Posts Tagged 'alexander khalil'

The St. John of Damascus Society

I have been making random references to something called “The St. John of Damascus Society” for a few months now, and I can finally say something a bit more concrete.

The really short version is that in the planning for the Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University, it became apparent that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for there to be a group that had administrative and financial independence from the church for purposes of putting together such things. We were piggybacking onto the parish for our tax-exempt status, and that nearly cost us a couple of our major supporters; plus, it would just be cleaner if we were able to have our own checkbook. The initial idea was something like a “Friends of Music at All Saints” or “All Saints Music Boosters”, and I went to Hal Sabbagh, a longtime chanter at and founding member of All Saints, to see what he thought. He was supportive of the idea, and was willing to help out however he could.

We incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Indiana last July; the next step was tax-exempt status, which meant assembling a board. Our Advisory Board consists of all of the presenters for the Symposium — John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing — as well as Matthew Arndt, an old friend of mine, one of the cantors at St. Raphael of Brooklyn Church in Iowa City and music theory professor at University of Iowa (as well as a former student of Richard Toensing’s). Our Executive Board consists of: Hal Sabbagh, president; Vicki Pappas, national chair of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, vice-president; Laura Willms and Brian Rogers, two more very supportive cantors at All Saints, are secretary and treasurer, respectively; rounding out the Executive Board are Franklin Hess, coordinator of the Modern Greek program at Indiana University, and Patrick Michelson, the newly-hired (as of the 2011-12 academic year) Russian Orthodoxy specialist in IU’s Religious Studies department.

All of these people gave generously of their time, effort, and advice. By November we had everything we needed to assemble our application for federal tax-exempt status, and that went in the mail on 14 November.

As Hal found out over the phone with the IRS two days ago, our application for federal tax-exempt status was granted on Monday of this week, and we will be receiving a letter within the next couple of weeks with our number. So, time to get serious.

The St. John of Damascus Society, with everybody who is involved, has developed its scope significantly beyond being All Saints’ music boosters. The basic idea is to promote the idea of excellence in traditional forms of Orthodox music as good outreach — that singing well and singing prayerfully not only do not constitute a dichotomy, but it can serve as a powerful witness to those around us. We have a number of ideas about things we want to do locally, regionally, and nationally, and while we’ve waited for tax-exempt status to be sewn up before we went public with anything, I can tell you you’ll be hearing more very soon, including ways you can be involved.

We hope to have a website up shortly; in the meantime, if you’re interested in the St. John of Damascus Society based on this little teaser, would you mind filling out this form? That’ll make it really easy for us to get announcements to you as we make them. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Thanks very much, and I will have more to say very soon!

So it has come to this.

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

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

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

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

Audio from Orthodox Music Symposium now on Ancient Faith Radio

The talks from “We Knew Not If We Were In Heaven Or On Earth: Music, Liturgy, and Beauty in Orthodox Christianity” are now posted on Ancient Faith Radio’s website. Many thanks to John Maddex for making them available through this medium! Also, photos from the event can be viewed here — thanks to Anna Pougas for being the day’s official (more or less) photographer!

Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University — “We knew not if we were in heaven or on earth…”: Music, Liturgy, and Beauty in Orthodox Christianity

Given that there are two performing members of Cappella Romana on the panel, as well as two composers whom CR has performed, CR was nice enough to include a notice about the Symposium in their current e-newsletter (thank you, Mark!). For those readers clicking through to my blog for information (and anybody else who is finding this site looking for Symposium details), here’s the scoop:

All Saints Orthodox Church and The Early Music Institute of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music present:

The Musical Heritage of the Orthodox Church

“We knew not if we were in heaven or on earth…”: Music, liturgy, and beauty in Orthodox Christianity

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sweeney Hall (Simon Music Center 015)

Lecture recitals and panel discussion featuring:

Schedule:

  • 8:00am: Hall opens
  • 8:30am: Brief introductory remarks
  • 9:00: Boyer
  • 10:00: Khalil
  • 11:00-11:30: Break
  • 11:30: Sander
  • 12:30: Toensing
  • 1:30: Panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Vicki Pappas, National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians National Chairman

Download a poster here. Download a press release here.

This program has been made possible by a matching grant from the Indiana Humanities Council, in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional co-sponsors include:

For any additional information, please e-mail me at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu or call me at (812) 219-0286.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University a recipient of grant from the National Form of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians

I just found out this evening that we are the recipient of a grant from the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians. As with all the other organizations that have been generous in supporting us, I’m incredibly grateful, but it is wonderful to see our little event, intended to represent a cross-section of musical heritages of the Orthodox world, be supported across jurisdictional lines. Dr. Vicki Pappas, National Chairman of the National Forum, cited this as a factor in the award letter:

The members felt that while it was unusual for us to support an individual parish and one not within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s jurisdiction, we also felt that your plans were cross-jurisdictional and served to highlight and benefit Orthodox church musicians in general to a very high degree.

In a way, the National Forum grant application is what got this going in the first place. Originally I had just planned on having John Boyer and Kurt Sander, and then I helped another organization write a National Forum grant proposal. While I was writing it, I realized — “Hey! I could apply for one of these too! And actually, if I expanded the slate of speakers, I’d have a better proposal!” So I checked with Alexander Khalil and Dr. Toensing to see if they were up for it — they were, and I submitted the application. After that, I got to thinking — “You know, I have a finished grant proposal sitting on my hard drive that I might be able to tailor for other organizations.” So, I started looking around to see what else might be out there, and — well, things happened from there.

All of this is to say, I’m really thrilled that the grant proposal that started the ball rolling to begin with bore fruit in the end. Thank you very much, Dr. Pappas and the National Forum!

Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University recipient of Humanities Initiative Grant from the Indiana Humanities Council

Between school, the symposium, and Flesh of My Flesh being on her yearlong adventure in Germany, my life has been pretty much consumed on all fronts as of late, but I found out some fantastic news tonight that I wanted to make sure was disseminated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

The symposium has been awarded a $2,000 Humanities Initiative Grant from the Indiana Humanities Council. I found out about this particular funding opportunity back in July, and as the deadline was 2 August I had to assemble the application very quickly (not to mention while I was in the middle of Kurt Sander’s recording project), but Prof. Rosemarie McGerr, the director of IU’s Medieval Studies Institute, and Mark Trotter, the Assistant Director and Outreach Coordinator for IU’s Russian and East European Institute, were very helpful and generous with their time, and provided wonderful letters of support for the proposal. After I hit “send” in the Starbucks in NKU’s student union building, there was nothing but to keep working on other sponsorship possibilities, and hold my breath.

In many ways I am less excited about the financial support than I am thrilled that the merit of what we’re putting together is being visibly acknowledged. I look at this as a huge step forward in terms of forging a relationship between All Saints and the university where together we can put together events that cultivate interest in Orthodox Christianity and raise awareness that All Saints exists in the first place. This is an academic event, yes, and it seems to me that there is much that an Orthodox parish in a college town should be able to offer in terms of intellectual and cultural interest, but it is also as a form of outreach to the campus. This is a way of being able to say, “Come and see.” Or, in this case, “Come and hear.”

It’s also a demonstration that support is out there for projects like this, and that All Saints doesn’t have to be the little church in the middle of nowhere that everybody ignores. I’m supposed to write letters to Indiana’s congressional delegation so that they know this is happening, since this is ultimately federal money. Yes, there is an Orthodox church in Bloomington, and even our congressmen know it!

By the way, if you aren’t able to attend the symposium but still want to support us in some way, please get in touch with me. Even with the IHC grant, there are still plenty of opportunities to be involved from afar. Drop me a line at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu.

I guess this is technically publicity for the symposium, so that means I have to include this text: This program has been made possible through a matching grant from the Indiana Humanities Council in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

An update on the IU Orthodox Music Symposium

Some additional details on the Orthodox Music Symposium being held on the Indiana University campus:

  • The event will be titled, “The Musical Heritage of the Orthodox Church: Music, Liturgy, and Beauty in Orthodox Christianity”.
  • It will be in Sweeney Hall (Simon Center 015) at the IU Jacobs School of Music.
  • A tentative schedule is as follows:
    • 8am: Hall opens
    • 8:00-8:30: Continental breakfast (incentive to come early!)
    • 8:30-8:50: Introductory remarks
    • 9:00-9:50: Lecture recital #1 (we haven’t yet determined the speaker order)
    • 10:00-10:50: Lecture recital #2
    • 11:00-11:30: Break
    • 11:30-12:20: Lecture recital #3
    • 12:30-1:20: Lecture recital #4
    • 1:30-2:30: Panel discussion and Q&A

I also pleased to announce some additional sponsorships:

There are some additional irons in the fire where support is concerned that I hope to be able to announce in the near future. In the meantime, I can also say that one organization in particular, while feeling it was too late to get involved this time around, said that they would be very interested in supporting future projects like this, and asked what I might be thinking about. I told them something I had in mind, and they nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing we want to get behind.” So, we’ll see what happens. I am hopeful that the outcome of this development will also be positive with respect to these kinds of events.

In the meantime, if you want more information or are interested in supporting the Symposium, please contact me at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu or call me at (812) 219-0286.

SAVE THE DATE: Orthodox Music Symposium at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

I am pleased to announce that, with the co-sponsorship of All Saints Orthodox Church, of the Early Music Institute at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the IU Medieval Studies Institute, and the IU Russian and East European Institute, as well as support from Bloomingfoods, the IU Bloomington campus will host a daylong symposium on Orthodox music on Saturday, 16 October 2010. Details are still being finalized, but the program will include lecture recitals and a panel discussion from the following slate of speakers and performers:

  • John Michael Boyer, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. Mr. Boyer is also Protopsaltis and Director of Liturgy for Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento, CA, principal singer and arranger for Cappella Romana, and Director of the St. John Koukouzelis Institute for Liturgical Arts. Mr. Boyer previously gave a weekend workshop on Byzantine chant at All Saints Orthodox Church in January of this year.
  • Alexander Khalil, PhD, psaltis at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, CA, and postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Khalil’s recent dissertation explores the aural aspects of the chant tradition of the last remaining chanters of the church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey. He has contributed as a cantor to recent efforts of both Cappella Romana and the Mount Lebanon Choir, and has taught at workshops for the Koukouzelis Institute.
  • Kurt Sander, DM, Associate Professor and Department Chair at Northern Kentucky University. Dr. Sander is a composer of many liturgical works in the traditional Slavic style, and his research interests include the history and aesthetics of Orthodox liturgical music, the cross disciplinary relationships between theology and Orthodox iconography with music composition, and the work of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
  • Richard Toensing, DM, Professor Emeritus at University of Colorado at Boulder. As a composer, Dr. Toensing has received many distinguished honors for his work, having been a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of a commission from the National Endowment for the Arts. Dr. Toensing’s composition Kontakion for the Nativity of Christ, as well as his cycle of Orthodox Christmas carols, were recently recorded and performed by Cappella Romana.
All events will be free and open to the public.
More details will be announced as they solidify, but mark your calendars! For more information, or if you wish to help support the project, please contact me by e-mail at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu.
Watch this space!

The ison cannot be the “dummy note”: in which the author gets to be a Cappella Romana groupie and gets to know the Oakland Police Department better than ever anticipated

I’ve forgotten some things about what it’s like to be a “professional musician” in the intervening years since I went into remission for it.

First of all, I’ve forgotten that there really are things about it I enjoy. I’ve had a ball the eleven days or so that I’ve been here, getting to make music with people who know what they’re doing, in a setting where getting notes and rhythms right is assumed to be the basic starting point, not something unrealistically hoped for as the entirety of the final product, and in an environment, physically, acoustically, and otherwise, that is conducive to such an effort. The rehearsals we’ve had for the Josquin Singers have all gone by really quickly; the three hours are up before I know it.

It’s also a mode of existence that tends to be nomadic, and that brings together very interesting groups of people for short periods of time.

While we were planning my trip, John mentioned that he was taking a group of Cappella Romana singers to Pepperdine University for the Ascending Voice II conference while I’d be here, and that I’d be welcome to tag along if I wanted.

We’ll just say it didn’t take me long to think about it.

So, last Thursday, after singing Matins and Divine Liturgy for the Ascension at John’s parish, John, his student Dusan, and I took the short flight to Los Angeles, and there we met up with CR singers Andrew Gorny, David Krueger, and John’s dad, John S. Boyer (whom I had met once before in 1997 for a joint concert between Cappella and the Tudor Choir in which I sang). The six of us hopped in a rental minivan and drove to the Pepperdine campus in Malibu, met up with the other member of the crew Alex Khalil, and we were able to catch about three quarters of the evening’s Chanticleer concert (the showstopping highlight of which was countertenor Cortez Mitchell’s solo in “Summertime”).

The purpose of Cappella Romana’s presence at Ascending Voice was to give a Byzantine chant demonstration lecture and a workshop on Friday, and to sing a full Matins Saturday morning. John asked if, since I was there, I wouldn’t mind holding isokratima with David Krueger; sure, no problem, I said. So, following the concert, we rehearsed the demo repertoire.

Theoretically, really strong, solid musicians would be placed on the ison. It’s there so that the singers on the melody can hear the home note of the mode, and so it needs to be steady and unwavering. It can be really difficult even for singers who know what they’re doing. My experience with the drone note in parish practice, as a practical matter, is that it tends to be the “dummy note” — that is, it tends to be where people who can’t read music or who are otherwise not the most capable musicians in the choir get stuck. The intent is usually that even if singing the melody isn’t a realistic way for these people to participate, they should at least be able to hold a single note. Unfortunately, the result is often that non-singers wind up not being able to sustain the pitch; it goes flat and they can’t hear it, they can’t hear how the moves work, and so on and so forth. The deadly case is when such a singer decides that, because it’s the ison, it needs to be woofed up as much as possible, which usually means it goes way flat instantly, losing maybe a major third in pitch within seconds. In other words, the function of the drone — to be a tonal support and foundation for those on the melody — winds up being completely defeated, and those singing the melody have to work twice as hard in order to ignore what they’re hearing from those singing the ison and still stay in tune. There tends to be not much that can be done about this; yes, as stated, you actually do need strong musicians on the drone every bit as much as you do on the melody, but there usually aren’t enough people who are sufficiently confident with both reading and singing as it is to be able to spare them to support the isokratima. So you make do.

David Krueger, let it be said, does not have this problem. The guy is a freakin’ rock, and he’s got low notes that shake the floorboards. The rehearsal was a tremendously educational experience, and was great until the Southern Appalachian Chamber Singers came down around midnight and told us we were keeping them up. (“That probably wasn’t exactly successful evangelism,” John Boyer père quipped later.)

By the way, the very first thing I discovered Friday morning was that somebody was asleep at the switch in terms of finding a location for Pepperdine University. I mean, come on. What were they thinking? Terrible. Just terrible.

Both the demo and the workshop were fun; the lecture was largely the same as what John said at All Saints, but with live musical examples instead of recordings. Among other things, the examples included Ps. 102 and the Beatitudes (as heard on the Lycourgos Angelopoulos Divine Liturgy recording), the Polyeleos, and a setting of the Cherubic hymn, all off of Byzantine notation. The workshop involved teaching the participants music from the Divine Liturgy in English off of Western notation scores.

Matins on Saturday was quite an experience; we set it up with antiphonal choirs, we were all in cassocks, and we did the canons for the day in their entirety. I mostly held isokratima for the left choir, but lampadarios Alex Khalil was nice enough to let me sing a handful of troparia in the canons.

The priest who served was Fr. George Taweel of St. Nicholas, the Antiochian Cathedral in Los Angeles. Finding a priest was a bit of a challenge; John had called virtually every Greek priest in the area with no luck, but Alex knew Fr. Michael Najim, the Cathedral’s dean, and he was able to send Fr. George. Fr. George’s daughter Diana actually went to IU, and I knew her a bit from her time there. It was nice to meet him; we had lunch with him afterward, and he was a terrifically knowledgeable man and very interesting person with whom to have a conversation.

After lunch, it was back to the airport, back to Sacramento, just making it back to Annunciation for Vespers. It was a trip, short and guerilla-style as it was, that was great for which to be a fly on the wall; Alex Khalil in particular was a great person to meet. He’s an ethnomusicologist who just completed his PhD, and his dissertation is something that I think will have applicability for what I’m doing. Short version is that in his research, he applied a historical context to an ethnographic study of Byzantine chant; what I’m thinking about is sort of the reverse, where I’m interested in seeing if I can give an ethnomusicological context to a historical study of liturgy. I hope I get more of a chance to talk to him down the road.

I had hoped that friend-of-this-blog and Pepperdine employee David Dickens and I would have a chance to meet; we set up a lunch on Friday, but we managed to miss each other and he wound up being caught up by work anyway. Alas. Better luck next time.

After church on Sunday it was back on the road, heading first to Ascension Cathedral in Oakland for another Byzantine chant demonstration at their Greek festival. It was largely the same repertoire as what we did at Pepperdine, again off of Byzantine notation; I had assumed that I was holding ison again, but John pulled me over and had me follow along with the melody as best as I could. (This was, in general, a more successful effort on the slower pieces.) In the audience was my friend Ian Jones, a cellist who was the very first person I ever met as a student at IU, and for whom Oakland is home. He will hopefully be able to make the Friday concert at the Cathedral; in any event, it was great to see him on his own turf.

After that it was time to head to rehearsal, and as we had rehearsal again in the Bay area Monday night, John and I stayed overnight in Oakland at his friend and fellow Josquin Singer Andrew Chung‘s condo overlooking Lake Merritt rather than drive back to Sacramento.

In theory this was a smart move; we hopefully were going to have much of Monday to hang out in the San Francisco area, with seeing St. John Maximovitch’s cathedral being on the agenda. Unfortunately, John’s car got broken into during the night, leaving him minus a driver’s side window (although nothing got stolen, thank God), and we ended up  having to spend the day dealing with that. It took close to two hours just to file a police report; the form took all of two minutes to fill out, but then waiting in line to actually turn the piece of paper in to get a case number took upwards of an hour and a half. It then took another couple of hours to actually get the window replaced, and then — hey, look at that! It’s time to go to rehearsal.

Oh well. It happens.

Anyway, today has been the “day off,” which has consisted of pretty much just enjoying being in one place for the day on my part, and John furiously putting together the program for this weekend’s concerts. I don’t know how the guy does it; he’s got these concerts, his normal church duties, students, the Pepperdine thing last week, and then next week he has Cappella commitments in Oregon. He runs around a heck of a lot more than I ever did as a singer, vocally he’s always giving everything he’s got, and I know that if I were trying to do all of that, I wouldn’t last a week. He’s got to have vocal folds made of steel, that’s all I can say.

Tomorrow is the dress rehearsal, then the concerts are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; after Liturgy on Sunday it will be off to the airport and I’ll be on my way home. It seems odd that I’m almost to the last stage of the trip, but there we are. More a bit later.


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