Let's do Yale.
Several months ago, I began hunting around to see if any of the ivy league Universities would have interest in the Urfalee Project. My research method was to go to a university’s website and go through all the departments hunting for anything that might hold interest. Next, I would go through the department’s curriculum looking for any class that might cover some aspect of my project. Then I would go through the faculty, starting with the department chair, hoping to uncover anything that might translate into interest for the project.
First, I looked at Princeton and came across nothing solid. Next was Harvard, then Yale. Yale had a Department of Sacred Music, perfect. The Chair of the department specialized in Liturgics, exactly what I was planning to record. On top of that, his interest was Syrian Liturgy. This was a man I needed to contact. I got his number off the web and left him a message.
“Hello, my name is Jason Hamacher. I came across your CV online and understand you are interested in Syrian liturgy. I am doing a project with the Syrian Orthodox Church recording their oldest form of Liturgy, and was wondering if Yale would have any interest in a project like this. If so give me a call.” I left my number and never expected to heard from him.
The next day I was on my way to NJ to meet with the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of the Eastern US and to take some photos of Dillinger Escape Plan for an article I was writing for Alternative Press magazine. Some where in Delaware my phone rang.
“May I speak to Jason Hamacher?” A calm British accent took me by surprise. “This is Professor Spinks from Yale Institute of Sacred Music.”
“This is Jason. Thank you for calling me back.” I nervously replied.
“ I received your message and am very curious to hear about your project.”
“I’m actually on the way to meet with the Archbishop.” We spent the next twenty minutes going over my concepts. Yale did not have any film footage of the Syrian Orthodox Church in their archives and was highly interested in discussing making a video for their archives. The conversation ended with a promise to email my proposal, capture some video footage, and reconnect after my first trip to Syria.
After lunch on Easter Sunday I drove directly to New Haven, Connecticut for my big meeting with Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music.I was armed with a DVD of rough video footage and my photography portfolio. The meeting was going to be at Yale Divinity School which was located off the main campus. The red brick with white trim buildings weren’t particularly inspiring.
I checked in and was asked to “Have a seat. The Professor will be down in a moment.” I spent the next several minutes enthralled by a glass display case that housed ancient biblical artifacts.
The Professor entered the room and introduced himself. He was wearing a blazer, I was wearing a black suit. His comforting voice fit perfectly, no ego, no attitude. I was escorted down a white cinderblock hall way to a small conference room. We chit chatted a bit and then the rest of the faculty came in bearing pizzas and drinks. There were four of them, the Professor, his Colleague, the Accountant, and an AV student. There were introductions and then we went straight to reviewing the video footage. The lights went out and we ate pizza and watched my second rate video work.
After the viewing, the Colleague asked, “How long have you been an ethnomusicologist?”
Smiling at this presumption I replied, “I’m not an ethnomusicologist.”
“My husband is so-and-so.” She replied. Silence fell. I had no idea who he was. “He’s a renowned musicologist in the field of religious recordings.” It was officially awkward.
Confused, I limply replied, “That’s great.”
“What field is your degree in?” She asked.
“I don’t have a degree. I’m actually a rock drummer and massage therapist.” I said nervously smiling.
“How did you become interested in this?” She replied. So then I went into my whole story for the group.
After my explanation the Professor went over the ideas he had for the project. They wanted a film of a formal liturgy His Colleague, was quick to insert that a formal contract would have to be signed and I would have to submit a budget. Thanks.
I had discussed the filming concept with Mor Gregorios, Archbishop of Aleppo, and he said it would not be a problem. He went as far as to offer a special service for filming purposes. He offered to perform a traditional Sunday liturgy mid-week in a small chapel so we could really control the shoot. When I brought this up in the meeting things got a little strange.
“I brought this up with the Archbishop and he gave permission to film what you need. He even offered to do a Sunday service during the week for us to film for you.”
“They don’t do that.” The Colleague exclaimed.
“I know they don’t usually do that, but the Archbishop suggested it might be the best way to filming everything” I responded.
“If the liturgy isn’t on a Sunday it’s not a Sunday Liturgy.” She insisted.
“I understand. But the Archbishop is willing to make an exception and do the same exact liturgy during the week.” I tried to explain.
“That’s something they don’t do.” She repeated. Things were heating up a little.
“I’m just telling you what the Archbishop of Aleppo has offered. That’s all.” I was really confused as to what was happening.
The Accountant stepped in. “What Jason is saying is that the Archbishop has given him permission to film anything we want.”
The Professor was silent through-out this whole exchange and seemed uncomfortable as well. “What my colleague is trying to say is that we want an authentic liturgy. Maybe something on a holiday. We want to see the people in the church participating.”
I fully understood where they were coming from but was trying to offer help. We continued the conversation and the meeting began to wind down.
“What was your undergrad work in?” The accountant asked. “Not that is matters, I’m just curious.”
“I didn’t go to school. I toured the world playing drums in punk bands and have now become a message therapist.”
“Great.” She replied. I believed her.
The meeting ended with an agreement that they would discuss what they wanted as a final product and I would submit a budget based on their wants. We shook hands and the meeting was adjourned.
The professor walked me out to the central campus . “95 percent of the work is developing the relationships to make these projects happen, and your relationship with the Archbishop is clearly strong enough to make this happen.” I felt reassured. I got in the car and headed back home.
Last week Yale excepted my budget proposal and now I am waiting to see the agreement. Once that’s signed it’s time to head back to Aleppo and start the recordings.