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Archive for the 'Media' Category



Follow up on choir schools, with a suggested course of action

Well, the spike in traffic the last few days leads me to believe that maybe the idea of an Orthodox choir school has drawn the attention of more than my usual two readers. Cool. If that’s so, then let me go into some more detail, and let me suggest a course of action.

First of all, thanks for all of the positive reactions. It’s great to see that there’s a way to describe this vision so that people get it and get excited about it; I hope that this is a sign of things to come. Please continue to share these posts far and wide; it’s an idea that has to gain a certain critical mass before it can go anywhere besides this blog.

Also, there have been a number of excellent suggestions that have come from my “Orthodox choir school: how I’d do it” post. Suggestions about cities, about teaching methods, about other schools to look at, and so on. I appreciate all of that, and I’m all ears for that kind of input. When (I repeat, when) the time comes, that will all be extremely useful — keep it coming!

Something that has been brought up is that there have been people who have toiled in Orthodox children’s music education for years, and there are existing programs that struggle to stay afloat. Wouldn’t it be better to try to build everybody up rather than concentrating efforts in one location? Might putting all the eggs in one basket be a well-intentioned, but ultimately misplaced, idea?

I had a response to this, but before I go into that, I want to make everybody aware of some valuable resources that should be looked at if this subject is going to be taken seriously. There is the Choir Schools’ Association in the UK, and they have a document titled “Reaching Out”, which is a great overview of the current state of the tradition in England. One is a doctoral thesis by one Daniel James McGrath titled “The Choir School in the American Church: a study of the choir school and other current chorister training models in Episcopal and Anglican parishes”. There’s also a doctoral thesis by Lucas Matthew Tappan, “The Madeleine Choir School (Salt Lake City, Utah): A Contemporary American Choral Foundation”.

IMG_3755Something that, alas, I can’t link to but that you should be able to acquire if you want a copy, is the 50th anniversary season brochure for St. Paul”s Choir School. They have them out for the taking in the narthex at St. Paul’s; I got a copy when I went to their Christmas concert on Friday. If you contact the school and ask for one, I have to imagine they’ll send it to you.

Nota bene — with all of these resources, one has to make sure that one takes them mutatis mutandis to a certain extent. McGrath and St. Paul’s are dealing with a context of boys’ choirs, and I’m talking about a co-ed approach, for example. The Madeleine Choir School and St. Paul’s are Catholic, and McGrath is writing from an Anglican perspective. Nonetheless, all are extremely useful in terms of how they talk about organization, curriculum, challenges, and so on — Tappan in particular explicitly has the objective of serving as a “road map” (his words) for those who might want to follow the Madeleine’s lead. Handy, that.

One of the main things I want to put forth here is this passage from Tappan’s thesis on the Madeleine as the justification for a choir school:

…a choir school consists of an institution where children are given a well-rounded musical education as well as liturgical formation in the ars celebrandi, and where they put these skills at the service of the sacred liturgy on a regular basis within a specific community (often that of a cathedral or collegiate chapel). In return, these children are given an outstanding elementary and religious education.

Even though these qualities constitute the basic elements of a choir school, each institution is a unique place where the choir school tradition exists within a particular time and culture… Perhaps the church musician will find in the choir school a model for training young people in an art that has the power to transform lives and to bring many out of the isolation of modern living into a living community of musicians and believers, forming young musicians “for the lifelong praise and worship of God” (p. 2).

But then there’s the epiphany of Gregory Glenn, the founder of the Madeleine Choir School, when he spent three months at Westminster Cathedral Choir School in London:

What Glenn realized was that the institution itself was the formator (emphasis mine). The incessant rounds of daily rehearsals and liturgies in the cathedrals and the process of going through a massive amount of repertoire year after year was crucial to being able to sing, for example, a Poulenc Mass on short notice. The choristers sight-read so easily that rehearsal time was never spent learning notes. There might be a false note or two the first time through a work, but the boys usually corrected themselves the second time around. Choir masters were able to spend the majority of rehearsal time working toward a more musical performance of the repertoire. According to Glenn, the Madeleine Choir School is still working toward this goal, but it becomes more of a reality with time. (Tappan, p. 26)

Here was my answer to the concern about concentrating efforts in one location:

I spent 11 years in a location that was, theoretically, fairly central in the United States, but as far as Orthodox Christianity went, was about as isolated as you could be without being in Wyoming. Almost anything and everything the parish there took on could be (and often was) fairly described as “being a lot of effort for one location”, right down to building a church. It still needed to be done. Along the same lines, the Madeleine school is certainly “a lot of effort for one location” (in Salt Lake City, no less!), but it’s still worth doing.

The other thing I’ll say is that musical efforts in particular often get problematized in “American Orthodoxy” (whatever we mean by that) as “reinventing the wheel”, that reduplication of effort doesn’t accomplish anything… What needs to be recognized is that not all wheels will travel on the same roads[…], people and institutions need to play to their strengths, and dispersion of effort that hangs everything on the energies of either one person or a tiny handful of people is a disaster waiting to happen. The Madeleine Choir School is not the only Catholic school in the Salt Lake City metro area, for example, but its existence allows for the faculty and students to play to a particular set of strengths, and the result is an example that is inspiring. Supporting music education in existing Orthodox schools is a great thing to do, but it also seems to me that establishing a model school that focuses particularly on that aspect will allow for a level of excellence to develop and be made manifest publicly. I think we accomplish a lot more when we’re able to work together than when we’re isolated; my experience is that most of us Orthodox musicians are too isolated from each other as it is, and that that is a bad thing.

Beyond that — as I said earlier, I attended a Christmas concert sung by the choirs of the St. Paul’s Choir School Friday evening with Megan and Theodore; one of the big takeaways was that Theodore was absolutely enrapt when the boys processed in, wearing black cassocks and singing “One in Royal David’s City”. I’ll say that the evening was was mostly the work of the the preparatory choir (the main choir had their big concert yesterday with Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”), but everybody did something, and they’ve got a good thing going there.

So, where to, folks? How do we get there from here? I’ve told you how I’d do it — and, I have to say, it’s remarkably similar to what Tappan describes Gregory Glenn, the Madeleine Choir School’s founder, as having done (and I discovered Tappan after I wrote that post) — he put a great deal of time in visiting model institutions and putting together a feasibility study/planning document with a proposed budget. Realistically, I think this is going to be somebody’s full-time task for at least six months.

My modest proposal, then, is this — a great Christmas gift to me, to your kids, and to our Church, would be a gift in support of this initial effort. Somebody shared the post saying, “I wish I had a million or two to give to such an undertaking”; well, it doesn’t need a million or two, not yet, and while you might not be in a position to give a million or two, maybe you can do something (particularly since it’s near year-end — taxes are coming!). It doesn’t really matter how much you might be able to do; if everybody who saw my posts over the last week even gave something relatively small, it would go a long way towards making this possible. Anyway, I don’t want to do a hard sell on giving right now. Rather, this is just the trial balloon — the question is, can we fund the initial planning activities, yes or no? You tell me. If we can, then maybe we can do this for real.

The way to give is through The Saint John of Damascus Society; click here, click on the donate button, and you’ll be taken to PayPal. The Society is a tax-exempt (501(c)3) non-profit, so all gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. If you want to do something but don’t want to do it via PayPal, drop me a line at richardbarrett AT johnofdamascus DOT org.

I’m really not interested in asking for money right now, so we’re clear. This isn’t about money to me. At the same time, without some money, the next steps are really out of reach.

This is an open forum on the topic, so please, any questions, suggestions, comments, requests for more information, anything — keep it coming! And if you want one of the The Choir DVDs, e-mail me with an address.

Okay, my friends. I’ve made my pitch. You’ve all told me you’re interested and supportive; pray for us, tell me what we’re doing next, and share this far and wide if this is important to you. Thanks for sticking with me so far.

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An Orthodox choir school: how I’d do it

Since I’ve just run a couple of posts that have touched upon the topic of choir schools, and last week I had occasion to run the pitch — such as it presently is — past a couple of friends, maybe I can take a moment to go into detail about how I could see an Orthodox choir school coming together.

First, what have I already done? Well, in 2005, I went to New York for the first time. While I was there, I visited St. Thomas Episcopal Church on 5th Ave, and heard their choir of men and boys for the first time. I learned more about the St. Thomas Choir School (there’s a video here that I can’t embed), and became fascinated by the model and its heritage, and convinced that it would be fantastically worthwhile to adapt it for Orthodox use. In 2007, I published this piece as a blog post (it originally had been intended for The Word, although, alas, the submission was never acknowledged). In 2009, it was picked up by AGAIN Magazine as an article titled “Teach a child to sing: Thoughts about Orthodox choir schools”. Fr. Chris Metropulos noticed the article, and interviewed me on the OCN show Come Receive the Light. All of this really amounted to me throwing the broad strokes of a big idea out there to see if anybody would run with it; I can’t really say I wasn’t given a platform, because I was, but nobody ran with it.

Which isn’t to say that nobody responded at all. I got an e-mail from a Mover and Shaker who was really intrigued, but who said, frankly, we’re so far away from being able to speak meaningfully of what a school could accomplish that there’s just no conversation to be had with anybody right now.

And that was that, until 2013, when a documentary on the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City titled The Choir was released on DVD. I immediately bought ten copies in bulk and sent them out to various musical leaders on the American Orthodox scene with a copy of my AGAIN article saying, in essence, This is exactly what I was talking about. This is what we should be doing. Watch this and then let’s talk.

The same Mover and Shaker who had responded positively to the article was the sole person to respond to the mailing, and this person continued to respond positively. In fact, this person said — that’s great; now, here are another ten people who need to see this. So, I sent out another ten copies of the DVD with the article to the suggested names; no response.

Well, now there’s been a piece on a Catholic choir school that has run on CBS Good Morning. It’s a moment, a fleeting one, but I may as well try to take advantage of it.

So, I’m going to give you my pitch. If it inspires you, makes you want to help, please talk to me. This is a vision, to be clear, that I want to see succeed because I want there to be just such a school I can send my kids to. Certainly I want to facilitate the vision, but I want to be a participant, not an overlord. I’ll do whatever I have to, but I don’t need to run the show. I’m shouting it from the rooftops as much as I can until there’s a critical mass of others to do it, and then if there’s a capacity I can serve in that I’m actually suited to, I will, but I’ll be happy just to be a parent of a student. This is my vision thus far, but it need not be mine alone, and it need not be my baby that I guard jealously.

An Orthodox choir school is a parochial school attached to a parish or a cathedral that has as its educational mission the training of primary school-aged children from all Orthodox jurisdictions for excellence in Orthodox Christian musical service. They will receive, as part of their standard curriculum, a high level of musical education, both in terms of general musical skills as well as skills specific to Orthodox musical service, and they will be exposed broadly to the rich heritage of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music — Byzantine chant, Slavic chant and polyphony, Greek-American choral music, modern composers who engage Orthodox spirituality in concert works, and so on. The students will contribute regularly to the liturgical life of the parish/cathedral by singing services throughout the week; they will function as outreach to the community at large by means of concerts and recordings; they will also represent the school, the parish/cathedral, and the musical traditions of Orthodox Christianity by touring. Historically, many such schools are made up of boy trebles, who must then leave when their voices change; the vision here is that an Orthodox choir school will be co-educational, and there will be choirs for students to sing in as they get older.

The value of such a school hopefully is obvious. The next generation of musical leaders in America’s Orthodox churches is not going to fall out of the sky, and the major concern expressed at every Orthodox musical event I have ever attended is, “How do we get our kids involved?” This is a way to do it.

What is necessary to move forward? Well, a lot. How I’d do it, if resources were no object, is this:

I would first form a planning committee made up of people familiar with the broad range of Orthodox musical repertories and who had experience with working with children in particular. This planning committee would make an initial presentation to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops and get their blessing to proceed. The committee would also seek to talk to organizations like PaTRAM, Cappella Romana, the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, Axion Estin, the Antiochian Department of Sacred Music, and so on, as well as music faculty at the Orthodox seminaries, and others, to get their input. From there, the job of this committee would be to assess how choir schools operate in this country and how Orthodox schools operate in this country. For the choir schools, we’d visit the Madeleine, St. Paul’s, St. Thomas Choir School in New York, and then also for perspective we’d go to England and spend some time at Westminster Cathedral’s choir school, as well as the Brompton Oratory’s choir school and a couple of others. For Orthodox schools, we’d look at Agia Sophia Academy in Portland, the Theophany School in Boston, the school of St. George Cathedral in Wichita, and then there are, I think, some in California we’d look at as well. (I’m already going to be visiting St. Paul’s at Harvard Square in January for an initial observation.)

The kinds of questions we’d be asking everybody are these: what’s the curriculum? How do you find students? How do you find teachers? What are the benefits and pitfalls for kids — spiritual, physical, emotional, otherwise? What are the benefits and pitfalls for the church communities that are served? How does everything get paid for? How do you keep it financially accessible for students, assuming that’s an objective? How does everything keep runing smoothly? How does accreditation work?

The next question we’d have to answer would be location. My guess is, at this point, such a school would need to be someplace where there is a diverse and sizable Orthodox community already, and where there would be a parish or cathedral big enough to be able to accommodate such an undertaking, given that in all likelihood such a school would not have its own classroom facilities at first. Perhaps the choir school could represent an expansion of a school that already existed. I’m not sure. In any event, I’m guessing there are very few places in the United States where this could be done successfully the first time, and that would have to be very carefully considered.

Probably, the committee would zero in on three candidate locations, and then survey Orthodox communities in those locations to see where there might be the largest concentration of prospective students.

Then, there would need to be a careful consideration of staffing. Who are the teachers? Where are they going to come from? What will they need to be paid? I anticipate that here, the committee would put together a wish list of faculty, and then make informal inquiries about interest, willingness to move if necessary, what it would take for them to accept an offer, and so on.

We’d then take our findings from all of these inquiries and create a planning document. This document would include the faculty/staff wish list, a projected budget for 5-10 years of operations, a narrative of what the school would do in its first five years from an academic standpoint, a musical standpoint, a recruiting standpoint, a facilities standpoint, and a development/fundraising standpoint. There would a curriculum plan as well, and sample concert programming.

This planning document would then serve as the basis for a major gifts campaign, at which point we would open our doors when we could do so responsibly.

Most, if not all, of these tasks could be undertaken under the aegis of the Saint John of Damascus Society; it would be well within the Society’s mission, and it would certainly be easier to perform these initial tasks via the mechanism of a nonprofit that already exists. Certainly, when it came time to move beyond planning stages, in all likelihood it would be ideal to spin the school off as its own entity, perhaps with its own foundation.

So, there you go. That’s the sketch of what I think would need to happen to move forward. There’s much more I could say, but that’s the backbone.

The Madeleine Choir School sends out a season booklet every summer, and last year that inspired me to try to put something together that’s similar, as kind of a proof of concept. I didn’t quite finish it — I have a dissertation to write, after all — but here are some pages from what I did finish. The names I list are nobody I’ve actually asked to do anything; they’re simply there to indicate real people who could serve this kind of school were it to be up and running. The concert programs are also strictly intended to be representative ideas. Nonetheless, see what you think.

If I might make a plea from the heart — if you’ve read anything I’ve written or seen anything I’ve done that has to do with Orthodox music, you know that this is a labor of love for me. Nowhere in that brochure mockup do you see my name; I am not trying to promote myself by any stretch of the imagination. I believe strongly that there is a desperate need that this fills — a desperate need for our churches, certainly, but also a desperate need for our world — and I hope to see that need filled. No more, no less.

If this is of any interest to you at all, let me know. If you want a copy of anything, ask — I’ve got a lot of resources related to choir schools, including somebody’s dissertation about the use of the choir school model in America. I’ve still got copies of the DVD of The Choir I can give out if that helps. I’m entirely and absolutely serious about wanting to see this happen; if you’re at least halfway serious about wanting to help, I’m all ears.

Okay, back to work for me.

This year’s gift ideas

Christmas gift ideas are something I’ve done before, and it’s that time again, to say the least. Christmas is a week from tomorrow, so probably you want to order whatever it is you’re going to order in the next couple of days if you want to make sure it’s received on time. Here are this year’s gift suggestions, from me to you:

– Fr. Ivan Moody’s new book, Modernism and Orthodox Spirituality in Contemporary Music. I’ll be review this book shortly for Orthodox Arts Journal, but I’ll go ahead and recommend it to you now. It’s a fascinating look at how 20th/21st century art music from around the world engages Orthodox liturgical music and vice versa, and really turns on its head the idea that “Orthodoxy doesn’t do art”.

 

– Keeping with the theme, the CD Arctic Light: Finnish Orthodox Music, with Fr. Ivan Moody conducting Cappella Romana. I reviewed it here, and it’s a terrific stocking stuffer for the lover of choral music who might like something a little different.

 

– The world-music collective Dünya has a really fascinating recording out titled A Story of the City: Constantinople, Istanbul. It’s a collection of Byzantine music, Ottoman classical music, and more; I highly recommend it.

 

 

– One more CD suggestion: Christmas in Harvard Square, by the St. Paul’s Choir School, Harvard Square. I just blogged something about the school, so they’re on my mind; plus, it’s a really nice treble sound.

 

 

The Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer briefcase was a gift suggestion here three years ago; this year, I’m pleased that I can finally suggest the Parental Unit, their brand spanking new diaper bag. I remain pleased with my Checkpoint Flyer three and a half years after buying it (as well as with Tom Bihn’s customer service; they’ve been as good as their word on the lifetime guarantee), and while the Parental Unit came along a little late for our needs with Theodore (as in two and a half years late), it looks like it’ll be great for future consideration. (Not an announcement, by the way.)

– Sometime in, I think, 1989, I read an interview in the long-defunct Comics Scene magazine with an animator named Richard Williams. He had just won two Oscars for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and he talked about how this was allowing him to finish, at long last, his decades-in-the-making masterpiece, The Thief and the Cobbler. The story of why this turned out not, in fact, to be case, why instead Disney released its, shall we say, fascinatingly similar film a few years later (arguably getting away with murder), and why you might find a $2 DVD in grocery store bargain bins titled Arabian Knight using some of the animation produced for Cobbler is nothing less than one of the artistic tragedies of the twentieth century. Over the last few years years, there has been something of a renaissance of interest in Cobbler, with an unofficial, so-called “recobbled” cut having been produced by one Garrett Gilchrist. Over the last year, there have been a couple of screenings of Williams’ workprint, both at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and at the British Film Institute. Filmmaker Kevin Schreck has also produced a documentary about Cobbler and why you never saw it titled The Persistence of Vision, and it has been very well-received in the festival circuit for the last year or so. While it’s a difficult film to license commercially for a number of reasons, Kevin has been able to produce a limited edition 2-disc DVD release of the documentary, and it also includes Williams’ workprint among the special features. It is available for what it is officially being called a donation of $25, and I recommend it highly — it really is fascinating.

– Averil Cameron’s new book, Byzantine Matters, is a concise, readable overview of the state of the field of Byzantine studies, as she sees it. There’s a lot here that’s worth thinking about, and while much of it is prompted by her ongoing feud with Byzantinists who work a bit later than she does, she is up front about that disagreement and what she thinks the problem is.

 

– Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. I’ve spoken my piece about Twin Peaks here already, so hopefully this speaks for itself. Just get it.

 

 

– If Twin Peaks is your thing, there’s also Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, a behind-the-scenes treatment of the series by Brad Dukes. I haven’t read this yet, but it looks really interesting.

 

 

 

StJohnDamascus-logo-color-420x230– Finally, if none of these speak to you, I offer the possibility that you could make a donation to The Saint John of Damascus Society. We’ve got a lot of different things that we’re working on, including the Psalm 103 project but also much more, and making a gift in the name of somebody you care about would be a lovely gesture for all concerned. All gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The above link will take you to our website’s “Support” page; click the “Donate” button and PayPal will take care of the rest. If you’re interested in giving a gift but want to have a conversation with a person about it, get in touch with me (either via the combox here or by e-mailing richardbarrett AT johnofdamascus . org), and I’ll be happy to talk to you.

And, should you for some unknown reason be looking to give me a Christmas gift, well — you can certainly give something to the Saint John of Damascus Society, and it will definitely make me happy. I also wouldn’t sneeze at Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, and there’s also a book called 75 Years of DC Comics that would be right up my alley. And, hey, this blog has its own “Make a Donation” button. If those options don’t speak to you, well, there’s always this. Or even this.

Okay — Christ is born! Glorify Him! May you all stay well the rest of the fast (and beyond, of course)!

St. Paul’s Choir School, Harvard Square

As a brief follow-up to yesterday’s post — I made reference there to my advocacy for Orthodox use of the choir school model. As part of that, I give you the video from this morning’s appearance of St. Paul’s Choir School at Harvard Square on CBS This Morning.

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/catholic-boys-choir-brings-its-music-to-the-masses/

It’s a pretty good summary of what I maintain are the opportunities and advantages of such an approach — a high level of musical education, liturgical participation, spiritual formation, and overall engagement with the tradition starting from a young age, a focus on excellence and discipline, an excellent means of outreach via performance and recording, and traveling to perform in amazing places. I’d advocate a co-educational school along the lines of the Choir School of the Madeleine (see my comments about that institution here), but regardless, this clip is another excellent “proof of concept”.

I’m working on setting up a meeting with John Robinson, St. Paul’s music director, sometime in January. I want to chat with him and also observe how the school works. What would you like to know about such a place? How might you envision such an undertaking moving forward in an Orthodox setting? Talk to me — I’m very serious about wanting to see something like this come together. I’d love to be able to send Theodore to a school just like this — how can that happen?

Thoughts on the Twin Peaks revival (SPOILERS; DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED)

Yesterday (Friday) was my birthday; I’m 38 now, I guess beyond doubt putting me in my late thirties. Twenty years have passed since I became a legal adult; I’ve known my wife for almost twenty years; Kurt Cobain has been dead for more than twenty years; Soundgarden has been broken up long enough to get back together and to remaster old albums. Hammerbox remains broken up after a failed revival, which, alas, is probably for the best (although their in-studio acoustic performance was pretty awesome). It’s been 20 years since George Lucas made it clear that he really did intend to make the Star Wars prequels, and now next year we’re going to get Episode VII. Tim Burton’s first Batman movie is 25 years old, old enough for Michael Keaton to make a movie that effectively functions as metacommentary on his time in the role.

And, now, Twin Peaks has been over long enough to get a third season continuation.

(That’s fan-made, by the way. It’s fifty kinds of awesome, but it’s fan-made.)

Y’all have no idea how big of a deal this is to me. A Cocteau Twins revival would be just about the only thing that could possibly make me giddier at this point, but I’d be wary of that after how Hammerbox’s reunion was apparently over before it began.

Flesh of My Flesh threw me a lovely dinner party with several of our new friends here at Holy Cross, and instead of making me a birthday cake, she made me a cherry pie (using the Access Guide recipe) as a way of celebrating the news; our crowd last night was mostly too young to have seen Twin Peaks, however, so this required some explanation. Explanation led to watching the pilot episode with some of our guests; I expect this will lead to watching future episodes with some of them.

Much pixelage has already been employed in speculating about what the 2016 season might look like, so I don’t want to repeat any of that. The series finale and Fire Walk With Me both suggested that there was still a lot of story that Lynch had to tell, so I’m not particularly concerned about that (particularly with Laura Palmer’s line to Cooper about seeing him again in 25 years).

What I am wondering about, however — and not from a standpoint of concern; I want my Twin Peaks revival and I want it now; bring me a TARDIS so I can go to 2016 immediately and watch this — is this: Twin Peaks, when it came out in 1990, had a context of a particular widely-held image of the Pacific Northwest. Money Magazine had declared Seattle the best place to live in the United States in August 1989, to be sure, but keep in mind that this was pre-“Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Melody Maker had only just run their first major article on the “Seattle sound” in March 1989), and Microsoft had only just made their initial public offering in 1986, not to mention that Windows was only on version 2.x, so the tech industry had yet to permeate the Northwest landscape the way that it would by the late 1990s. Really, the main things that the Pacific Northwest was known for when Twin Peaks debuted were serial killers, UFO sightings, Boeing, mountains, and logging; Twin Peaks needed all of that to work, and it played with each of those elements on some level.

So, twenty-five years later, when Pearl Jam is now what Aerosmith was when Twin Peaks came out and Kurt Cobain is the Northwest’s iconic rock death (surpassing even Jimi Hendrix, maybe), when the image of the Pacific Northwest is now split between Seattle as the techie haven for the nouveau riche and Portland as the hipster capital of the world, when the Seattle Mariners are tied for the most wins during a season, the Seahawks have won a Superbowl, and basketball has left Seattle in favor of soccer, what will the town of Twin Peaks look like 25 years later? Now, the show was specific about locating the town in the northeast corner of Washington state, which is still basically the middle of nowhere, but if the Twin Peaks of the revival still looks exactly the same as the Twin Peaks of 1990-1992, well, it would be tempting to say that it’s David Lynch’s riff on Brigadoon. One wonders if technology might be kept self-consciously retro — will Cooper still be dictating notes to Diane via microcassette recorder even while the rest of the world has moved on to smartphones? Will we know that he’s still possessed by BOB because he drinks K-Cup coffee?

And, of course, there’s the question of how a new Twin Peaks season can break new ground after twenty-five years’ worth of television that has been influence by Twin PeaksX-FilesNorthern Exposure, even Veronica Mars — heck, for that matter, Hannibal the last couple of years, in which Mads Mikkelsen has given us a Hannibal Lecter with Ray Wise and Frank Silva as reference points every bit as much as, if not moreso than, Anthony Hopkins. What can Lynch bring to the form now, a quarter-century later?

Speaking of Ray Wise, since Fire Walk With Me he’s been a bad guy in 24 and, quite literally, the Devil in Reaper. Frank Silva passed away in 1995, so presumably Leland will now be BOB’s permanent form. The way they could get around this would be to cast Silva lookalike and opera star Greer Grimsley, but I’m not holding my breath on that.

I will say that the perspective I have now of Twin Peaks at 38 is wildly different than that which I had even twelve years ago. Watching the pilot last night, things that used to seem self-consciously melodramatic now seem quite real. Where I once might have wanted to chuckle at how deliberately over-the-top Lynch was being — for example, his cutting back and forth between a hysterical and screaming Sarah Palmer on one end of the phone line and a Leland Palmer who, presumably, is coming to the dawning realization that his daughter has been murdered and reaching hysterics himself (but is he? Even after Fire Walk With Me, this is still ambiguous) — now I look at it and think, “Yeah, that’s about what it would be like if I got the news that my child had been killed; Lynch just isn’t letting the camera move away, no matter how much I might want him to.” Broadchurch (and Gracepoint, to the extent that it’s a scene-for-scene remake) also manages to capture this rawness of parental grief, but in a much different way; it’s a far more self-consciously realistic treatment of a similar moment.

One final thought for now — Twin Peaks was a cultural moment, not unlike the ’89 Tim Burton Batman (yes, I know, that’s a touchstone that makes a particular kind of sense to me and perhaps nobody else), that was about the end of the 1980s marking some kind of a generational shift. Batman looked at this from the urban angle; Twin Peaks looked at this from the small town angle. Batman played with deliberate anachronism, putting Prince songs in the same world as 1920s-era gangsters, creating a Gotham City you couldn’t really locate on either a calendar or a map but that was still identifiable as a caricature of a New York that had produced Michael Milken, Ed Koch, John Gotti, and Bernie Goetz. Twin Peaks didn’t go the route of anachronism; rather, it gave the audience a world that was very specifically dated (24 February 1989 is the date given in the pilot episode, meaning it took place exactly 12 years before my wedding day) but that also freely employed the ethos of an earlier generation, while implying very strongly that that there was something seriously rotten underneath that generation’s surface. Certainly the presence of flannel, jeans, saddle shoes, and a sheriff named Harry S. Truman made Twin Peaks feel like a town that had been spared the nastiness of the ’80s; then there was the cast. All the young, scrubbed, shiny faces of James Marshall, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Madchen Amick, and Dana Ashbrook made the town look like a place where young people might be bored but safe (which made it all the more shocking when their faces might be smeared, sometimes with running mascara, sometimes with blood, sometimes both); Kyle MacLachlan’s lantern jaw, black suit, and slicked-back hair was clearly intended to evoke somebody like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.’s character from The F. B. I.; amongst the older adults, there was Russ Tamblyn, Richard Beymer, Peggy Lipton, Ray Wise, Piper Laurie — heck, even Michael Ontkean — all recognizable faces from the ’60s and ’70s, all of them now able to put on a sheen of middle-aged respectability, and the show subverted and undermined their respectability from the first scenes of the pilot episode. A generation that had grown up in the ’50s, become adults in the ’60s, and had kids in the ’70s were now having to face the consequences of their choices, Lynch seemed to be saying, and their children weren’t necessarily turning out any better just because they had fled the city for small-town life. This wasn’t Family Ties. Maybe small-town life just made it easier to hide weirdness, ugliness, and evil in plain sight.

Thing is, all of those concerns are basically old hat at this point. Many of us assume these days that the cities are corrupt hellholes and that there is no Mayberry, that small towns are probably cesspools of backwardness, ignorance, and abuse that cover it up with a sheen of self-righteousness that refuses self-reflection. We know that there are no safe havens anymore; New York isn’t really the land of opportunity and the small town in the middle of nowhere isn’t a sanctuary against the evil that men do. And, unfortunately, it’s no longer the bloodcurdling shock that it once was when we find out that Daddy was doing bad things to his kids, and we don’t need the distance of demonic possession to make it believable. We accept it, we process it as just one more tragedy, and we know that the generation that’s growing up right now is basically screwed no matter where we live or what we do. We’re over it; life goes on somehow. Next topic.

So, the point of this is to say — how will a new Twin Peaks season engage our current cultural anxieties the same way the original did, using the original’s setting? I assume Lynch and Frost must have something in mind for how they might do this, but how? In the real Pacific Northwest, the Ghostwood Country Club and Estates were eventually built everywhere, replacing the woods. Does that mean that the evil lurking in the woods has been let out into the open? Or has it just been built over for now, and it’s biding its time?

I guess we’ll find out in 2016.

When Roman history makes the news

Pre-modern historians often lament that our subjects are treated as irrelevant by society at large. While this is often true, and is certainly frustrating when it comes to convincing the general public to be interested in what we do, I’m not at all certain that it’s better when public figures feel empowered to misuse the materials of the pre-modern historian in order to serve their own agendas or to make themselves look they are of loftier minds than they actually are. (I also think it’s a problem when otherwise intelligent people respond in kind by simply re-subordinating those materials to their own agendas, but never mind that now.)

Senator Ted Cruz’s recent appropriation of Cicero (or, really, Charles Yonge’s translation of Cicero) has already been well-examined by classicist Jesse Weiner, writing for The Atlantic. I don’t think there’s a ton to add there, but I would consider the longer arc of history as well; Cicero’s militant defense of what he saw as the fundamentals of the Roman Republic did nothing in terms of the big picture to keep the Republic from turning into an Empire less than 40 years later. I’m not the kind of historian who talks about this or that person being on “the wrong side of history”, but I think it’s hard to get around the fact that Cicero was on the losing side, at the very least.

What perhaps might be more useful is considering the Empire’s relationship with its provinces, and how eventually, in 212, an emperor named Caracalla found it useful to extend citizenship to the provincials:

I grant Roman citizenship to all aliens throughout the Roman world, except the dediticii [meaning obscure], local citizenship remaining intact. For it is proper that the multitude should not only help carry all the burdens but should also now be in included in my victory. (Giessen Papyrus 40.1)

pgiss-inv015recto-1600kb

 

One can interrogate Caracalla’s motives — broadening the tax base? Making sure Christians were subject to Roman laws? — and there were consequences to this that were both positive and negative, to be sure, but destroying the Empire wasn’t one of them.

Maybe the Edict of Caracalla is applicable to today’s circumstances, maybe it isn’t; the point is that you can’t just do a Google search on English translations of Latin rhetoric and cherry-pick what sounds useful. Using Cicero as an out-of-context prooftext for your political aims, pro or con, is simply stupid. I think I’d rather stay irrelevant than see my area get abused by opportunistic demagogues.

Pushing to a finish line

Hi.

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.


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