Singer Spotlight: Richard Barrett

Our Singer Spotlight series continues with Richard Barrett!

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett

What Was Your Introduction to Cappella Romana?

In 1996, as a sophomore voice major, I was introduced to a gentleman named Mark Powell, who was organizing a tour that my college choir was going on. I wound up not going on the tour, but a year and a half later, September 1997, I found myself sitting in the tenor section for my first rehearsal with a professional group in Seattle called The Tudor Choir. Who walked in and sat with the tenors but… Mark Powell! That first concert turned out to be a joint effort with a partner ensemble in Portland with whom TC shared singers, including Mark. The name of that group: Cappella Romana. The program was “Taverner/Tavener,” it was my very first exposure to Cappella Romana’s rich sound world, and it was also my first time meeting Alexander Lingas, David Krueger, and other CR institutions. (I’d also really love to see Taverner/Tavener remounted someday! It was a great program!)

Mark and I sang together a lot in TC over the next few years, got to be friends, and I started my own deep dive into Orthodox music. I studied Byzantine chant and notation with Ioannis Arvanitis in Greece for a bit, I started to get to know Alexander on my own, and I also started hanging out with John Michael Boyer, singing in the final concert of his ensemble, the Josquin Singers. In May 2014 Mark texted me and asked if I could sing with CR for a couple of concerts of medieval Byzantine chant at the Getty Villa, and since then I’ve regularly sung with the group. In November 2021 I joined the staff as Director of Publications, Grants, and Operations.

What Are Some Exciting Projects Outside of Cappella Romana You’re Working On?

Amy Hogg, the protopsaltis at the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Pittsburgh, PA, and I have a podcast on Byzantine chant as it’s taking root in the United States. It’s called A Sacrifice of Praise, and over the last few years we’ve worked to tell the story of this very specific, culturally-informed, musical expression of sacred beauty as it is taking root in a new cultural and linguistic context. We’ve talked to people involved in Cappella Romana, but the ecosystem of Byzantine music in America really is a lot broader than just CR, and there are a lot of men and women with stories to tell.

In 2010 I co-founded The Saint John of Damascus Society with my friend and mentor Harold Sabbagh, which was initially conceived as sort of a booster organization for my parish choir in Bloomington, Indiana, but the mission rather expanded into Orthodox musical outreach to the general public. SJDS sponsored panels and symposia on themes of sacred beauty in a cross-cultural context, and those ideas turned into The Psalm 103 Project, a musical collaboration between a number of composers that Cappella Romana premiered and recorded as Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation.

What Concerts Have You Most Excited This Season?

I’m not singing in either of them, but Out of the Ashes of Smyrna and How Sweet the Sound are both going to be amazing. They both tell wonderful stories about how the music and liturgical framework CR specializes in transcend catastrophes, cultures, and histories. For CR, what we do is predicated on the idea that this is music that has a direct impact on the lives of the people who make it and hear it, whether that was a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, today, or ten years from now, and both of these programs exemplify that, I think.

What Cappella Records Recording Are You Most Proud Of?

Heaven and Earth, without question. From initial concept to the CD release was just over ten years of my life, and it means so much to me to have the beautiful work the six composers did — Matthew Arndt, John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing of blessed memory, and Tikey Zes — out there for the world to discover and listen to. It’s a piece I really hope CR will have the chance to tour more so that live audiences can experience it.

But WAIT……

But that’s not all! Now that Cappella Romana Publishing is a thing, not just Cappella Records, I have to say that the success of John Michael Boyer’s Byzantine Chant: The Received Tradition has been wonderful to see. John sent me a PDF of the first three chapters back in 2008 that I still have, and it’s been an honor to have helped get it out the door. I’ve never seen anything like it — we just sent it back to the printer for the second run, which means we burned through the first thousand copies in eight months. That’s unbelievable. I’m thrilled for John, and I’m beyond thankful to everybody who has supported it, bought it, and keeps buying it! It’s also made it possible for us to follow up relatively quickly with our second book — preorders just opened for Sun of Justice: Byzantine Chant for the Nativity of Our Lord, which is a collection of John’s music for all the Christmas services. After that — well, we’ve developed a whole slate of titles that we plan to release over the next five years, and I’m beyond excited for everybody to see what’s in store.

Something Audiences Might Not Know About You?

The main way I’ve made friends over the last twenty years is by making people nachos. If anybody reading this is ever in Boston and wants to try them, let me know. If anybody wants the recipe after seeing the pictures, email me.

THE Nachos
THE Nachos