The Holden Village Podcast

Maren Haynes Marchesini

June 16, 2023 Dev Bach
The Holden Village Podcast
Maren Haynes Marchesini
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Maren Haynes Marchesini serves as Director of Worship & Music at Hope Lutheran Church in Bozeman, Montana. Maren is a choral director, cellist, vocalist, composer, and scholar with broad-ranging musical interests. She holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Washington where she focused on megachurches, gender, and ritual (specifically at the former Mars Hill Church), and she continues scholarly work in Christian music, ethics, and community, including a current research project at Holden Village. 

Maren brings a passion for community singing, diverse musical traditions, improvisation, collaboration, and play. Maren and Dane Ueland are longtime bandmates who have played together for nearly 15 years, and they look forward to reuniting at Holden Village to lead music.

To learn more about Holden Village, visit: or to listen to more audio recordings visit: The Holden Village Podcast is accessible through Apple iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeart Radio, and most podcast apps. For questions and inquiries, contact

Background music by Musictown: Cinematic Atmosphere Score 2.

Maren Haynes Marchesini 

[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to the Holden Village Podcast. Holden is a community of education, programming, and worship located in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains. These snapshots provide a glimpse into the learnings taking place in our community. Let's tune in to this week's highlight.

[00:00:10] Improvised Cello (Maren)/Guitar (Dev) Intro:

[00:00:23] Dev: Welcome to another edition of the Holden Village Podcast. I am your host Dev (he/him) and I am with the wonderful Marin Haynes Marchesini. We are currently engaging in a tea practice, so if you hear any peculiar sounds during this conversation, worry not. They are simply the sounds of tea preparation and consumption. So Maren, what is inspiring today?

[00:01:40] Maren: I spent the morning searching for the labyrinth, which last year I couldn't find. And so came around from the top of the trail rather than the bottom and did find my way to the the labyrinth in its slightly overgrown state. I had an interesting experience walking that because I didn't know I was at the entrance when I was at the I spent a lot of time trying to find the entrance and then giving up and thus doing sort of a middle-in and then middle-out experience of the labyrinth. 

Because you know you're going to reach the destination, it becomes easier to engage in the journey. And to engage in like the presence of the journey. And yet even when I go into a labyrinth in the most cynical space, like "I don't even know why I'm here. I guess I'm just going to do this because it's available and there's nothing else to do," there's a turning point at the center...of the kind of directionality. I was rushing toward the center. I wanted to come slowly out. 

[00:02:31] Dev: What do you rush into usually, in life? 

[00:02:33] Maren: I tend to rush into change; I have moved numerous times. Even within those moves, different chapters and life experiences within that time. Rooting into a place or a season is difficult for me. I noticed that the kind of excitement of seeing the transition process through is always something I'm kind of addicted to. And so rushing toward the center of the labyrinth is sort of like seeing where does this take me? Where is this going? And then you get to the center and all you have to do is kind of retrace the steps; there's self knowledge that comes from that. 

[00:03:07] Dev: How would you like to describe your experience with the village that we're at? 

[00:03:11] Maren: My relationship to Holden, like for many people, dates back to my relationship with Holden Evening Prayer. I moved to Seattle in my early twenties and I found a job just trying to find any job as a church musician, as a choir director. It was pretty quickly thereafter that I was responsible for putting together services of Holden Evening Prayer within our congregation when I didn't know the liturgy at all...or its meaning...or its connection even to Washington State. 

 So, I did that for six years where we spent our advent season and our lenten season singing that liturgy and that sort of percolated this interest in what was happening here in terms of it being a space that was generative, artistic, unique, and where people just seemed to have a mystical, passionate relationship with it. But also it was always a little out of reach because it's so difficult to get here.

 And When Stacy left the Christa Foundation, I was part of the member board there and it was a huge loss to us as an organization. So I was excited to find ways to reconnect to Stacy and her momentum and her interest in unique and expansive Christian spaces. And so here she was at Holden Village and so I came aboard as a musician last summer. And was grateful to be here knowing not only Stacy, but then a number of other people who have served here in various capacities, who are just people I admire and find a lot of joy and Genesis in. 

[00:04:34] Dev: Your instrument of choice... 

[00:04:36] Maren: ... is the cello. 

[00:04:37] Dev: What are the things that inspire you within the realm of sound? 

[00:04:41] Maren: Well, I'm an ethnomusicologist, so I have my doctorate in that field.  So I've spent a lot of time in the question, "what is music?" Many opening sessions of classes, usually over the course of several days, digging into that subject and trying to kind of create more space. And in fact, music within ethnic musicology has become kind of a fraught term because it's not easily translatable from one culture to another.

 The idea of placing certain kinds of tonal sound as its own category doesn't work cross-culturally. In numerous ways, in some cases because that which is sound with tone is differentiated by what is instrumental and what is vocal in some places. And it's also interconnected with other iterations like dance or poetry and other places.

 And so I think when I'm thinking about music, I always use that term with almost quotes around it. John Blacking, he defines music as humanly organized sound. And that to me feels like a very resonant way of understanding music.

[00:05:42] Dev: Yes. I would also agree. Everything vibrates...literally everything around us has a vibratory quality to it. So our perceptions, you know, humans can hear from 20 to 20,000 hertz. And so within that range...that would be our categories between that frequency range. But a bat can hear 200,000 hertz; I've always wanted to be a bat...just to hear what they just seems so expansive. There's so much music that we can't even comprehend, which is why we ritualize sound and music so much. Which brings up a question actually. What rituals do you love playing with? Or perhaps want to disrupt?

[00:06:25] Maren: Where I feel I have the most space and freedom to play is within sort of Protestant Christianity. It resonates deeply with me that the liturgy of Sales de Francis tradition, although there are lots of different versions of what that can look like from various kind of mainline spaces, but they all kind of rise out of the mass form.

 Whether you're in a Methodist space or a Lutheran space or Presbyterian space, you sort of see a similar pattern unfold. And so I enjoy the disruption of that and in part because I'm very much an insider and I feel that I have the freedom to disrupt that...and sort of see how to pull it apart and find ways to iterate on what is traditional within that...which lives deeply in me.

 One kind of obsession of mine lately is to get away from efficacy, like efficacious processes. I've been reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s, Emergent Strategies. She speaks of things, and I think this is useful in terms of thinking about what's really the point of a church service? What are you really gonna accomplish there? And that's a fair critique. 

 But she thinks in terms of fractals and that these sort of small scale things, they scale up. And so we're thinking about say conversation as a part of that fractalism. Band practice, say as part of that fractalism, but also church services as part of that fractalism. I think understanding it is more just sort of a metaphoric version of how we practice who we want to be.

 But the efficacy of church, in my experience, it's just sort of this like hamster wheel. You get in there, you plan for the next Sunday, you direct your choir, you get them in space where they can at least sing through the piece. You sing it on Sunday and you do it all again the next week. And there's no space within that efficacious structure, which is very good for reproducing the same kinds of services week after week with a large group of people.

 But there's not really space for opening it up and imagining something else, or inviting new people in or having partnerships because all that stuff takes a whole lot of time. It takes so much time. When I can really break the whole structure and system open and do something new with it, it's gotta be 80 hours. But... putting the time in and having the conversations and hearing the critiques and making the changes and finding the right resources and moving out of the received structures and trying something else.

 Those are the times when I feel transformed. Those are the times when I witness transformation. Those are the times when something new emerges that I could never have imagined happening otherwise, and that's not mine. It's sort of ours ineffably and that kind of structure of planning and process, if that could scale up, if we could get away from efficacy, the meeting, the five step process, the received ways of doing and being; I don't know what could happen, but I know how transformative it is for me. 

[00:09:17] Dev: When I hear that and I think about my own personal strategies for breaking things open, I think for me it's laughter. Helping adults feel like children again because somewhere along the way they told themselves they weren't enough and that they had to do, do, do all these things to get love...and that's its own labyrinth of despair and journey.

 But yeah, when you're laughing, like you are literally in the moment, and nothing else matters. It's one of the most present things one can do. And so whether it's through the context of improv conversation or whatever; I mean, even just playing music like is a form of laughter in many ways. I feel like that's part of my role in the world right now. 

[00:10:04] Maren: Well, I covered improvisation so much as a musician and I was sort of half trained in improv in college. I decided to take some lessons from a jazz trumpet player who did not know what to do with me as a cellist, but I've become a person who does a lot of improvisatory music and so that's sort of my way of understanding it. But I have also understood the process of collaborative work in general is coming from an improv background without being involved in improv theater. And I'm wondering for you, what does your experience in improv teach you just about living in the world or understanding other people or being in space together? 

[00:10:40] Dev: Improv for me is a very psychological process. And this goes back to the mind. One of the reasons why I resonate with Himalayan and Indian trains of thought is that they have this really beautiful creation story to the mind. You know, we all come into this world with a protector...and that protector is this mind. It's there to help us but it also engages two aspects: things that we clinging to; and things that we are afraid of.

And so while this protection is necessary as a beginning part of our life, it also becomes the two pillars of our prison. When I think about personal growth or spiritual growth, those are the two exact things that you're working with. You're working on your attachments and you're working on your fears. And when you start letting go and peeling away the layers of those two things, then I feel like your interactions with the present moment, your own spirit, soul, that becomes available to you. 

And so back to improv, I like to say that the speed of story is faster than the speed of thought. And so if you're really engaged in an improvised story with another person, you can't think about it. Like you have to let that go and you just have to intuit what's going on. You have to engage with your body, with your emotions, as well as all those things with the other people you're sharing the stage with. And it's like a meditation. It helps you take a step back from that protective mechanism that promotes your attachments and your fears...and it's very revealing as a result. 

[00:12:18] Maren: You know, I've been curious about where participation, improvisation become a part of our worship spaces as modes of disruption and interaction and creativity. Religious spaces can be so notoriously manipulative and so always trying to manage the fact that you want people to be vulnerable, but you don't want to push them into vulnerability in a way that is unsafe.

 And so how to manage the kind of tension between the two where there is sort of a step into it, but there's consent around it and yet there is still that space where people can really blossom and find something new in themselves. And so kind of wondering like what is that balance point? 

[00:12:56] Dev: Trust is often based on levity; you start trusting people when you can laugh together, when you can create that space. So if I were to create a methodology to vulnerability, it starts with levity. Then the walls start coming down. And if there's a moment where, you know, something is too much, then that just becomes a part of the need in the moment for that person's processing. And that's a beautiful thing, even if it's very tense. 

[00:13:28] Maren: And I would almost wonder about the fact that levity seems to be a mediator...the text is the levity and the subtext is what happens beyond the levity. And so I think that is actually the consent structure is the fact that what is at the surface of what's happening, you can only engage there and that's fine. And if there is a layer below that where you want to go, where it feels necessary to kind of pull the threads that is available and allowed, it's not where the starting point is. You're not standing in front of the group of people and saying, tell me about the complexities and the love for your father. 

[00:14:02] Dev: When it comes to the vulnerable spaces, it doesn't have to be literal. when you're not engaging with your mind and there's this pure pathway between your unconscious into your conscious language, everything is metaphorical. Whatever you do on stage or's gonna be allegorical in nature.  And that gives people permission as well because they don't have to talk about the actual thing, but they can actually create the metaphor for the thing that's part of their tension.

[00:14:34] Maren: And that to me is the bridge to ritual and religious space, in its open-handed form, is that I think in the best of instances, what we are doing is creating an opening for multiple interpretations of the thing that's being set in front of us. That there, no matter what, I mean, even if you're gonna pick this through line, this thread of what this means right now, there should always be space for numerous interpretations and to kind of swirl around within them.

 The value of mythic space is that you find new refracting lenses and new ways of speaking into it in a way that continues to deepen as you interact. And that's what I love about mythos (we're not in very mythological society anymore), but it's in the allegory, in the metaphor, in the loosely held, that I find the most generative space. 

[00:15:24] Dev: Is Eden calling in this generative space?

[00:15:28] Maren: Every word in that story is just open-handed. It means more than what's on the page. It's just such a perfect example of our mythos and, for example, Adam being the first human being. Contained within Adam is male and female is like the spectrum of what is human. I really love the return to that story just as a place where we can kind of swirl around the questions of our own existence, where there doesn't have to mean anything in particular. It just means that we explore and we keep exploring and maybe something comes from that. 

[00:16:02] Dev: I love that.

[00:16:10] Improvised Cello (Maren)/Guitar (Dev) Outro:

[00:17:50] Outro: Thanks for joining us. Be sure to view the links in the description for more information or visit our website to find out more about the village. We hope you will make a pilgrimage to Holden. Blessings and peace to you.