Fanfare: Winter 2011
Author: Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: February 1, 2011

Cappella Romana

Twenty years ago, Alexander Lingas ’86 started Cappella Romana, the only professional Byzantine choir in the world. Photo by Bill Stickney.

Channeling medieval voices

MEDIEVAL CHORAL MUSIC—dramatic, harmonic, and unheard for more than 500 years—is the specialty of Cappella Romana, a Portland-based vocal ensemble started 20 years ago by singer and music scholar Alexander Lingas ’86.

The choir, considered a world leader in the performance of Byzantine chant from ancient manuscripts, is launching its 20th anniversary season with performances April 2 in Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and April 3 in Seattle’s St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.

For Lingas, the music performed by Cappella Romana comes from a nurtured appreciation of Eastern choral music. While growing up in Portland, he spoke his parents’ native language, Greek, and attended a Greek Orthodox Church where he sang in the choir.

Lingas’s foray into professional performances is another story—one with a cataclysmic start. In 1989, an earthquake damaged a Greek Orthodox cathedral in San Francisco. Lingas organized a fundraising performance of Byzantine choral music, the subject of the dissertation he was hard at work on. He gathered friends and colleagues for two performances, dubbed the group Cappella Romana, and, that, says Lingas, “was the beginning of the ensemble.”

Cappella Romana evolves with every performance, drawing different singers, depending on the requirements of the music. Sometimes the performance may have 30 singers, sometimes four. Singers gather from around the world—the United Kingdom, United States, Greece, and beyond—forming for a particular performance or season, then dissolving.

One of the best parts about being in the group, says Lingas, who remains its artistic director, “is the shared love of music. It’s a committed group of singers, a collegial environment. We all get along well—go out to the pub together. So it’s a community of friends, too.”

The group performs primarily in Portland and Seattle, but it’s collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Royal Academy of Art in London, among others. A dozen recordings have been made, and the Portland Baroque Orchestra features the group in its annual Messiah.

For his work with the ensemble, Lingas, now an instructor in London and at Oxford University, earned the 2010 Medallion of St. Romanos the Melodist awarded by the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians. The award honors “exemplary national contributions to church music in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.”

His wife, Ann Warton Lingas ’88, a baroque violinist and former concertmaster for the Portland Youth Philharmonic, is finishing a doctorate at Oxford, where they live with their two daughters.

Publishing in da U.P., eh!

Further North

Alumni Laura Smyth and Elmore Reese are producing literature for adults and children in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula.

LAKE WOEBEGONE, the fictional town Garrison Keillor reports from each week on National Public Radio, is a lot like Copper City, Michigan, population 200.

At least, that’s how Laura Smyth ’80 and Elmore Reese ’83 see it. About three years ago, the couple moved to this remote corner of the world on the edge of Lake Superior.

But even in the remotest corners, culture can sprout. Smyth and Reese own Thimbleberry Press, a small, on-demand publishing company that produces Adventures in the U.P., a magazine for children about the adventures of a dog, and Further North, a magazine about life and art in the region that features the work of local writers and photographers. The press also has two books under its imprint: Draw on Culture, an activity book to introduce children to Chinese culture, and Dragon’s Daughters Return, Thimbleberry’s first book.

Smyth, originally from upstate New York, and Reese, a Portland native, would visit family in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula, or the U.P. as it’s known, and fell head-over-heels with the whimsical Lake Woebegone quality of the area.

“It’s a very odd, quirky, pretty place,” says Smyth. “We just sort of fell in love with it.”

In moving to Copper City from Montclair, New Jersey, the couple and their daughter, Jane, gave up easy access to the opposite kind of place, New York, which is just 12 miles away from Montclair.

Today, all their publications are print-on-demand, which helps keep overhead low. Still, Thimbleberry Press is young, and the publishing world is struggling. So, Reese and Smyth both hold other jobs, but the hard work, they say, is worth it.

“‘Press’ is what we know,” says Smyth. “It’s what we love to do.”

Come to campus

PSU Theater Arts presents Fefu and Her Friends, a hallucinogenic, Obie Award-winning play by avant-garde dramatist Marie Irene Fornes about the lives of 1930s aristocratic women. This West Coast premiere of the Cuban-born playwright’s one-set version runs Feb. 25 through March 5 in Lincoln Performance Hall. Tickets are $12 for adults; call the PSU Box Office at 503-725-3307.

New Works

Brew to Bikes

Imperial Japan at its Zenith


By Keith Eggener ’85, W.W. Norton, 2010

Brew to Bikes: Portland's Artisan Economy
By Charles Heying (urban studies faculty), PSU Ooligan Press, 2010

Dreamless and Possible: Poems New and Selected
Christopher Howell MA ’71, University of Washington Press, 2010

Pacific Northwest Hiking
By Scott Leonard and Sean Patrick Hill MA ’06, Avalon Travel, 2010

Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker
By Matt Love ’86, Nestucca Spit Press, 2010

Alert the Media: How the American Indian Movement Used the Mass Media
By Marilyn Catherine McDonald ’75, CreateSpace, 2010

Imperial Japan at its Zenith
By Kenneth Ruoff (history faculty), Cornell University Press, 2010

A Secret Weeping of Stones: New and Selected Poems

By Ron Talney ’60, Plain View Press, 2010

American Hebrew Literature
By Michael Weingrad (Judaic studies faculty), Syracuse University Press, 2010

WE WANT TO HEAR about your books and recordings and your future exhibits, performances, and directing ventures. Contact the magazine by e-mailing, or mailing Portland State Magazine, Office of University Communications, PO Box 751, Portland OR 97207-0751.