The Saint John of Damascus Society goes to Finland

As discussed in my last post, from 6-15 June, I was in the town of Joensuu, Finland for the 2015 conference for the International Society for Orthodox Church Music ( Besides myself, Psalm 103 Project contributing composer Kurt Sander was also at the conference. He spoke briefly about his contribution during my presentation, and also gave an excellent talk himself titled “Words Matter:  Language Identity and the Orthodox Composer”.

Richard at ISOCM 2015
Response to the Psalm 103 Project presentation was overwhelmingly positive; this was a room of people who got what this was about, and they were really interested in it. For one example of the kind of reaction I got, Achilleas Chaldaiakis, professor of Byzantine music at University of Athens, came up to me afterward and said, “Richard, I am very excited, not just to hear this project, but to sing in it!”

Across the board, ISOCM in Finland was a wonderful trip; the presentation generated a lot of excited interest in what we’re doing, and did so at some very high levels. It was great to be able to interact with (and give my business card to) Orthodox musicians from all over the world; there were composers, singers, and scholars from Serbia, Romania, Greece, Finland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, the UK, the USA, the Czech Republic, and Japan (!). I came back with books, scores, and recordings by composers and musicians writing and singing in Finnish, Slavonic, and Romanian. I met Jaakko Olkinuora, who is the principal person right now working on composing Byzantine music for the Finnish language. I got to sing with Achilleas Chaldaiakis. I held ison for a concert sung by a choir of Romanian cantors. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir gave an amazing concert. And so on.

I also had an ongoing conversation with Kurt and a gentleman named David Lucs, whom I met last summer at Kurt’s symposium in Cincinnati. We all were very much of the opinion that an event like this needs to happen Stateside in ISOCM’s off-years, and it needs to happen at such a level of quality that international participants are encouraged to come, much as USA participants are encouraged to come to ISOCM. There has already been one such attempt to do something like this with PSALM in Chicago, 2006, and then Kurt’s Pan-Orthodox Liturgical Music Symposium last year in Cincinnati is the more recent effort. It can be done; the real issue is not doing it once, but rather having enough institutional continuity and memory across efforts such that it becomes its own well-oiled machine with no need to reinvent everything each time it happens. My gut feeling is that taking this on needs to be part of somebody’s full-time job; we’ll see what happens.

At the same time, Kurt, David, and myself all were of the mind that we need to promote more USA participation in ISOCM. It is truly eye-opening to see the level of what’s going on in the rest of the world, and it is of immeasurable benefit to us to have the opportunity to see it for ourselves.

One concrete action that the Saint John of Damascus Society has taken is that we are now an institutional affiliate of ISOCM. This will allow for cross-promotion of activities and promote cooperation at an organizational level. My own personal hope is affiliation will help us find a way to help facilitate the American gatherings, and hopefully we can start having some productive conversations in earnest very soon.

To start some of that cross-promotion right now — the Saint John of Damascus Society doesn’t (yet) have a membership plan, so in the meantime, I strongly encourage you to become a member of ISOCM. It is reasonably inexpensive as these things go, and you get the proceedings of conferences as well as reduced registration rates for the bi-annual meeting. Even more than that, you get to be part of an international community of people who care a great deal about Orthodox church music. Membership is very much worth it, and you can click here to sign up:

I also personally invite you to come with me to the 2017 conference in Joensuu. You have two years; start planning now. With any luck and with God’s help, I will present in 2017 about the stunning success of the premiere performances and the recording sessions, and I would very much love to have as many from this side of the Atlantic to be there with me. If you are at all inclined to attend, let me know; I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, and I’ll certainly help however I can.

To sum up: go join ISOCM (and like them on Facebook:! Watch this space for a discussion of a recurring USA-based conference. And come to Finland with me in 2017!

More soon.