Posts Tagged 'ethnomusicologists'

“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.

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!

IU Jacobs School of Music: “Arvo Pärt: A Jubilee,” 9-10 October 2010

I was just informed that the weekend before the Symposium, the Jacobs School of Music and the Estonian Studies Program of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, with additional support from the Russian and East European Institute as well as the Estonian Embassy in Washington, D. C. and the Estonian Institute in Tallinn, Estonia, will be hosting a weekend of events focusing on Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Here’s the schedule of events:

“Arvo Pärt: 24 Preludes for a Fugue”
Saturday, October 9, 4pm
A Film Presentation
Sweeney Hall
(Estonia, 2002), runtime 90 minutes, English subtitles
Introduced by Dr. Toivo Raun, Professor of Central Eurasian Studies
“Arvo Pärt: Icon of an Age”
Sunday, October 10, 12-2pm
A lecture by Dr. Jeffers Engelhardt, Assistant Professor, Anthropology of Music, Department of Music, Amherst College
Sweeney Hall
**Followed by a panel discussion with Jacobs School of Music Faculty and Students
Arvo Pärt at 75: A Portrait Concert
Sunday, October 10, 4pm
Auer Hall
Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and Guests Carmen Helena Téllez, Artistic Director, & Jeffrey Smith, Guest Organist
Program:
I.
Trivium (1976) for organ
Miss Syllabica (1977) for voices and organ
Bogorodits djevo (1990) for chorus
II.
Fratres (1980) for violin and piano
Nunc dimittis (2001) for chorus a capella
Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) violin and piano
III.
Summa for string quartet
…which was the Son of… (2000) for chorus and a capella
Salve Regina (2002) for chorus and organ
More information can be found here.
I’m definitely interested in hearing Dr. Engelhardt’s talk; about a year and a half ago he published a very thoughtful study of the musical practice at the non-MP Orthodox cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia, and I discussed that study a bit here. The concert, of course, should be splendid. Highly recommended on all counts.

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.

Ethnomusicology: “Right Singing in Estonian Orthodox Christianity: A Study of Music, Theology, and Religious Ideology” by Jeffers Engelhardt

As I’ve more or less said before, I’m not an ethnomusicologist, but my interests do tend to at least touch things ethnomusicologists care about and vice versa. Thus, I at least keep my eyes open, and also as I’ve noted before, I’m in a good place to to do so (at least for the next two weeks).

The current issue (Winter 2009, Vol. 53, No. 1) of Ethnomusicology: The Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology has an article titled, “Right Singing in Estonian Orthodox Christianity: A Study of Music, Theology, and Religious Ideology,” by Amherst College faculty member Jeffers Engelhardt. It is “an intimate musical ethnography of how Estonian Orthodox Christians at a small parish in Tallinn are making their liturgical singing ‘right'” (p.32), and seeks to examine the questions,

What do musical change and religious renewal reveal about the dynamic interrelationship of theologies and musical styles? How are orthodoxy and orthopraxy established musically? How do local histories condition the possibility of current and future practices? (p.32)

These are great, practical questions, and Prof. Engelhardt has been able to base his exploration of them on practical experience — between 2002 and 2007, he spent a lot of time conducting field research at Cathedral of Saint Simeon and the Prophetess Hanna in Tallinn, including singing in the choir (although, as he notes, he is not an Orthodox Christian himself).

Prof. Engelhardt makes several excellent points and observations; he places his work in the context of religious renewal for Christians in general in Estonia, which is “a process of investing their lives in the post-Soviet order with a particular morality and soteriology.” Estonian religious renewal is significant because

[it] both recognize[s] and resist[s] conventional aspects of the modernity mythologized in post-Soviet and postsocialist transition and ostensibly figured in the European Union: democracy, liberal pluralism, secularism, free markets, cosmopolitanism, universal human rights, consumerism, individualism, “normalcy,” and benign nationalism. (p.36)

For the Orthodox Christians in particular, “right singing” is an ideal which exists in this context;

it is a musico-religious poetics whereby Orthodox Christians are transforming understandings of personhood, human ecology, and secularism in Estonian society through sonic ideals that have decided moral and ideological dimensions. […] Thus, the musical and liturgical practices, congregational life, and institutional affiliations of local Orthodox communities in Estonia bring together a host of aesthetic, theological, social, and ideological concerns. All of these concerns coalesce in the idea lof right singing… [which] is a conduit of illumination and transforms invidiual and corporate bodies into Orthodox bodies of Christ. Right singing creates the correct unity of doxa (belief) and praxis (practice) that is the conservative essence of Orthodox Christianity. (Ibid.)

Prof. Engelhardt follows up on this point by suggesting that “[i]f the singing is right, then the belief expressed in that singing is right; if the belief is right, then the musical practices grounded in that belief are right” (p.37).

In other words, religious renewal in Estonia is not just about reclaiming something repressed during the Soviet era but about fundamentally trying to reshape the world around them into something consonant with their Christian faith; furthermore, “right singing” is not just an expression of these aims for the Orthodox Christian in Estonia, but one of the instruments through which the aims will be completed.

Given this, one of the really interesting points of Prof. Engelhardt’s analysis of the Cathedral’s practice is when he speaks of using Byzantine music for special Liturgies, such as a specific example where a parishioner was to be ordained to the diaconate.

There are a number of reasons why [the Cathedral] would use [Byzantine music] to make this liturgy special. Singers, priests, and parishioners at the Cathedral…invest Byzantine chant and styles of singing perceived as temporally or geographically distant with special significance. These ways of singing are right because they sound the right religious ideology and create the right religious imaginary [sociological term referring to a set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society]; they distinguish Estonian Orthodox musical practices from Russian Orthodox Obikhod-inspired practices. For [the Cathedral], Byzantine sounds are “right” because they are “more archaic” and “more monastic” than the Estonian Orthodox traditions with marked Russian Orthodox and Protestant Lutheran influences; Byzantine sounds bring worshipers to the “right level”… [and] Byzantine ways of singing are “more ascetic” and evoke the “feeling” that is such an important part of Orthodox Christian experience… [and] Byzantine ways of singing bring [the congregation] “to the source” of the Christian tradition[.] (p.39-40)

This interlocks with earlier point of how “right singing” (orthopsalmody?) is an ideal which exists in the context of religious renewal in Estonia: “[F]or Orthodox Estonians, the trajectories, geopolitics, ideologies, and moral norms of this kind of transition do not correspond entirely with the Orthodox lives they imagine leading” (p. 41), therefore

[r]ight singing is…how Orthodox Christians situation themselves within a global religious imaginary… [which] has enabled religious renewal and, in the process, established alternative, Orthodox perspectives on the modernity being fashioned through post-Soviet transition, reframing its liberal ideologies and doctrine of secularism. The Byzantine aspects of right singing, in other words, create a form of “morally inflected cosmopolitanism”…that is given voice through liturgical practice[.] (p.44)

He reaffirms and restates this point a little later:

In general, then, what is sung at the Cathedral…and, just as important, how it is sung, localizes temporally and geographically distant Orthodox sounds in order to make singing right… Byzantine is a chronotope (a temporal and spatial field of action) incorporating aspects of musical style, theology, and religious imagination that captures what singers sense as the archaic, originary, and more authentic qualities of their way of singing. Negotiating this kind of proximity…within a global Byzantine imaginary as part of the ongoing renewal of Estonian Orthodoxy and amidst ongoing social, economic, and ideological transformation, then, is a process of making singing right. (p.46)

Prof. Engelhardt concludes with some startlingly sympathetic observations:

The ideal of right singing gives voice to eternal religious truths that empower Orthodox Estonians to live faithfully and in relation to God, one another, and a global religious community. The soteriological, ethical, and affective dimensions of right singing are profound, and by singing the right way, Orthodox Estonians realize their full humanity through the unity of beauty and truth, aesthetics and veracity. […] By endeavoring to sing the right way… Orthodox Estonians work at incrementally transforming themselves, their Church, and their world into this likeness [of God]. Musical practice, in other words, is an agentive means of religious transformation as it shapes individual and communal disciplines, sensibilities, and moral actions. (p. 50)

Prof. Engelhardt’s ethnography is very thought-provoking, and it is remarkable how applicable the picture he paints of the situation in Tallinn is to the Orthodox church choirs in the United States I’ve seen or with whom I’ve sung. While not using the specific technical language of ethnomusicology and sociology, I’ve participated in many conversations about Orthodox liturgical music that wind up in largely the same place as this article. One question that comes to mind is, just as much as the “Byzantine imaginary” allows Orthodox Estonians a means to frame their responses to modernity, I wonder to what extent we might hypothesize that some Orthodox Americans, or even Orthodox Christians elsewhere, wish instead to synthesize modernity with the Byzantine imaginary? What does that look like? How does the synthesis differ from the response?

Now, a questionable point, at least for me, is methodology. A large portion of Prof. Engelhardt’s fieldwork depends on his perspective as a participant in the choir, and he acknowledges that while he is participating with the faithful, he is not participating as one of the faithful. Without getting into the question of whether or not one should sing in the choir if one is not Orthodox, I’ll just say that it begs the question of how his observations were colored by the perspective of a non-believing participant. I don’t doubt that it likely helped to make his observations as sympathetic as they are, but it seems to me that there are lines being crossed with this methodology. Again, I am not an ethnomusicologist, so I acknowledge I raise this question from a standpoint of ignorance, and I would be curious as to how an ethnomusicologist might answer this concern. One way or the other, this is a methodological approach that strikes me as at least requiring full disclosure — that is, it not being enough for the researcher to state that they are a non-adherent; rather, a statement of of what the researcher’s religious beliefs actually are is needed to clear up any ambiguities. I could very well be totally wrong on this point, and if I am, that’s fine, but that is my initial reaction.

In all fairness, Prof. Engelhardt acknowledges the problem to some extent, noting that not being an Orthodox Christian presents certain challenges to this kind of work:

The ideal of right singing gets at things that are hard for ethnomusicologists to get at: belief, faith, the numinous, and apophatic ways of knowing through negation rather than through the positive statements of modern scholarly practice. The challenge for non-Orthodox ethnographers like myself, then, is to apprehend at all the correct unity that makes singing right. (p. 37)

Another shortcoming is the bibliography; of 125 total references listed, literature which specifically treats Orthodox Christianity only gets six entries. Of those six works, four deal with Orthodox sacred music, three of which focus on Russian practice. Given the prominence of Byzantine chant in the ethnography, it is odd to me that the references would not reflect more substantial reading and understanding in that area. Some citations talking about theology of icons or liturgical aesthetics in general would also seem appropriate, given how Prof. Engelhardt synthesizes his points in the conclusion.

There are also some curious imprecisions here and there; there is a quotation on pp. 35-6 from the “Canon for Sunday Orthros,” which hardly narrows down exactly which Canon it might be (and his translation from Estonian isn’t a lot of help, either). He refers to the diaconate being the first step in becoming a priest; while it can be, yes, it is not the prescriptive matter that he implies. In another instance, he speaks of “an authentic Orthodox theology of sound” (p. 49) without clearly stating what that might be or providing a citation.

Having noted these points, however, I think there is much to appreciate about Prof. Engelhardt’s work, and whatever I may wonder about his methodological approach, I applaud his willingness as a non-Orthodox Christian to treat the musical practices of Estonian Orthodox Christians on their own terms. If you are interested in reading the entire article, it is not available online, but if you’re near a university library, they should have the journal on their shelves.

I’ll close with Prof. Engelhardt’s final paragraph, which is perhaps the part every scholar who works in areas related to religion should read:

Beyond these conclusions about why the right singing of Orthodox Estonians is right (conclusions based on a musical ethnography of orthopraxy), one verges on matters of belief and faith (the inwardness and veracity of doxa) that reveal the limits of how modern, secular scholarship produces knowledge… Suggesting how musical style, religious ideology, and sociohistorical circumstance affect the rightness of sound is only part of the story. The other part of the story is about the epistemology given voice through the outward expressions of orthopraxy; it is about the ineffability of some religious experiences, the unverifiable efficacy of some rituals, the possibility of divine revelation, and the corporeal sensibility of the authentic, all of which are no less real or true than musical style, religious ideology, and sociohistorical circumstance. Regarding these profoundly significant aspects of right sounds, one must, I believe, defer to those for whom they are right, stopping short of any complete representation in order to recognize and reflect on their ultimate meaning and power in the lives of the faithful. (p. 52)


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