Chris O’Donnell (over, it was rumored, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale), I’m inclined to believe that they were never seriously looking for an unknown to begin with, but who knows.

I had other interesting run-ins with show business; our drama teacher also worked for one of the big casting agencies in Seattle, and she would try to find opportunities for her students where she could. I read for a couple of commercials, and also read for a part in a movie we weren’t told the name of, but a couple of years later I was sitting in the audience for Mr. Holland’s Opus and realized I was watching the very scene I had read in the casting office. None of these came to anything; the one thing that actually happened was getting to work for three days as an extra on the movie Mad Love with Chris O’Donnell, Drew Barrymore, and Matt Lillard. (Don’t bother looking for me; everything I was in got cut. Still, you can see a bunch of my friends very prominently in several scenes.)

My dad flew back from Alaska the day before my high school graduation. We did some packing up of the house. The next day, I graduated high school. The day after that, my parents flew to Alaska together, and I spent the night in the house by myself. The day after that, movers came, packed everything, and put it on a truck to Anchorage. I also had a voice lesson that day; out, at long last, came a voice that was clear, strong, had even vibrato, and extended up to a high E flat. Dennis got up and gave me a hug, saying, “I think you left your kid voice at the graduation ceremony.”

That gets me through high school graduation, so I’ll stop there. As I said before — after that, things got complicated.

I should add that I would have never survived the high school experience without some excellent teachers who made it a point to take an interest in me and care what became of me — some in big ways, some in small ways, but all in important ways. Dennis Kruse, Laurie Levine, Judy Filibeck, Sean Burrus, Tim Curtis, Bob Engle, Hjalmer Anderson, Dave Head, Bob Stewart, James Wilson, Vance Spangler, and Sheri Rosenzweig are all the main teachers I think of; thank God for all of them.

Unlikely realities

Something that occasionally can seem like lazy historiography to me is when scholars call something “unlikely” to explain why they think it probably didn’t happen. It’s a way to argue with something that may show up in a primary source without necessarily having to reason your way through the disagreement; oh, well, such-and-such gives X account of this event but that’s “unlikely”, so we’ll assume it didn’t happen.

Here’s the thing. At the risk of getting all Dr. Manhattan on both of my regular readers, “unlikely” things happen all the time. I am an extraordinarily unlikely occurrence, given who my parents are, their personalities, their respective stations in life when they met, etc. It’s highly unlikely that my randomly going to a party one night while nearing emotional rock bottom should result, six years later, in me getting married to a person I met there (principally as somebody another friend of mine had a crush on). It’s highly unlikely that a college choir director deciding she was going plan a European tour should start a chain of events that would result in a conversion to Orthodox Christianity nine years later. And yet, these things defiantly happen nonetheless with callous disregard to whether or not a historian will later believe that they did.

A couple of other fairly unlikely things have happened to me in the last two or three weeks: for example, Megan and I, along with our godchildren Matt and Erin and our dear friend Anna, attended Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent production of Tales of Hoffman. Not necessarily unlikely in and of itself (but since the last time we went to the Lyric was 9 years ago for Bryn Terfel’s Sweeney Todd, certainly not a regular occurrence), but consider the following: Hoffman was supposed to be produced at my first undergraduate institution, Western Washington University, my freshman year. WWU had put on a production of La Boheme a couple of years previous that had received national attention, was developing something of a reputation for being a good undergrad program for people who wanted to do opera, and Hoffman was going to be the big followup that would prove that Boheme wasn’t a fluke. Well — as the story was told to me in dribs and drabs from a few different people — political, economic, and practical concerns meant that this didn’t happen. Hoffman was nonetheless on my radar for the first time, and in short order the 1989 recording with Placido Domingo was the very first opera recording I ever owned. That disc featured people I’d never heard of before like Edita Gruberova and James Morris, and I played it over and over again.

Somebody who was in my freshman class was a soprano and cellist named Erin Wall. She was in 8am Music Theory with me the very first day of classes, we were in the same voice studio, and she was one of a group of Canadian students who were in Western’s music department for voice. She had a nice, full voice at a time when there were a lot of soubrettes hanging around; the last time I heard her during my time there was when she was one of the Flower Girls in The Marriage of Figaro in 1996, but after I dropped out I believe she got to do the title role in Susannah. Over the years I found out she was having quite the meteoric rise; she was a finalist for Canada in the Cardiff Singer of the World, she was part of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s young artist program, and then she started to get really busy.

A few months after leaving Western in ’97 I went to work for a Major Software Company and, shall we say, did a reasonable impersonation of a tester for a few years while trying to get to the next step as a singer. One of the things I tested had to do with web browsing, and one day I happened upon a student website for a soprano at Rice University named Anna Christy. There wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about the website, but I always remembered that I had hit it, particularly when I started seeing her name in Opera News a few years later as somebody who would be singing at Wolf Trap and so on.

Fall of 2003, after just starting at IU, I was flown back to Seattle to sing as the tenor soloist for a concert of Bach cantatas with the Seattle Symphony, John Harbison conducting. It was the biggest professional thing I ever got to do, and except for the check, it was a real waste for me and for the Seattle Symphony people. I was cast in a role at IU that I was removed from over this; the Seattle contract had been signed months ago, and I was to be gone the second to last week before opening. I didn’t even know I was up for anything in this particular show, and I explained my situation as soon as I found out I was cast. “Take it up with the stage director when staging rehearsals start,” I was told. Well, as soon as the stage manager said at the first staging rehearsal, “We’re not excusing anybody for any reason from any rehearsals,” I knew I had a problem, and sure enough, I was kicked out. (This was, of course, considered to be my fault from the standpoint of the opera administration, but never mind that now.) Not only that, but as soon as I got off the plane in Seattle, I came down with probably the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life, and my ability to phonate, still reasonable at the first rehearsal, was in tatters by the concerts. It was the first (well, only) time I’d ever been on a gig like this, I had no idea whom to talk to or what to do, and while I managed to sort of scrape by in the concerts — well, funny thing, the Seattle Symphony folks never called me again. (My voice teacher in Seattle, who had sent Seattle Symphony my way in the first place, said that from what he had heard it wasn’t exactly a “He’ll never sing in this town again” kind of thing, but that I was remembered as somebody who had problems, and he’d have to specifically arrange an audition for me down the road when the time came. Needless to say, the time never came, and thank God.)

Anyway, the bass in the solo quartet was one Christian Van Horn, who had just won the Met auditions. I doubt he would have any memory of who I am, and if he did remember me I doubt he’d remember me well, given the circumstances, but he was a tough guy to forget — physically and vocally imposing, to say the least.

My second year at IU, a mezzo-soprano named Jamie Barton started her Masters. She distinguished herself quickly in operas like La Cenerentola, but she was also a frequent guest at Chez Barrett, back in the day when I used to host large gatherings of IU voice people over nachos on a weekly basis. (Hey, that’s how I made friends when I first moved here — I fed people.) She won the Mets a few years ago, and since then, she’s been one popular mezzo.

So Chicago’s Hoffman featured James Morris (from that first recording) as the four villains, Erin Wall as Antonia, Anna Christy as Olympia, Christian Van Horn as Crespel, and Jamie Barton as Antonia’s Mother. (As well as Matthew Polenzani as Hoffman, whom I had last heard ten years ago in Seattle as Almaviva in Barber of Seville.) And with me in the audience — what an unlikely confluence of people and circumstances! If I took a time machine back to that first day of freshman year in September of 1994 and told the 19 year old Erin what would be happening in seventeen years, she’d laugh in my face, I’m sure. (The set looking like it was reproduced from a Chris Van Allsburg book was also pretty unlikely. Fascinating looking at times, but unlikely.)

The second unlikely thing to occur was a week ago today. I’ve written here and there about my lifelong fascination with Batman; well, as I had known for some time, Michael Uslan, the Executive Producer of the Batman films starting with the 1989 Tim Burton effort — and really the guy without whom a modern Batman on screen doesn’t happen — was an IU alumnus. He’s spoken on campus a few times since I’ve been here, but I’d never been able to go, so when I heard that there would be a screening of The Dark Knight in the new IU Cinema facility with Michael Uslan introducing the film, I made it a point to clear my calendar for the day and to order a copy of his memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batmanin time for the screening. As it happened, he gave a lecture in the afternoon in addition to the screening, and I was able to go to both. There is a brief account of the day here (hmmm — “RRB”, familiar initials, aren’t they?) so I’ll just say that the guy is one hell of an inspirational speaker, to say nothing of one hell of a self-promoter; he’s basically a comic book geek who has figured out how to make being so respectable, lucrative, and attractive. He was incredibly generous with his time at both the lecture and the screening; he kept answering questions until he was hooked off the stage, and during the book signing he talked to everybody.

So, chain of events — I find a book called Collecting Comic Books by Marcia Leiter at the Redmond Library in 1985, and my life is forever changed. Four years later on 23 June 1989, Batman introduces me to a way of thinking about movies that cares who’s in them, who directs them, who writes them, who designs the sets, who writes the music, and so on. I had been a Star Wars kid and then some, but I couldn’t have told you who George Lucas was. After the summer of 1989, though, damn skippy I cared who Tim Burton was and what else he had done and was going to do, who Danny Elfman was and what kind of music he did (followed by an obsession with Oingo Boingo for awhile), who Sam Hamm was and why it seemed he never wrote another movie anybody cared about, who Jon Peters was and why a former hairstylist was suddenly one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, etc. At the very least, without Danny Elfman’s score, my interest in classical music probably doesn’t happen. (And then there’s something about a girl in high school that gets me starting to take voice lessons, but that’s somewhat beside the point at present.) Anyway, I then go to Indiana University in 2003 for music, which just happens to be Uslan’s beloved alma mater, leading to last week’s events. Again — how incredibly unlikely!

No historian will ever care about any of these things, I’m certain. If one were to ever to try to reconstruct these chains of events and concurrences of people and places and things, surely it would strain credibility. This doesn’t mean we have to interpret all of these things teleologically, necessarily, but it also means that just dismissing them is not really reflecting on how life works and how things play out.

A visit from His Grace Bishop MARK

In a perfect world, the way I — or any other cantor — would learn the ropes of a hierarchical visit would be to spend ten to fifteen years singing at the analogion with a protopsaltis who knew what he was doing. Excepting that, I would take a priest who understood the rubrics with a thorough knowledge of detail and could explain clearly what was supposed to happen from the cantor’s perspective. Excepting that, liturgical books that were written to address matters from a cantor’s point of view rather than a cleric’s would be acceptable.

None of those possibilities in fact being the case, what I’ve had to do for the last five years is pretty much wing it. For my first episcopal visit, Fr. Athanasius handed me a photocopy of the Liturgikon’s rubrics for the Divine Liturgy and said, “These are wrong, but you’ll get the basic idea.” He gave me notes on what was really supposed to happen, which I followed, and in turn, that wound up being not quite what we did either. Some variation on that has occurred every time since then; each visit has gotten a little better, and each visit has yielded a priest or somebody coming up to me afterward and saying, “Oh yeah, what I forgot to tell you earlier was this…” It wasn’t until after the third visit, I think, that anybody bothered to tell me that the bishop is supposed to vest during Lauds and that there are some changes made to accommodate that action.

There are multiple issues; I don’t know what I don’t know, so if somebody tells me something that’s incorrect or incomplete, I don’t have any way of knowing that until after the mistake is made. Plus, our diocese has its own in-house hierarchical service book that differs from the Liturgikon in a couple of respects, the net result of that being that I don’t trust any rubric I see printed anywhere without somebody in a position of authority telling me, “Yes, that’s actually what we’re doing,” because it’s clear not everybody’s on the same page (literally). What has sometimes happened is that a priest will tell me to do one thing via a note sent from the altar or some such, only to have a subdeacon come scurrying along twenty seconds later instructing me to do exactly the opposite. Our priest has always served with His Grace at the altar, so he himself doesn’t know exactly what should be happening from the perspective of the kliros. This is made more complex by the fact that our diocesan service book, while unquestionably useful, is written by and for a priest, not a cantor. For example, at the reception of the bishop it’s just noted that “the following hymn is sung in tone 4” instead of “the irmos for the ninth ode of the Palm Sunday canon,” which would make it infinitely more useful in terms of actually locating the music for said “hymn in tone 4”. To say nothing of the fact that, every time we’ve ever had a hierarchical visit, the Trisagion has gone haywire; the congregation hears the Trisagion to which they’re accustomed, they automatically start singing along, but but they don’t realize that it’s different with a bishop until they notice that the choir has stopped and that they’re singing over His Grace. Yes, the order of the hierarchical Trisagion is in the bulletin, but it is perhaps unreasonable to assume that everybody has has read or retained it in-depth. At one of his last visits, Bp. MARK stopped in the middle of the Trisagion with a bit of a smile and said, “We’ll get this right someday.”

(Let me emphasize, lest I be misunderstood, that I do not think it reasonable or realistic to expect the congregation to know the order of the hierarchical Trisagion. This is one of those areas, rather, where I think the argument for a model of congregational singing that consists of “everybody sings everything” breaks down.)

But, again, each time has gotten a little better, and for His Grace’s visit a couple of weekends ago for the Feast of All Saints we got it mostly right. The one thing I know I missed was the “Many years, master” that replaces “We have seen the true light…”, but I had Papa Ephraim’s long “O Lord, guard our master and chief priest” prepared for the Kairon, and the solution for the Trisagion problem was to swap out the setting from Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English, adapted for hierarchical use. It was not the familiar version, so the autopilot problem was avoided. (Bp. MARK had mentioned to us before that the Greek model, as heard on the Angelopoulos Divine Liturgy recording, was in fact the usual Trisagion for hierarchical visits.) I got one person afterward who asked, “Since when is God ‘strong’ and not ‘mighty’?”, but beyond that, things were pretty smooth.

While he was here he also gave a talk on ministering to a college town (which may show up down the road on Ancient Faith Radio; we’ll see — do note that an iPhone is actually a really fantastic portable voice recorder, and I was very glad to have it when our $2,000 sound system failed), and we also briefed him on where the building conversation stands. When we showed him Andrew’s sketch and told him about his ideas, his response, in short, was “Build it. Just let me know how I can help.”

I’ve observed before that, when I participate in a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the structure of the service and the way the parts function suggest to me that the presence of a celebrating bishop is actually assumed to be the norm, and that only having a priest as the celebrant is the accommodation. A way this was made manifest this time around was at the Cherubic Hymn. To back up for a second — in February, Fr. Peter had me sing the long Cherubic Hymn from The Divine Liturgy in English for the Divine Liturgy of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. He had liked how it had worked liturgically during John’s visit; we only needed to sing it once (instead of the threefold repetition we have to do with our usual setting), it was unhurried, and then he actually had enough time after the Great Entrance to do what he needed to do. “Sing it again,” he said, “I want to see if it really worked as well as I remember.” Well, afterward, he said, “No, that won’t work. It’s too long. I was waiting behind the iconostasis for three minutes for you to finish the first part.” So there went that idea.

Well, what was clear that weekend, as we repeated the Cherubic Hymn a third time, and then had to repeat “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares” on its own, a second time, then a third time, and still a fourth time before the procession came out from behind the iconostasis, was that the reason the other setting was “too long” is because it assumes the presence of a bishop. What was also clear was the assumption that the Cherubic Hymn will cover the Great Entrance a good chunk of the way around the church, since the priest only has one petition before he reaches the bishop at the solea. “Perhaps it’s better to make the long way the usual way so that you aren’t having to rejigger everything when the bishop comes,” I observed to Fr. Peter afterward. “You might be right,” he said. I think I will probably have the choir review the long Cherubic Hymn for next time.

In any event, it was good to have Bp. MARK with us; I haven’t seen him since January of ’09, a month before the confusion (as it is convenient to refer to it) started. Εἰς πολλὰ ἔτη, Δέσποτα!

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