Update Video for the Home Stretch!
The Saint John of Damascus Society, a nonprofit sacred arts organization whose mission is to reveal Orthodox Christianity through its sacred music, is commissioning a collaborative composition from Matthew Arndt, John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing, and Tikey Zes.
The group of them will collaborate on a setting of Psalm 103, the Vesperal psalm. The idea is that the psalm text will be broken up into sections, and each one will compose a section in their own musical idiom. While each section will be in a separate style, the transitions between sections will be intentionally as smooth as possible. The net effect will likely be something oratorio-esque, but we'll see.
There are a number of objectives here; once the piece has been composed, then we will seek to publish it, as well as record it (and to have it recorded by a professional-quality ensemble. Once it is recorded, the plan is to create a video montage of a performance interspersed with images from all of creation, from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic levels.
In terms of how we're proceeding, we're doing so in stages, and the hope is that each stage will set up the next one. We're going to be unveiling a Kickstarter project shortly for the purposes of being able to commission the piece; once we have the score in hand, we can use that to raise the money for the recording, and so on.
The fundamental idea behind the project comes from our board president, Hal Sabbagh, an electrical engineer and mathematician who is very interested in bridging gaps between science and faith. The confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson (the "God particle") last summer got him wondering about what in the Orthodox liturgical/musical tradition celebrates creation at these kinds of levels, and I suggested the Vesperal psalm. It generated a lot of ideas, the rest of the board got very interested, and here we are.
We hope you can help!
Risks and challenges
Deadlines are always a challenge, but we're confident that once the project is funded, we can deliver a complete published score within a year.
The biggest logistical challenge will be setting up the initial weekend where everybody meets in person to discuss the details of the collaboration; scheduling has the potential to be complicated. Once funded, we will set that up as early as possible.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
That's a good question, and there are a few different things that I should say in answer to that.
First, the Saint John of Damascus Society is neither a church nor an organ of any Orthodox jurisdiction. We are a non-profit organization that has as its central interest the liturgical music of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. We look for ways to promote education and outreach opportunities related to music -- opportunities that will be informative and edifying for Orthodox Christians but that will also of interest to non-Orthodox. Some of those opportunities might be liturgical; some of those opportunities might be more in a concert vein; some of those opportunities might be academic; some of those opportunities might be creative.
The Psalm 103 project, ultimately, is probably not a liturgical effort. That is, the composition you are helping to commission is a setting of a psalm that is sung in Orthodox liturgical practice, and the composers we commission will set their respective sections of it using Orthodox musical idioms, but they will be doing so creatively, and I have a hard time imagining the final product being either appropriate for a church setting or reasonable for any but an incredibly exceptional parish choir. Maybe in a church that is very much accustomed to a mixed musical idiom anyway and that has an amazing choir, what we're envisioning would work, but such a case is likely rare.
So, that means it's a concert piece. This in and of itself is not an innovation of the Saint John of Damascus Society; Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil was a concert piece, Fr. Ivan Moody's Akathistos is a concert piece, Richard Toensing's Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ is a concert piece, and so on. There is a history of Orthodox composers writing concert pieces. (Ironically, Tchaikovsky's setting of the Divine Liturgy, famously rejected by the Moscow Synod as "konzert", is nonetheless sung liturgically by many parishes today.)
As a concert piece, we have a number of intended uses for it. We are going to publish it, we are going to record it, and then we are going to produce a short film to accompany it. Each of those different iterations has, I suppose, a different audience -- the audience for the published version is whoever wants to sing it, you might say. The audience for the recording will be people who buy, say, Cappella Romana recordings, but also maybe Chanticleer CDs and the like. The audience for the film will be, depending on its final form (and we're far away from that, I should emphasize), maybe the kind of people who are interested in watching Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, but also people who watch Neil deGrasse Tyson.
At roughly a half hour long and in six different musical idioms, the finished product of the score will likely be a challenge for a lot of choirs and not something that can just be thrown together in a weekend at a church festival -- but, hopefully, it's a challenge that can be seen as an opportunity to learn something they didn't know how to do before.
All of this is to say -- who is our intended audience? The score won't likely be a church bookshop item; besides our loyal supporters, the audience for the score will be interested choirs and conductors. The CD certainly could be a church bookshop item, as well as a more general commercial recording, assuming we're able to get a top-notch choir to record it (and there are only so many choirs in this world that understand the Orthodox music aesthetic thoroughly enough AND who are first-rank singers/musicians). We're a ways off from the film, but that would perhaps be similar to MotJP where there were limited engagements and PBS broadcasts followed by a home video release. Again, that would certainly be a church bookshop item, but it would also be more.
So, you might think of our intended audience -- and this is generally true of all of our efforts -- as "Orthodox AND..." "Orthodox AND the general public." "Orthodox AND people with questions about the relationship of faith and science." And so on. I would hesitate to describe this as a "popularizing" effort, but I would certainly say that it is intended to show a broader audience that our musical and liturgical traditions have something to say about the things our culture at large is thinking about and talking about.
Great question. Each of the composers we're going to commission comes with a somewhat different toolbox in terms of musical idioms, which is by design. For example, John Boyer and Alexander Khalil are both Byzantine chant specialists, but from different angles -- John has done a lot of work with medieval Byzantine chant in addition to the modern received tradition; Alex's teacher was from Jerusalem, and his doctoral work was specifically on the chanting style at the patriarchal church in Constantinople. Kurt Sander is a specialist in Slavic idioms. Tikey Zes, Richard Toensing, and Matthew Arndt are all composers whose respective compositional styles are influenced by multiple Orthodox repertories -- Russian choral music, Byzantine chant, Georgian chant, and so on. Exactly how all of those idioms will be represented in the final product will be a question for the composers to work out once the piece is formally commissioned, and will doubtless be one of the things they talk about in the public presentation at Indiana University (which, should all go well, would hopefully be available via an outlet such as Ancient Faith Radio for those not able to attend).
We added those rewards on Day 3, and we weren't able to edit the other reward categories. We will send those out to the $10-and-above backers as well!
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Too long for the Kickstarter page. Our Artistic Director tells the story here: http://www.johnofdamascus.org/2013/04/with-wisdom-all/
The breakdown goes something like this:Based on what our composers have told us, the going rate for commissions like this is $75/minute of music. We're looking at a finished product that we're intending to be right around thirty minutes, with six composers each composing about five minutes' worth of music. Round up for contingencies and we have six $500 commission fees, so $3,000.
Then we have travel for getting them all out here for a working weekend this fall. Again, we're looking at an average of $500/person, so another $3,000.
The remaining $1,500 will go towards publishing costs and reward fulfillment (which largely overlap), as well as Kickstarter/Amazon fees.
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