Monday, May 5, 2014

Update Time

Well, I've been busy! Since Holy Week, have been working with my wife, Lenita, cleaning houses. By the time I do that, take care of chores like bookkeeping for her business, fixing and eating dinner (sometimes my son cooks), catch up on emails, blogs, and other sites, there seems to be little time left for writing.

So I've had a hard time getting back to this blog, even though I have so much to say. So let's dig in.

Holy Week


I left folks with a bit of a cliff-hanger, in that I had just stopped a medication, started taking a new set of supplements, and getting used to a new diet, right before Holy Week.

Holy Week, for those not in the know, is a week-long chant-fest. If you did the full slate of services, there would be two services a day from Monday to Thursday, some of them getting close to three hours long, three services on Friday, one on Saturday, and two on Pascha (Easter) itself. A good hunk of those services involve readings and a lot of Byzantine style chanting.

Pascha, btw, is a transliteration of the Greek word into English, which is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover. The early Church referred to this celebration as the "New Passover," when Christ's sacrifice and resurrection enabled us to have death pass over us. It wasn't until much later in Christian history that it became known as Easter, and that only in the Western world. But that's a whole nother subject.

I'm like the head chanter. What that boils down to is a certain level of stress. Normally no big deal. It helps keep you on your toes. But stress tends to bring out the PD symptoms too. So with the medication change, it looked like a potentially difficult week.

As it turned out, it wasn't so bad. Yes, my tremors were a little worse without that medication. It was obviously doing me some good, despite the side-effects. But I was able to chant well and my voice held up as well as in past years. I think in part by some stress reduction. Here's what changed.

This isn't a big change from recent years, but due to travel time, and working with Lenita that week, our first Holy Week service wasn't until Wednesday evening. Then I did Thursday evening, Friday morning and evening, Saturday morning, the Paschal midnight service, and the Sunday afternoon service. So, for one thing, I didn't chant at all fifteen services.

Two, in part because I wasn't there in the first three services, our choir director was fully in the grove by the time I arrived on Wednesday. So she lead more, and did more chanting than I recall in years past, save maybe last year. At any rate, she is fully capable, and so unlike previous years, I didn't have to worry too much about making sure everything was covered. I mostly played backup in case she got temporarily lost, which happened a couple of times.

But the biggest changes that I think helped came in the form of attitude and execution. In part due to the above, I remained fairly laid back. I followed along in the book, but purposefully didn't allow myself to stress out much about any of it. I just trusted it would all come off well. And you know what? It did.

Part of that laid-backness was in how I chanted. Most all previous years, I had used the music. That's great for learning all the special melodies, or when you want to make sure you don't forget how something goes, but it does add a level of stress reading the words and the music at the same time. When some words are stretched out with multiple hyphens, it isn't always easy to pull it all together quick enough. Reading music and trying to perform it as written does add stress.

Well, I've done these Holy Week services for 15 years now. Most of the music I know by heart. Plus, there was only one music book this year, and it wasn't in front of me. So I knew I'd mostly have to do it from memory and just chant from the text. So for the first time, I chanted 99% of the music just using the text instead of the musical scores.

What I discovered is one, I knew pretty much all the melodies. And two, it was much less stressful that way. I think doing that facilitated a much more relaxed attitude and enjoyment of the services.

There is this one piece on Friday night that exemplified this. After a procession around the church building, there is a decently long piece chanted. The music we have is labeled as an "Arabic Masterpiece." It does require a fairly large range to pull off, as it gets very low and high. The first years I attempted it, one church member referred to it as screeching. He was probably pretty close to right on hitting those high notes. But in recent years, starting when Fr. James asked me to do that piece, it actually came out well, and he loved it. So for about the last four or five years, I've been regularly doing it.

This is the first year chanting with my low range effectively on the fritz thanks to PD. So I know I wasn't getting down to those low notes. But using just the text, I could chant it in the same style, but avoid the really low parts. I was able to make most of it sound like it should. But not using the music allowed me to do that, modify it on the fly, and not get as stressed out about doing it.

So because of all that, despite being a little shakier, the services went swimmingly. It was no where near the problem I thought it might be.

As soon as I can, I'll come back and update how the medications are working, and discuss what else I'm doing to hopefully improve my situation. Until then.