Guest Viewpoints

Make Music, Keep Socrates’ Dream Alive

Last month the Annunciation Cathedral of Boston celebrated their Metropolitan’s 30th anniversary as a Bishop with a musical concert featuring the participation of dozens of young people, ranging from grade school students to collegians.

This commendable effort – the second such musical celebration organized this year by the Boston Cathedral – is noteworthy in that it helps directly involve young people in community events and allows them a forum to display their talents.

It is equally seminal because it helps promote and propagate the Hellenic culture through one of its most easily transmittable and educational modes – music. For the people of Greece, their music, which was traditionally composed from the verses of poetry – forming a masterful combination of literature and melody – represents both an educational and entertainment medium, as well as a showcase of living cultural masterpieces. Perhaps this is why these events are so dynamically engaging for performers and audience members alike.

For the dozens of young people who participated in this event, it will surely serve as a lasting memory. Not only did it provide them with an opportunity to display their talents, but it also gave them an opportunity to directly contribute to the events taking place within the community.

Music and other art forms possess the uncanny ability to unite people and transcend boundaries; including cultural, social, and demographic boundaries.

Among the guests at last month’s concert in Boston were a prelate of the Church, a former governor and presidential candidate, founders of Archdiocesan institutions like Leadership 100 who have been honored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in addition to college students and school-aged children and teens just now planning their futures.

Successful entrepreneurs together with hardworking laborers all sat down together to enjoy the music of Hadjidakis, Theodorakis, Markopoulos, and other major Greek composers and singers. Two young professionals from the Cathedral family, the Greek School director and boys’ basketball team coach, were chosen to emcee the event, further highlighting the prominent position enjoyed there by the youth.

Of course, for older members of the Boston Cathedral, who remember the ministry of the late Archimandrite James Coucouzis (who went on to become Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America) and the tremendous emphasis he placed on the youth at that time, these events likely reawaken fond memories and create a spirit of hope in what the future holds.

The power of music to reinvigorate cultural vitality goes without saying. It can serve to minimize the distance separating the Diaspora from the homeland, irrigate the roots of the Greek Communities planted abroad and help the talent of the local members blossom and yield bountiful fruit, increase feelings of belonging and association with the in-group, provide empirical knowledge into the mother culture, and re-focus energy into the all important Hellenic concept of “participation,” which is so integral to the democratic and communal process.

After all, according to the Hellenic tradition, “alitheia” or truth (derived from the negative Greek prefix “a” and the word “lithi,” which means to forget, hence the concept of truth meaning “that which is not forgotten”) is defined and experienced communally, and therefore, events such as these, in which the members may directly partake in the festivities, also represent an empirical process into the discovery of our cultural and ethnic truth.

But such events are also important because they illustrate the potential that exists for our local communal organizations to organize seminal cultural events.

In addition to the function of the local parish as the spiritual home to the community of faithful and hospital for all those seeking spiritual and physical healing, parish communities also play an essential educational and cultural role in safeguarding the Hellenic identity.

Such events feature true popular musical masterpieces created by a people who, albeit poor, downtrodden, and faced with all kinds of challenges and difficulties arising from the tragic events that befell them throughout the millennia of their history, yet who remarkably still managed to speak the language of poets and center their lives around the artistic expression of their daily existence – through their songs present in happiness and sorrow, in times of revelry and in times of devotion, their architecture and philokalia (love of beauty), evident in the unique manner in which they built their churches (somebody go and tell Santiago Calatrava before he turns St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero into a giant “kourambie” as the first photos mortifyingly indicate) or the manner in which they arranged their gardens (you can spot a Greek home from a mile away anywhere in the world from the flower pots on the balconies and the steps).

The ingenuity with which an “unschooled” but highly cultivated villager from a Greek island could take a tin oil can and turn it into the most charming of flower pots astounded Greek Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis, as did the classiness of a clay pot or knit rug you might find in the same “poor” yet inestimably wealthy home.

These cultural elements are not something you can learn in a classroom or buy over the Internet. They are shared experiences, like the scent from the incense that your grandmother would burn when she would cense the home or the transcendental quality of the humble icon shelf in your home where an oil lamp slowly burns illuminating our cultural otherness faintly but evidently and shedding light on our rich tradition.

Congratulations to the Dean of the Annunciation Cathedral of New England Archimandrite Cleopas Strongylis and his fellow philomuse laborers in that celebrated vineyard of the Lord in downtown Boston for choosing such an authentic, empirical, communal, and invigorating way to celebrate a milestone in the life of their metropolis. At the very least, they remain faithful to the recurring command received by Socrates to “make music and work at it” (Phaedo, 60e), and that is an accomplishment in itself.

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