Posts Tagged 'andrew gould'

Not believing in “big ideas” or, why we can’t have nice things

I have absolutely no idea if the Hyperloop is even close to feasible. I’m not an engineer, and I know bupkis about such things. I do tend to be somebody who prefers transit to cars; I love the convenience of trains when I’m in Europe, I wish it more replicable here than we seem to be willing to make it, I hate living in a part of the country that’s difficult to get in and out of without a car, and I hate the sheer waste of hours that travel becomes when one is behind the wheel. I had to go to Memphis a couple of years ago, it was an absolutely ridiculous drive that took about nine hours each way that I just plain didn’t have to give it, but there was no other way to get there. A regional flight, counterintuitively, was going to cost more than the fare for flying to either coast. That was nine hours each way that could have been spent correcting, reading, sleeping, whatever. So, yeah, big ideas surrounding transit tend to be appealing to me.

This piece on CNET regarding reactions in some circles to the Hyperloop really resonated, I have to say:

I’m thrilled because this is a conversation about solving big issues with big ideas and not with cautious, incremental, compromised, and cynical status quo concepts. This is unfamiliar, it’s exciting, it’s futuristic, it’s unquestionably beneficial, and there is no technological reason that it can’t work. Why tear it down? Just build it… It’s tempting to blame “Internet culture” for the creeping negativity and cynicism that stops us from ever imagining more, but I believe that the chorus of “no’s” from Twitter and the comments section only amplifies a depressing point of view that’s infected America since the 1970s. We’re afraid. We hate science. We have no heroes. We don’t believe that we are capable of more.

I’ve seen precisely the attitude this author complains about firsthand with respect to issues of transit; I’m from Seattle, after all, where they want nice things but don’t want to pay for them or have poor people riding on them. I’ve also seen this attitude in other arenas, and I think what the culprit is in a lot of cases is that the status quo is at a point where most people who would bother to say anything that would be heard feel like they have things sufficiently their way to not care, and they don’t want to hear how it could be “better”. “Better” is not going to be better for them, not when in order for it to be better they’d have to make an adjustment away from their current comfort zone. What’s the point of a public transit system like this when there are so many reasons to just not bother fixing what ain’t broke? Never mind that there are ways where it is broke, or will be; the cure is going to be worse than the disease and not worth it. We’ll adjust in other ways.

A Facebook commenter noted the following:

I love what I’ve seen of this… but I can see it getting gutted by the petty nitpicking that always chips away at big projects like this. Somebody doesn’t want construction in their neighborhood. Somebody else doesn’t want the view from their lanai to be affected. Somebody else complains loudly about the types of people (“I’m not racist, but…”) who will be riding. And before you know it, a bold, forward-thinking mass transit project becomes another cutback in bus services.

Geez, I just depressed myself.

Yeah, no kidding. “…a bold, forward-thinking mass transit project becomes another cutback in bus services.” Ouch. Ouch because it’s true.

all saints concept ag 15 jan large for webOne of the most frustrating personal experiences I’ve had with this kind of “nothing to see here, move along” attitude towards big ideas is with church building, and I’m not going to bother being disingenuously circumspect here, since one can very easily find out where I went to church through last December and find some of the things I wrote about my participation on the building committee, and the broad strokes are all public record anyway via the minutes of parish council and building committee meetings. I posted this about a year and a half ago, and I have to imagine that, reading between the lines, some of the sources of tension are clear. I’ll note that I said back in March of 2012 that I hoped I would have something concrete to talk about in “the coming weeks”; well, there never was anything to say.

We brought Andrew Gould, as I wrote about at the time (giving a fairly frank summary of efforts up to that point), to All Saints in January 2010, and he very much talked the language of big ideas. Right now you’re a mission church without a church, and you’ve got to build something that actually serves your function as a mission church. This is what’s in the tradition to build, this is what I would design for your property, these are the considerations you need to put above all others. You need to build a beautiful church that is first and foremost for the worship of God; there’s a right way we worship, which means there’s a right way we build.

I again refer you to my “Notes from the building committee” piece so that you may read between the lines for some of the controversy that emerged from Andrew’s proposal, but I’ll go into some detail about one part of the problem. The thing of it is, when people decide they don’t want to hear a big idea, one of the tactics is to glom onto details they don’t like, inflate their importance, and make them undetachable from the whole so that the entire idea can be very efficiently shot down. In the case of Andrew’s concept, his detractors immediately focused on a particular element that was his way of handling a problem we had asked him to spitball a solution for in the first place. The existing building was separated from the proposed location of the permanent church by something of a ravine; how do we connect the two locations so that the existing building isn’t just abandoned? Andrew’s solution was a bridge, inspired by the Indiana tradition of covered bridges. Part of his vision, too, was to make All Saints’ property something of a destination, turning the remote location into something of an advantage. Well, for a segment of the congregation who didn’t want to build in the first place and who saw the remote nature of our location as a feature and not a bug, the bridge became an easy blunt instrument to swing around as a dealbreaker. “Well, wouldn’t that be dangerous? Would you really want your kids going across that? What kind of money are we going to spend on a bridge when what we claim we need is a building, and I’m not convinced we really need that to begin with?” ad nauseam. When it became clear that Andrew’s big ideas had become points of digging in against building altogether, there wasn’t much of a choice but to quietly drop his concept entirely and try to find another way to move forward. A compromise architect was found who seemed interested in the project and who brought some good things to the table, but after an initial positive meeting in July 2011, other factors kept a contract from being delivered until August 2012. There was some hope from the building committee chair that we could sign the contract quickly and have drawings by Christmas, but politics prevailed again; the building committee didn’t even meet to discuss this contract until October 2012, some parties wanted significant revisions to the contract that would have to be negotiated, and to the best of my knowledge there has been no additional movement forward with the project in the ten months since, at least not as of the end of July.

Meanwhile, the stopgap measure to create more space in our temporary nave was to leave the collapsible wall between the nave and the fellowship space open permanently, with a curtain installed on a track that could be moved around to subdivide the space as necessary. As a friend of mine put it, the net effect was to make All Saints feel even more like just a big living room that happened to have an iconostasis at the front.

Effectively, a bold, forward-thinking church building project became a curtain.

And, not unlike the people who say that only poor people and people who already ride the bus are going to bother riding mass transit, making it a solution looking for a problem, one of the things that was common to hear in response to arguments for building was that most of our “extra” people were “just college students”, and eventually the people we can’t fit will leave — problem solved.

Big ideas, it seems to me, are easy to argue about when they make the wrong people uncomfortable, or when they’re trying to solve a problem that the people who matter don’t care about, while conversely the people who do care about it don’t matter. Maybe it also keeps unnecessary change from happening too fast, so maybe this is something to be thankful for, but I will say that sometimes I have a hard time believing that we were actually able to go to the moon.

“My teacher can beat up your teacher” throughout the ages

Hello from… well, not Dumbarton Oaks, not quite. I’m in Washington, DC, at the George Washington University Mount Vernon campus, where our housing is. Friday night I went to bed at 12:30am so I could wake up at 2:30am so I could leave for the airport at 3:45am to get on a 6am flight so I could get to DC by 10:30am… except that we couldn’t check in here until 3pm.  Well, my longtime e-acquaintance Ivan Plis took pity on me and hung out with me for lunch, taking me to Nando’s Peri-Peri just off of DuPont Circle, which is easily the flame-grilled Portuguese chicken I have ever had. Yes, it’s also the only flame-grilled Portuguese chicken I’ve ever had, but it was still delicious. After lunch, Ivan walked me around the area a bit, or at least as much as was possible with two suitcases, and then we parted ways. Getting the rest of the way here was a bit of an adventure; my iPhone 3GS just will not hold a charge anymore, and it died just as a bus was coming that may or may not have been the bus I wanted to get on. I got on, only to realize about fifteen minutes later that it was the wrong one. I got off to wait at the stop across the street for the bus going in the opposite direction, which theoretically should have been about a half hour away… except that it was an hour away. It finally appeared, and I was able to get off at the right stop, only to still have a half mile left to walk, with most of it uphill. I guess I got my exercise today. This morning I attended Matins and Liturgy at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is about a mile away as the crow flies (but of course it’s not that simple; it’s about 2 miles by cab) and has a new protopsaltis in residence; I spent the afternoon walking around the area, attending Choral Evensong at the National Cathedral (right next door to St. Sophia, as it happens), and had a lovely day all around until I tried to go home and took a shortcut through a park’s forest trails. Zigged when I should have zagged, I had three bags of groceries, and wound up getting stuck with an uphill route I was trying to avoid. All in all, it took me about an hour and a half to get home when it should have taken about twenty minutes. Oh well. Orientation at Dumbarton Oaks is 9am Monday; we’ll see what happens.

By the way, there is going to be a group blog for Andrew Gould‘s expanded New World Byzantine concept, sort of an Orthodox version of the New Liturgical Movement. It looks like there are some definite parallels between what the Saint John of Damascus Society has in mind and what Andrew is trying to get going for liturgical crafts across the board. Should be fascinating to see where it goes. (And incidentally, there are already some big things in the works for SJDS, things that have already started to come together much more quickly than we thought might happen. Announcements to come soon.)

A few months ago I got invited to review a book titled The Past is Always Present: The Revival of the Byzantine Musical Tradition at Mount Athos by Danish ethnomusicologist Tore Tvarnø Lind. My review will be appearing in a future issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, but since I was limited to around 2,000 words (yes, I said “limited”), there was a lot that I wanted to say that I didn’t have space for (all good stuff — the book is great). I was going to have a blog post specifically about the book, but then I had to get my paper in order for the North American Patristics Society conference, do what I could to help get the house ready for impending baby, and then pack for D.C., so that didn’t quite happen.

But then, Friday, there was an unexpected post someplace I don’t check all that often.

So, I’ve noted before, perhaps somewhat infamously, that there are ways in which the internet is a problematic venue. Every imaginable cause in the world probably has a website out there run by a person for whom the sun probably only rises and sets because that issue has his voice advocating for it properly; heck, I’m sure probably somebody thinks that about my little corner of the net. Anyway, I’m somewhat reluctant to participate in many online forums, or even to monitor them too often; I’m not sure, to name but one example, that Byzantine chant needs its own version of Facebook. But, you know, it kinda has its own version of Facebook anyway, and it has its utility as a resource. Still, there are a lot of disputes that get hashed over there that I don’t care to get involved with, and the one time that I got noticed enough to be mentioned in that forum it was bad news (although my friend Taso Nassis is somebody I would not have met without that incident, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose).

On Friday, a notice was posted by one of the more argumentative individuals on that forum about a statement released by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Greek is here; this is my (somewhat hurried) translation:

Bulletin from the Holy and Sacred Synod on the subject of ecclesiastical music.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, from the decision of the Holy and Sacred Synod of 29 March 2012, upon relevant public notice of the Patriachal and Synodal commission concerning divine worship, from 23 March 2012 concerning the subject of our ecclesiastical music, because of the fault of some cantors in applying a theoretical work, at first on the one hand imperceptibly, with time on the other hand more systematic, [a work] published in 1982 under the title “Method of Greek Music: A Theoretical Treatise” [by Simon Karas] and [which] created an uneasy situation, declared that:

1. It dismisses and condemns the “Theoretical Treatise”‘s self-willed, irresponsible, showy retractions to the liability and authority of the decisions of the Mother Church, as even an attempt to disseminate something – as characterized above – outdated and abnormal to the prevailing canonical order of the theory and practice of our ecclesiastical music.

2. It denounces every work of difference, adulteration, and forgery in appearance of old musical works of composers formally recognized by the Mother Church that is unlawful and strange to the prevailing works, and

3. As a musical system it recognizes, applies, and teaches according to the theory, practice, and tradition, [the system which] was established in the years 1812-14 by the Three Teachers, Chrysanthos Metropolitan of Prousa, Gregory the Protopsaltis, and Chourmouzios the Archivist, as “The New Method of Analytic Notation of Musical Melodies,” and approved by the Mother Church.

In the Patriarchate, 28 May 2012

From the Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod

Okay. Back up a couple centuries.

As Lind’s book lays out quite well (and he’s not Orthodox, so he doesn’t himself have any particular dog in the fight), in the early part of the nineteenth century there was a reform of the notational system we usually call “Byzantine notation” or “psaltic notation”. This reform reduced the number of signs used, and also introduced a way of being able to more accurately notate rhythm, tempo, and accidentals. Well, the problem is obvious: when you change how something is written down, you effectively fork the tradition, and that’s what happened. Cantors who were trained before the reform continued either singing from old notation or singing the new notation as though it were the old notation, thus passing on the pre-reform tradition. Cantors who were trained from books compiled after the reform without any level of pre-reform tradition learned something different. Subtly different, perhaps, but different, and this appears to have become known as “patriarchal style”, as in the style practiced at and endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Three Teachers didn’t really give an account of their system of reform, so were they intending to preserve what came before, only simplifying how it was represented on the page, or were they intending to turn it into something else? This is the crux of the problem, it seems. (Oh, and if I’m over-simplifying or getting things wrong, please jump in. I’m trying to give a reasonably economical account here of what I think I know, but I don’t want to misrepresent anything.)

To give but one example of the practical difference that I have seen: there is a sign in Byzantine notation called a klasma. It’s a little half oval that can appear either above or below a sign depending on the sign.

Now, the way I was taught to realize a klasma by (now-Dr.) Ioannis Arvanitis is that adds a beat to the sign, but that it also has the function of adding an ornament — a little break in the voice. This ornament is suggested by the name klasma, and according to Arvanitis, it’s a holdover from the old notation, with the ornament being what distinguishes it from simply adding a dot (which also extends the sign by one beat). A somewhat clumsy way of realizing this in staff notation might be this:

When I visited Holy Cross Seminary, I got to sit in on Byzantine chant classes with Dr. Grammenos Karanos, who I’m told is an exemplar of patriarchal style. He told his students that the klasma has the principal function of adding a beat, and only in the context of a relatively small number of specific phrases does one add the ornament. Otherwise, it’s the same the thing as an aplē (adding a dot) and is maintained separately from the aplē for orthographic purposes. That would mean the above phrase would look like this in staff notation:

There’s no shortage of other examples.

Anyway, Simon Karas was an ethnomusicologist who was interested in these differences maintained through oral tradition, as well as the relationship to Greek vernacular music, and he tried to systematize what he observed in the 1982 book referenced in the Patriarchate’s bulletin. (I translated an article about him by Lycourgos Angelopoulos last year that goes into some of this.)

One can perhaps see the divide between those who sang as though the new notation were the old notation and those following the new notation more strictly in the Patriarchate’s choice of the word “outdated” (παρωχημένος) in point one. The irony that I see is that both approaches are conservative; one is performatively conservative, the other is notationally conservative. There is almost a sola Scriptura issue here (but even patriarchal style is informed by oral tradition, so not quite).

Among other things, Lind’s book talks about how Karas’ work influences the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos; students of Angelopoulos (“grandstudents” of Karas, then) work with them on manuscripts, vocal style, and so on. The monks want to preserve an authentic tradition going back before the reform, and there is concern that something is lost in how the reform has been realized. One of the things I find interesting is that the tensions surrounding these preservation efforts seem to follow the old theoretical poles of cathedral (or city) and monastery, with an additional pole of the university. Vatopedi is trying to assert a certain authority and pre-eminence regarding psaltic tradition, Constantinople is trying to do the same thing (as represented by “patriarchal style”), and Karas and his legacy represent a line of academic inquiry that influence how both sides act and react. Who “owns” the tradition? Who speaks for it? Certainly there are issues surrounding how Byzantine chant is understood as something authentically “Greek”, with Constantinople looming large for obvious historical reasons, but with Karas perhaps trying to contextualize Constantinople in a larger “Greek” picture. Constantinopolitan cantors (and those faithful to them), Athenian academics, and Athonite monks — I’m not sure I can think of any particular equivalent issue in this country that’s working itself out in precisely the same way.

The thing of it is, speaking from my previous life as an opera singer, none of this is anything new. “My teacher can beat up your teacher” is part of any musician’s game from the first day they step into the studio. I remember the first time I ever took a lesson with my first voice teacher in college, and he asked me to tell him how I was thinking of certain things. I explained it the way Dennis Kruse taught me, and I can still picture the patronizing smile on this guy’s face when he said, “Oh, that’s all wrong. We’ll fix that.” I can also still remember the way Dennis shook his head when I explained to him what the new guy was telling me, saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Get out of his studio as soon as you can.”

Heck, just speaking in terms of the Greco-Roman world, none of this is exactly news. If you were a student of rhetoric in what we might broadly call “the ancient world”, you could count on getting hazed by students of other teachers, you could count on getting beaten up by students of other teachers, and there was even a possibility you could get kidnapped upon arrival in the city by students of other teachers and forced to study with somebody other than your intended teacher. Studying something so marinated in tradition that requires a close relationship with a teacher makes this kind of thing simply inevitable.

Still, nobody here has been declared either a heretic or anathema, there’s nothing here that says “Whatever you do, don’t sing a klasma with the ornament lest your soul be in danger”, and on the whole I can’t really imagine how anything in this notice is going to have any practical force whatsoever without something that looks a lot like an Inquisition or HUAC. “Are you now, or have you ever been, influenced by the 1982 Method of Greek Music by Simon Karas?” Nope, I just don’t see that happening. This strikes me as a sop to somebody at most, but I really don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to know to whom or by whom or why. With all due respect to the Patriarchate, this comes across as over-the-top and heavy-handed, to say the least.

In any event, Ioannis Arvanitis, however poor of a student I may have been, was my teacher (and I hope someday he will be again), he’s one of the great cantors and composers of our day, he’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the privilege to know or learn from, and he was a Simon Karas student. Given all of this, I’m left scratching my head at what seems to be the disconnect from reality.

Anyway, I may have more to say about Lind’s book later — perhaps when the review is published I’ll put together a “director’s cut” of it. In the meantime, consider it recommended; it’s a very readable work and should be of great interest to people interested in monasticism, Byzantine music, Greece and modernity, and so on.

American beauty

About seven years ago, I was driving to Chicago from Bloomington for the first time. I was with my friend Jonathan Wey, and we were on our way (as it were) there to pick up my wife up from the airport (long story). Once we were in northwest Indiana, I eventually saw this largish structure several miles off in the distance. My first thought was that it looked like an Orthodox church, but no, surely it’s a grain silo — why would there be an Orthodox church so large it’s visible from the freeway in Indiana, of all places?

As we got closer, however, it became clear that yes, it was an Orthodox church. Jonathan and I looked at each other, nodded, and I got off the highway so we could find it. It turned out to be St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Merrillville (pictured), and there happened to be somebody there who let us in and showed us around. From what I remember, it’s a stunning building, lovingly constructed in every way, with an incredible attention to detail.

St. Sava Church also appears to be the only place where one can buy prints of St. Varnava, the first (and so far only) Orthodox saint from Indiana. I ordered one so that my wife could give it to the Russian church in Kiel that has been so hospitable to her over the last year, and when it arrived this week, they had also enclosed a little booklet titled “St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church Visitor’s Guide”. It’s a lovely, professionally-produced spiral-bound publication that contains a history of the parish, details about the iconography, bells, and external mosaics, liturgical furnishings, and general information about Orthodox Christianity.

A few things jumped out at me about this little book. First off, this bit in the “Welcome” section:

Our present church was built on 140 acres… land purchased by the Church-School Congregation following [the burning down of the old building]… [T]he Priest and the Church Board undertook plans to finance and erect… what would be the “church of our dreams” in a “once-in-a-lifetime endeavor”. That seed having been planted, it gave birth to an ideal that included every church organization. Building and finance professionals helped to nurture the seed and guide its growth. It flowered as our unsolicited volunteers weed their labor-intensive work which epitomized God’s truth that “faith without work is dead”. All contributed their time, knowledge, talent and money to the church that would glorify God in the Divine Liturgy.

What’s interesting about this to me is that the building of a beautiful church is considered part of the work of the whole congregation, that it part of the expression of this community’s faith, and that this is What Orthodox Christians Do. This is reinforced a page later when the book goes into the exterior description of the building:

Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church was designed to conform with the spirit of Orthodox teaching. According to Orthodox belief, God is eternal King. Hence the church building, which is the sacred home for the worship of God, should be royal in every aspect. Orthodox Christians have always built their churches with that in mind and have always put into the church everything that they regarded as the best: the sturdiest building materials, the most beautiful adornments and the most costly utensils and vestments they could afford… Earthly royal splendor has always served as a pattern for the expression of heavenly glory. Orthodox church buildings are designed with the intention to make God, the Heavenly Kingdom and Salvation seem sensibly real and present.

Orthodox church have strict guidelines they must follow when building a church. The structure of church buildings is usually in the design of a ship or a cross. The ship plan resembles and signifies the ark of Noah in which he and his family were saved from the flood, while the cross plan reminds Christians of the Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Strict Orthodox Church guidelines detail that the length of the building must run parallel to the east-west line, so that the church sanctuary is always facing east. Saint John of Damascus (d.753) affirms that it is an Apostolic Tradition to worship facing east. The main entrance to the church is always through the western portal. Most churches have two side doors, the northern and the southern, and Saint Sava Church was built in accordance to all these traditions.

Byzantine architecture evolved from the Roman in the 6th century. The most popular Byzantine plan is a cross pattern in a square. The building is topped by a cupola, a cylindrical or polygonal drum covered with a dome, with narrow arched windows cut all around the concave space. Oftentimes in Byzantine architecture, the central dome is surrounded by several smaller cupolas on a lower level. Crosses embellish the top of every dome and belfry, signifying the church is glorification of the Crucified Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A great number of Serbian churches and monasteries have been built in the Byzantine style. Originality is expressed both in the design and the ornamentation, and no two churches are alike. Every church can be unique within traditional guidelines. Saint Sava in Merrillville was patterned after the church in Topola, Serbia, but differs with its columns and its west-facing windows.

All church buildings must be consecrated by a bishop before a Divine Liturgy can be celebrated. When a church is consecrated or christened, Kumovi (sponsors) are chosen. Glisho Rapaich, Michael and Yvonne Galich served as Kumovi to Saint Sava Church. Every Orthodox Church is dedicated to a Holy Event in the life of Jesus Christ; to the Most Pure Mother of God; to the Holy Trinity; to the Archangels Michael or Gabriel; to the Holy Apostles or to a Saint or Martyr for Jesus Christ.

The church of Saint Sava in Merrillville is a magnificent edifice which attracts great interest. People who see it from a distance are drawn to visit it personally (pp1-3).

So the building first and foremost is for the glory of God, being tangible, material icon of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. The building itself is rooted firmly in the witness to Apostolic Tradition, the wider history of the oikoumene, that is to say, the Christian Roman Empire, and the specific, local history of Serbia. This adherence to tradition is confirmed by the whole Church, in the person of the Bishop, the people, and those in heaven with whom we worship. And, finally, this is done for the benefit of the larger community, not just for those who attend the church. The church building, in other words, is not incidental; it’s not just a random gathering of four walls and roof that only the Orthodox in a given area know about. It is an image of the Kingdom, and a witness to both the entirety of the faith and the unity of the Church for all who might see it. A lot of this we’ve heard before in the abstract, but here is an amazing, concrete example of a community making it happen.

I read a book a few months ago called When Not To Build. It’s written by a former Protestant church architect who became convinced that building new buildings is a distraction for congregations, and that churches are better off treating their buildings as more-or-less necessary evils for the purposes of gathering as we’re commanded, but beyond that, the building of big, expensive buildings is a money-pit and something that prevents churches from doing what they’re actually supposed to be doing. It’s a book that has some decent practical suggestions, to be sure, but much of it is problematic from an Orthodox point of view — it embraces the narrative of of post-legalization decline, certainly, and it has no patience whatsoever for a theology that would treat the building as having any kind of an iconographic function.

Problematic though it may be, it genuinely seems to be how a lot of people think. For the last six years, I have been part of the conversations at my parish towards building our permanent building, and these conversations continually circle back around themselves and go nowhere. Some of it has to do with money, but I think a lot of it has to do with being genuinely baffled at the idea that the building has any or all of the iconographic and traditional functions outlined by Andrew Gould and the people of St. Sava Church, and certainly the notion that the church building itself is intended to reflect royal splendor in materials and design runs contrary to Middle American ideals about avoiding conspicuous consumption. For some, it need be no more complex than a practical question of space to be solved practically — build whatever size pole barn or brick box you can manage, and retrofit a dome on top of it if it’s really that important to you for it to look “Orthodox”, whatever that means. Anything else is surely just too theoretical and abstract to be relevant to those of us here and now who have to build and use the place. I’ve even heard it suggested that building a beautiful church building is something that materially wealthy but spiritually dead communities do (usually implied somewhere along the way that these are “ethnic” parishes in addition), and that parishes that are spiritually alive (i.e., “convert” parishes) don’t need such trappings.

When Gould was here, he spent some time talking about multi-aisle design of his interiors, complete with interior columns and transepts, and how there’s a traditional diversity of kinds of spaces inside the church. Somebody asked a question that amounted to, well, so what? Why is anybody here going to think that that’s a good thing? It contributes to the beauty of the nave, Gould replied. “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” was the answer. Now, to be fair, there’s evidently something of an assumption somewhere that multi-aisle designs are problematic or at least unnecessary in an American context; in the St. Sava booklet, it says that “we preserved the original model and its general characteristics of style and beauty, with additional attributes more practical to serve the religious needs of an American parish. The use of steel eliminated the need for interior columns in the nave…” (p.3) Still, it’s clear that St. Sava Church, in making those kinds of decisions, tried to work things out in the context of a traditional understanding of these matters, rather than an approach that assumes that the traditional practices are irrelevant and impractical.

And yes, traditional practices are also expensive. No question about it. Right now my parish is trying to replace our unsightly, inexpensive metal music stands with a proper analogion so that we can actually look like we belong in our little, awkward corner of the nave, and just that alone could be a few thousand dollars. One Orthodox woodworker said it could be done for as little as $1,000 and as much as $8,000, depending on how much carving we want. Extrapolate from there the cost of a full set of liturgical furnishings needed just to be functional, and it can’t be argued that there aren’t a lot of fantastic low-budget options for an Orthodox church that doesn’t have a woodcarver, metalworker, carpenter, iconographer, architect, mason, and general contractor all in-house. As somebody said to me recently, “Most of us struggle just to be able to pay the priest.”

At the same time, the St. Sava booklet acknowledges all of this, giving an account of things that makes it clear that the entire community made it its responsibility to contribute sacrificially of time, talent, and effort to build a church that would be an Orthodox witness to an entire area. They wanted people to see it from the highway and pull off to find it, and they were willing to do what they had to in order to make it happen. Maybe not everybody wants that, I suppose, but it seems to me that there’s a problem when we on the one hand criticize “ethnic” parishes for being insular and functioning as “little more than the tribe at prayer” and then set up churches in places that are hard to find, inaccessible, and invisible. However “ethnic” St. Sava may or may not be (and I don’t know, having never been there except for that afternoon), you can’t come down on them for trying to stay unnoticed.

I’m not entirely certain how to put all of these pieces together. Is a true “culturally American Orthodox Christianity” going to reflect a core frugality and practicality that sees the architectural and iconographic traditions as ostentatious and unnecessary? Are former bank buildings and insurance offices adapted as well as possible for liturgical use what we’re looking at? I suppose you could argue that church buildings started out as converted temples and public buildings, but it seems to me that that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Do we get that there’s a difference between chronos and kairos, and that the church is built for one and not the other? Is beauty in Orthodox worship and building design something we’re going to have to redefine along American egalitarian, “horizontal” lines in order for it to be “relevant” enough? Is it a case where, if we see examples like St. Sava, we’ll be inspired to do it ourselves? Or is it a case where examples like St. Sava make us think, “Yeah, how nice for them. Nothing to do with us”?

St. Cornelius Orthodox Church, Amersfoort, Netherlands

When Andrew Gould was here back in January, he talked about having just gotten back from the Netherlands, where he had been hired to design a church for St. Cornelius Orthodox Church, a Moscow Patriarchate parish in Amersfoort. Hearing him talk about the experience was fascinating, and it made me very curious about what he was going to come up with for them.

Curiosity is no longer required; Andrew has posted his designs on his website, and I link to them for your perusal.

My hope is that in the very near future we are able to move forward with engaging Andrew to do the full design. The concept sketch is excellent to have and has been wonderfully useful, but we’re running out of steps we can take where it will be sufficient. If you might be interested in helping in some way, I refer you over this way.

On the difference between καιρός and χρόνος and building a church that makes the difference clear (Part I)

It’s really hard for me to believe that January of 2010 has just about gotten away from me entirely. Classes started on 11 January, then there were two Somethings Big at All Saints the next two weekends that pretty much ate my life, and now this last week, the third of the semester, has felt like the real first week of classes.

Oh yeah, and Great Lent starts up in two weeks.

My class schedule feels a bit more focused on my interests this semester than it did last semester; this is good, but it also feels like I’ve got more work to do. I’m sitting in on a class looking at the medieval city as well as an ethnomusicology seminar on music and sacred experience, I’m taking a seminar on Ancient Greek democracy (easily the class where I feel most outside of my area), a colloquium titled “Essential Readings in Early Medieval History,” third year Modern Greek, and then I’m supposed to do some Latin reading with one of my professors. I’m also reading St. Athanasius’ Greek life of St. Anthony.

It’s not really any more work than last semester was, to be truthful, but I’m just getting into the rhythm of it this week, so I’m feeling a little more behind than I’d like. I’ll live, and not every eye will weep for me.

So, Andrew Gould visited All Saints the weekend of 15-17 January. All Saints’ building effort has effectively been dead in the water for ten years; the “temporary” building in which we presently worship is a shoebox (the left wing of the pictured concept painting), and it was deemed reasonable to build an ultra-utilitarian, multipurpose space first based on the logic that “people come for church but stay for the other things a church does” — plus, at the time (2001) they figured they’d be in there for less than five years. Well, when I arrived in 2003, Fr. Athanasius pointed at that painting and said, “That’s ten years away.” In 2005, it was still ten years away, and the parish council started toying with the idea of hiring a different designer, since it just seemed like there was no motivation on anybody’s part to build the original idea. We talked to Christ Kamages in 2006, but Fr. Athanasius announced his retirement shortly thereafter, and a number of people felt it would be unwise to jump into a capital campaign and building project under such circumstances. Ironically, Fr. Athanasius explicitly warned us against delaying, telling us at his last parish council meeting, “We walk by faith and not by sight, and I want you to go ahead with this,” but any conviction he intended to leave us with vanished as soon we had to start paying a fulltime priest with a family for whom this was how they put food on their table, as opposed to a retiree who didn’t need the money.

In 2007, Fr. Peter tried to figure out what we might be able to do to expand our facilities in small steps, and in returning to the original concept, he tried to push the idea of building the narthex and southernmost wing of the complex. The extension could be built to be an intentional worship space with provision for acoustics and so on, and would allow us more room to grow — we’d be facing south rather than east, but we would make do. The estimate came in at a half million dollars, which seemed to constitute a reasonable step in the right direction.

We raised, I think, all of $35,000. Maybe. “Pretty good for a church full of working people,” our treasurer told us, but it was clear that nobody in the community felt inspired to try to make sure it happened. Certain people who had originally said, “Let us know when you’re ready for us to write checks,” now were making excuses as to why they couldn’t — excuses like “Well, Dad’s old Episcopal church is building a new wing and we had to give to that…” I wish I were kidding. Worse, at least two large parishes outside of Bloomington were running capital campaigns and got to some of these people before we were ready. We were back to square one.

The situation didn’t improve any; we got to a point where the choir had to be relocated so that we took up half of the space we used to have, and eventually we were trying to figure out how we could configure the building so that the partition wall separating the virtual nave from the virtual fellowship hall could just be left open. We were (and are, make no mistake) in that horrible catch-22 where you need to build in order to grow, but you have to grow in order to build (and it is not an economic option to relieve the pressure by planting a mission). You will either figure out a way to build, or the problem will be self-correcting because you will die.

Enter Andrew.

Andrew’s work on Holy Ascension first came to my attention around Pascha of 2008, and I talked about him a bit here. I contacted him last spring in order to find out what it would take to get him out here when we started talking about how to get rid of the partition wall, and a number of us then made a concerted effort to convince the parish council that we should bring him to Bloomington to see what he would have to say. Long story short (too late!), we finally went ahead and booked Andrew in September, and the weekend of 15-17 January was the first time we could get the church’s calendar to sync with his.

When Andrew arrived a couple of Fridays ago, the first thing we did when we got him to the church was walk him around the property. He got to see a very representative sample of our 24 acres, and when we finally finished the tour, he asked a question which changed the game as we had known it up to this point.

“Why don’t we build on the hill by the corner?”

Keep in mind this is a question that has been asked before. The hill in question is the highest and most visible spot on our property from the road, and it’s a no-brainer to wonder why that wasn’t the plan from the get-go.

The answer has always been, and thus was dutifully trotted out on this occasion, “Because that’s where the septic field is.” This has effectively always ended that line of inquiry.

Except that Andrew didn’t go down without a fight. “Show me,” he said. “Where is your septic field exactly?”

We showed him. We showed him exactly where it was marked off as being. And his answer was, “This is a non-issue. We can build right up to this point, and this is exactly where and how the church you want can fit here.” He paced it out for us. “You’ve already got a boxy utilitarian building over there,” he told us. “On the 24 beautiful acres you have, why do you want to surround your temple with cars and asphalt when you can put it someplace where people can really use it to transition into a different world and engage your land?”

We spent the next couple of days talking about it. Miraculously, we didn’t spent two days arguing about it. The conversation wasn’t, “Well, why don’t we see what might be less expensive?” Rather, the conversation was, “How do we make this happen?”

Andrew talked about a lot of things. He talked, for example, about how you have to build for the liturgy. I had asked John Boyer if there was anything I should be prepared to talk about from the choir’s perspective in the design process; acoustics, of course, were the concern at the top of John’s list. Besides that, however, he also a big narthex, an apse that functioned as a resonating chamber, and the choirs placed in transepts. Andrew, as it happened, brought up virtually all of those things unprompted as practical “must-haves” that aren’t negotiable. (And the one thing he didn’t present as such, transepts, once I told him what we’re trying to do, he said, “Yes, of course, you’ll want transepts.”) Acoustics, in fact, were the very first thing that he mentioned to me as one of the design features he won’t not do.

Andrew talked about money. To build what he would design for the number of people we’re talking about (200 on Sundays, 300 on feast days), we’re looking at ~$2 million. His fees will be 6-8% of that, including construction documents. Plus, we have ~$220,000 on our existing mortgage that we have to retire. So, at the end of the day, $2.5 million is what we’re looking at, soup to nuts. (This prompted the question — what was the estimate on the original concept? $2 million for the temple and the south wing, was the answer, and that was in 1999 dollars. So, we’re not out of our original range by any stretch of the imagination.)

One of the ideas that came up while talking about money was trying to establish an alumni network for Orthodox Christians who have come through Indiana University. Surely there have to be hundreds out there who were in Bloomington when there was no church at all — hence Orthodox Hoosiers; I am slowly but surely getting this running, but I’m a one-man army on this front. If you’d like to help in any way, administratively or financially, please get in touch with me (rrbarret [AT] indiana.edu); there is no support from All Saints behind this effort except for the moral kind, and if perhaps there were 20-30 interested parties willing to pool ~$1,000 of startup costs for charter membership benefits to be determined later, that’d be immensely helpful.

Most importantly, however, Andrew told us why we need to build a beautiful church. This alone was a game-changer, and how. To have somebody who knew what he was talking about, and who is clearly a faithful Orthodox Christian, tell us with humility yet authority that in our current building we appear to be God’s people in exile — well, the terms of the conversation are permanently different now, because everybody who heard Andrew’s answer understands that the point is not to build four walls and a roof, but rather to write an icon of the heavenly city. A gentleman who had just been through a $1.7 million building campaign at his own parish to build something, well, not quite as nice, shook his head and said, “If only we’d heard that before.”

Andrew was kind enough to leave us with a concept sketch:

What you see is the view of the building from the southwest, somewhat in the air. The corner of building on the right is our existing building, surrounded by the parking lot. The church has a basement level which would function as the parish hall once finished; the temple itself would be level with the existing parking lot, and the covered bridge (a clever nod to famous Indiana landmarks) would extend from the parking lot to the narthex, over the valley that runs between the parking lot and the hill (plus you can also see the stairs leading up to the entryway on the north side of the narthex,). There would, of course, be whatever handicapped parking spaces are necessary, plus an elevator from the basement level to the narthex, but Andrew’s idea is that for the 99% of the parish that is able-bodied, the 200 feet from the parking lot to the church, however you choose to walk it, will function as a transition from the busy world into the Kingdom. “The temple will be 100 feet long to begin with,” he said, “so you’re walking 200 feet to and from Communion anyway. We walk that in the Target parking lot without even thinking about it. The church building shouldn’t be the place where we emphasize suburban ideas of convenience.”

Andrew’s other idea was to use a slab of limestone from our property (it used to be a working quarry) as our permanent altar. As I’ve told a couple of people, then we could tell C. S. Lewis fans that we have the real Stone Table.

Will we build it? It sure seems possible. Nothing has been decided formally (and I should emphasize that, lest I come across like I’m speaking out of school), and it will still be another week or so before the parish council can meet about how to move forward, but Andrew definitely got a lot of people excited. I think we should challenge ourselves to break ground within two years. I think we can build the city on the hill if we make it a priority to do so as a community.

The thing is, Fr. Peter is reasonably certain that we’re not going to be able to get a mortgage for more than half a million dollars. This means we’re going to have to come up with $2 million in cash, somehow. In the short term, we’re going to have to raise around $250k — ~$220,000 to retire the existing mortage, and somewhere around $21,000 to engage Andrew to formally get the design to the level of detail where he can produce the pretty watercolors that get people to write checks. That’s nothing when you’re talking about building a permanent church, but when you’re telling that to a lot of working-class Hoosiers, you realize just how much of an asset the imperial treasury actually was back in the day.

(Did I mention that I’m working on an Orthodox IU Alumni Network?)

By the way, I would absolutely, unhesitatingly, and without qualification recommend Andrew Gould to any church going through this process. He has a terrific eye, a wonderful sense of how architecture interacts with the landscape, and a frightening amount of knowledge when it comes to talking about the tradition of Orthodox Christian church buildings. Andrew is also very affable and easygoing, there isn’t a hint of arrogance about him, and he’s a great guy with whom to have a beer as well. All of us had a great time getting to know him, and we really hope to see him again soon.

What Andrew is not, just so we’re clear, is cheap and obedient — and I rank these negatives in the “plus” column, no question about it. Now, he doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but neither does he say, “You’re a church, so I’ll charge you next to nothing.” He’s very up front about saying that he charges market price for what he does, and that this is his living, not how he fulfills charitable obligations. It cost $2,000 plus his travel to bring him out for the weekend to do this kind of consultation; as noted, the next stage will be $18-21k. The construction documents will be another chunk of change. This is not unreasonable; it’s just that that’s actually what these things cost. Our old design was done for “the discount” — and, well, as my father likes to say, the most cost effective way of doing anything is to do it right the first time, and sometimes free is too expensive. So, as far as I’m concerned, This is a Good Thing.

(By the way, because I’m clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee all over the original watercolor of the old design during the course of this weekend, utterly ruining it. I swear to God it was absolutely an accident, but I was asked by somebody later, “Was that a Freudian spill?”)

As far as “obedience” goes — what I mean by that is, Andrew is not going to design whatever you want no matter what. He wants to design things that look like they belong where they are, but what he puts his name on has to be rooted somehow in Orthodox architectural tradition; if that isn’t what you want, call somebody else. Somebody challenged him on some points related to that over the course of the weekend; “I don’t come to church for the beauty, I come for the participation,” this person told him, more or less telling him that they felt like certain structural insistences on his part seemed unnecessary and foreign (at best) to what they were used to in churches. Andrew didn’t back down, and simply continued to explain with patience, humility, and his encyclopedic knowledge. This person was eventually won over — but the point is, don’t expect him to chuck centuries of tradition because you don’t like it. His churches are bigger than you, and bigger than him. Again, as I see it, This is a Good Thing.

This is already over 2,700 words, so I think I’m going to split this post in two. Thus endeth part the first; part the second, in which All Saints goes to Parents’ Weekend of Byz Chant Boot Camp, will be coming soon.

John Michael Boyer: “Why do we need beautiful music in church?” “So that it gives us joy in church”

We had Andrew Gould’s answer a bit ago as to why we need beautiful churches; last weekend, we got John Michael Boyer’s answer to the question, “Why do we need beautiful music in those churches?” What John said is of a somewhat different tone than what Andrew told us; it is less theoretical and more practical, but to that extent I think the answers complement each other. John provides an excellent patristic reference for his practicality, and I think he says a number of things worth thinking about. I’ll have more to say shortly.

(I will note that, thanks to how the acoustics at All Saints work, or rather don’t work, I had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to edit this so that it could be heard. There are still a couple of spots that are wonkier than I’d like, but I think it’s all audible. It looks like every second of decay in the proposed new temple will cost us approximately $1 million, so please pray for our building project!)

Andrew Gould on why we need beautiful churches (updated with transcription)

I will have more to say about the context in which Andrew told us this when I have more time, but for the moment I will say only that this is the best answer to the question I have ever heard, and I’m really glad that I was recording his presentation for other reasons.

Update, 19 January 2010, 10:36am: Lucas Christensen was good enough to transcribe this (that’s my godson!). Here we go:

Q: Would you mind telling us a little bit of your philosophy on why we need beautiful churches?

A: The question of ‘why this sort of architecture?’ really brings me back to why I started becoming interested in Orthodoxy. I had previously been Anglican and I was interested in designing Anglican churches in gothic style; when I was in college, I studied gothic architecture quite intensively. But as I started to learn about Orthodoxy and Byzantine churches, I was really impressed by the degree to which architecture, iconography, music and liturgy are integrated in Orthodoxy, as one common vision. The way the liturgical movements connect to the different spaces of the building, and then the way the liturgical movements address the different icons, the way in which the icons are painted on the particular surfaces of the buildings in the proper order where they go, and then the way the hymnography refers to all of these saints and to liturgical actions. All of these things work together as an icon of the Kingdom of God in its entirety. Panel icons of saints are not the whole story. They represent the saints, the angels, Christ—but the Kingdom of God is a lot more than that.

If you read the end of the Book of Revelation it describes the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the City of New Jerusalem: it has foundations made of precious stones; it has columns and arches and beautiful pavements; it has domes—all of this is described. And it has ever been the practice of the Orthodox Church to understand church architecture as iconographic. That it, along with the icons and saints, makes for the full representation of the Kingdom of God, and then that must be filled with liturgy, music, incense, to represent we who make up the Kingdom of God along with the saints and angels worshipping God therein. So if you don’t have that, if you have a room like this {indicates a nave in a temporary office-space – ed.} with icons hanging on the wall, you’ve only got half of the picture. To me, honestly, seeing this situation of a mission church without a church, looks like the Kingdom of God in exile. We have worship, and we have music, we have saints, but where is New Jerusalem? Where is the City?

That’s why you need beautiful architecture. And that’s why the architecture needs to be honest, and solid and sincere. We don’t want to have a stage set, we don’t want to have a building that superficially looks like an Orthodox church, because that’s a stage set, that’s sort of what Baroque architecture is. That’s sort of trying to use plaster and ornament to give a theatrical impression of the Beatific Vision. But Orthodoxy’s not about that, Orthodoxy’s about building something absolutely solid, and permanent and honest that conveys the real ethos of the eternal Kingdom of God.

Vernacular American Byzantine architecture?

I’d like to express some appreciation for Orthodox architect Andrew Gould. Christ J. Kamages is the primary name I’ve been hearing for a few years (and not without very good reason), so Gould seems to me to be new on the scene, but having been running in Orthodox circles for all of five years I lack proper perspective on the matter. I certainly think we can only benefit from more architects who specialize in Orthodox church design, and I very much like what Gould brings to the table in terms of figuring out how churches might look at once authentically Byzantine and authentically American (a question I’ve written about in relation to another liturgical craft, too). I assume Gould would be deeply unappreciative of anybody reposting his images, so I encourage you to check out his (as well as Kamages’) website.

You can also listen to an interview with him here.


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