Boston Revels is an organization – maybe I should say institution – devoted to keeping community tradition alive through music, storytelling, dance, and the like. It has affiliates in nine other cities.
Here are 10 examples of its activity:
The annual Christmas production. Revels packs Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre for 17 performances of its holiday show. Each year, there’s a new theme – Renaissance Italy, Wales, Spain’s Camino de Santiago, Victorian England, Canada’s Acadians combined with Louisiana’s Cajuns, for instance – along with some crowd pleasers that can never, ever, be omitted. It’s a great way to introduce children to theater and live music and dance, but adults are all enthralled by the action. These shows sell out quickly. And one thing I value especially, there’s no mention of Santa Claus.
The CDs. Revels recordings become quite a library of world music.
George Emlen. The now retired music director of 34 years seemed to know all of his musicians by name – and something about their families, too. He was a wonderful, caring conductor, composer, pianist, organist, and arranger building on a unique sound for the company and helping shape the annual productions. Working in his chorus was a lot of fun. I remember hearing him converse in Mandarin with one of our altos after one rehearsal. And to think, he’d once earned his living as a blacksmith!
George founded the Revels Singers, a community chorus that includes a lot of people who’ve performed in the Christmas productions. (That part’s by highly competitive auditions – thank goodness we’re open to all.) We sing quite a range, from the earliest written harmony in its Eastern European roots to South African and American shape-note and Shaker to, well, recently we were immersed in Gospel music. Our repertoire spans nearly 30 languages, and we sound incredible.
Megan Henderson. Amazingly, we found a new music director who could be a reincarnation of George. As she says, We all love George.
The friendships that emerge. It’s an incredible group. Sometime I might even tell you about Mike, whom I join for half of my weekly commute. He drives the Boston traffic part.
Our gigs. Among Revels other events throughout the year are some for our chorus. Performances are always a revelation for me, music-making quite different from rehearsals. Each one has been memorable.
Our rehearsal space. We meet in the social hall of an 1895 church in Watertown, a room with bright acoustics. The adjacent sanctuary has marvelous stained glass, including five windows by the Louis Tiffany studio, and a four-manual Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ that was left untouched in the ’60s and ’70s, when many others were reworked to match a change in tonal tastes. This one’s still mellow and sweet.
Patrick Swanson. The artistic director of the operation, he developed the theatrical dimension, taking the Christmas shows from the hodge-podge of the earliest day into the sophisticated themes they now develop. It’s amazing what he and his team can do within the confines of the open Sanders stage, which was built more for lectures and maybe chamber music than for theater or dance. He has a sharp eye for detail and watches over all like a hawk.
The children’s chorus. Performing with them is a delight.
Travel’s been largely on hold for me – just too much to do at home, for instance, especially when it comes to writing. But what if that were to change?
San Francisco, Seattle, and Yakima. I haven’t been back to my beloved Pacific Northwest since leaving in 1990. This would provide a basis for an memorable sweep.
The East African Quakers have much to teach the rest of us, and I can’t think of a better introduction to this mysterious continent.
Cumbria, England, and Lurgan, Northern Ireland. These two places, a short hop apart on the Irish Sea, are central to my Hodson ancestry. I’d love to see where we’re from.
Apart from the museums, classical music, and theater attractions, I’d want access to some early Quaker minute books – especially those pages marked “too faint to microfilm” in Lurgan’s surviving records.
Alsace, France/Germany, and Switzerland upstream. On my Grandma Hodson’s side, these are my places of origin.
Kyoto, especially. Did I mention my long fascination with Zen Buddhism or Japanese cuisine?
The Himalayas. Or my interest in Tibetan Buddhism along with the world’s tallest mountains? (Yes, I know it will make it more difficult to appreciate the summits back home, but that’s got to be well worth the encounter.)
Canadian Maritime Provinces. These are just up the coast from us but have remained a world away. Think I can fix that in the upcoming future?
Anasazi ruins and Albuquerque. The American Southwest is a huge blank in my explorations. This sweep would end with a visit to some very special friends in their new locale.
Australia and New Zealand. From here, they seem incredibly unimaginable. Only one way to fix that.
Admittedly, a million ain’t what it used to be, and at this point in my life, I’m looking at it quite differently than I might have a while back. For one thing, I’m more cognizant of the security of my wife and family, now that they’re part of my life. That said, here goes.
Invest the initial sum and live off the income. Just a 5% return would be an additional $50,000 a year income. That would be a huge change in our lives. (A prudent strategy would also require ways of protecting the capital, should I be afflicted with a long-term illness.)
Can some of this be applied as angel investing for startups without involving great risk? Or low-interest loans to worthy individuals? This could be fun and satisfying.
Increase our charitable donations. We do have many causes we passionately endorse.
Contribute to political candidates. Relatively small amounts still add up, especially at a local level.
Travel. Even getting away for a few days can be great fun and refreshment.
Home renovations and repairs. A three-season porch with hot tub would be at the top of our list, but there’s plenty of upkeep needed in an old house like ours – energy-efficient windows on the second and third floors, painting inside and out, tree-trimming … oh, it’s a very long list, believe me.
New wheels. Nothing fancy, mind you. But I’m really pushing the limits on my Camry.
Attend more concerts and theater. We really enjoy going when we can.
Quality of life gifts for others. These don’t have to be big or splashy – just little things that can make a difference. A class for a child, for instance, or a pound of good coffee.
Support for my own writing. It would be wonderful to hire an editor for the revisions, artists for new covers, or move into paper editions for my lifetime of creative output. (Oh, dream on!)
Things would get really interesting if we raised the amount to $10 million. So what would you do with that first million? Or the next nine?
Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia is a member of a Greek-American family that lives at a distance for their Greek Orthodox church. While that faith shares practices and teachings with a number of other Eastern Orthodox denominations, some of its customs that she takes for granted do puzzle her classmates.
Here’s some perspective.
Number of Greek Orthodox adherents in the United States: Between 440,000 to two million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, depending on the counting method being used. They are spread among more than 500 parishes and served by roughly 800 priests. The Antiochian archdiocese has 83,700 adherents and 206 parishes.
Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
Date of Easter: Based on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox date can fall anywhere between April 4 and May 8 on the Western calendar. (The Greeks call it Pascha, for Passover.)
The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
Icons: The interior of the churches, especially, are replete in stylized depictions of Jesus, the Holy Mother, and many saints. Many of these are murals on the ceiling.
The iconostasis: An icon-covered wall runs in front of the altar and has a large central door as well as two smaller doors at the far end of either side. During the service, the priest often passes through these.
The priests are typically married.
Fasting: It’s not a total avoidance of food but rather constrained by intricate limitations. The longest periods of fasting are Advent, before Christmas, and Great Lent.
In all frankness, it’s the dreariest month. In a flash, the trees are bare. The switch from Daylight Saving Time has many folks going to work before daybreak and coming home after sunset. Still, we can try …
Harvesting root crops.
Chill mornings with fog wisps rising from ponds and rivers.
Election Day. We can always hope for a miracle. A return to sanity, for starters.
Ministry and Counsel retreat – even years in Deerfield, Massachusetts; odd years in Winthrop, Maine.
Days can be warm enough to work outdoors … or go for a hike.
No bugs. Beware of ticks, though.
Neighborhood souper. Everybody brings a pot of their own creation, then eats what everyone else has concocted. It’s outdoors, though, rain or clear.
Tagging a Yule tree.
Thanksgiving dinner. Why mess with tradition?
Community Thanksgiving service. It’s turned into a showcase for local church choirs.