Many things have made me think about mountains this past month. My oldest daughter has been hiking in Nepal along the trail to Mt. Everest, but I’ll wait for some pictures to show before writing about that. Rather, I’m going to describe three other recent events relating to mountains.
It all started when the psalm we sang at Compline was Psalm 121 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills.” In fact, four of the five parts of the service that change from week to week were built around this text, and you can listen to any of these on the podcast from October 20, 2013; I’ll give time references so you can play any particular selection.
The orison, a musical “prayer” sung at the beginning of our service in Seattle (podcast: 1:11), was an Anglican chant setting by Henry Walford Davies (d. 1941), with the first line of each verse sung alternately (and very effectively) by a solo countertenor (alto) and solo tenor. The psalm (podcast: 4:44) was written in the 1980s for the Compline Choir by its founder and director Peter Hallock (b. 1924). Both the psalm and the orison were settings of the psalm text from the Book of Common Prayer 1979:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; * from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, * the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved * and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel * shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 The LORD himself watches over you; * the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, * nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; * it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, * from this time forth for evermore.
The hymn (podcast: 9:22) was a paraphrase of the text, set to an 18th-century tune. The text of the anthem (podcast: 23:16) was from the first four verses of Psalm 121 in the Book of Common Prayer 1662, and set to music by Ernest Walker (1870 – 1949), in the first of his Two Anthems for Male Voices and Organ, Op. 16 (1899). The music is very lush, and post-Wagnerian; I am hoping that the Compline Choir will take a look at the other piece in the opus, which is a setting of Psalm 90 (“Lord, Thou hast been our refuge”). The organist for this broadcast was Kyle Kirchenman, who was a high school student when I wrote my blog in February 2011 about organ music after Compline. He’s now studying organ at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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The very next Saturday after this Compline service I was in the town of Wenatchee in Eastern Washington, having taken a vanload of immigration attorneys (including my wife) to give free legal advice to prospective citizens at a “Citizenship Day” event. I was driving around without any particular aim, and I was drawn to a distant mountain, which you can see in the photo above. The early morning fog was still clinging to the top, and I was immediately reminded of Psalm 121. But equally beautiful were the apple orchards near where I had stopped my car to take the picture, and they became the subject of a November 4 blog which I wrote for the Abbey of the Arts on being “A Monk in the World.”
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Also in October, my wife and I attended a workshop at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington, on “The Arts of Holy Russia.” The workshop was given by Victoria Scarlett and Joseph Anderson, whose organization is the Center for Sacred Art. It was there that I learned about a multi-cultural chant retreat weekend March 28-30, 2014 focusing on “Mountains as Sacred Places” (see more on their home page). The event will be at St. Andrew’s House Retreat Center on Hood Canal – I have been to several of these retreats (read a previous blog I wrote about one of them), but this will be their first one going beyond the bounds of only Gregorian Chant. More details will be forthcoming in the new year - when I mention it again, it might be a good time to show my daughter’s Mt. Everest pictures.
Looking at the full moon recently reminded me of a blog entry that I started almost a year ago, and then left unpublished when I had to turn my attention elsewhere. It was about a piece, “Jubilemus omnes,” which the Compline Choir sang last year for the annual “O Antiphon” service sung by the Compline Choir and the St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir on the first Sunday of Advent. When I saw the bright October moon in the misty chill of the night the words of Thomas Merton’s translation of the 11th-century poem came back to me: “the moon, the grace of night, and all things shining.”
The piece is the second of a pair of pieces written by Peter Hallock for the Compline Choir, accompanied by five cellos – a very rich and wonderful texture (the other piece is a setting of ”The Dawning,” by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan). I particularly love Hallock’s word-painting of such things as “showers of rain” (Latin pluvia) with the appropriate melancholy that is immediately understood by anyone who has lived in Seattle.
The following excerpt is from the Compline podcast for December 2, 2012. Enjoy this wonderful composition.
|Jubilemus omnes una Deo nostro qui creavit Omnia.
Per quem condita sunt saecula;
Coelum quod plurima luce coruscat, et diversa sidera;
Sol mundi schema, noctium decus luna, cunctaque splendentia,
Mare, solum, alta, plana et profunda flumina;
Aeris ampla spatia: quae discurrent aves, venti atque pluvia.
Haec simul cuncta tibi soli Deo Patri militant,
Nunc et in aevum, sine fine, per saecula:
Laus eorum tua Gloria:
Qui pro salute nostra Prolem unicam,
Pati in terra misisti sine culpa, sed ob nostra delicta.
Te, sancta Trinitas, precamur ut corpora nostra et corda regas et protegas et donas peccatorum veniam. Amen.(11th century, French-Roman Missal)
|Let us sing together to our God, Who made all things,
And who created time.
Who made the sky, and filled it with light, and with the different stars –
Who made the sun, for the world’s finery: the moon, the grace of night, and all things shining:
The sea, the land, the highlands, and the level places, and the deep rivers:
The air, whose open distances birds, in their flights, and winds traverse, and showers of rain.
O all these things together, God, our Father, are marshaled under Thy command:
Now and forever, and never an end to their service, world without end!
Their praise is Thy glory.
Who, for our salvation,
Didst send to earth, to suffer, guiltless, for our sins, Thine only Son.
Thee, Holy Trinity, we pray to rule and guard our souls and bodies
And grant us pardon for our sins. Amen.
(translation by Thomas Merton, c1968 by the Abbey of Gethsemani Inc.)
About a week ago, the Byrd Ensemble uploaded a video all about their new recording of the works of Peter Hallock (b. 1924). The new CD is called Draw on sweet night. It is a wonderful tribute to the man who originated the Compline Service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, and to whom I’m dedicating my book.
Lovely filming of Peter’s Japanese garden and St. Mark’s Cathedral, giving a good perspective of the “Holy Box” where I became passionate about the Compline service almost fifty years ago…
Select this link: An interview with Peter Hallock
For last Sunday’s Compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Jason Anderson, the director of the Compline Choir, had us sing the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind.” He asked us, as he does occasionally, to guess the reason for his selection. Many got it right away – the second verse made reference to Syria, as in “beside the Syrian Sea” (really a reference to the Sea of Galilee). Also, the hymn reminds us that in times when the temptation is to act in haste, to take some time for stillness and calm reflection.
The words of the hymn were excerpted from the last portion of the poem “The Brewing of Soma” written in 1872 by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American Quaker poet and advocate for the abolition of slavery. The poem begins with a description of the ecstatic religions of ancient times (assisted by the drinking of soma juice), and becomes a plea against what Whittier considered the frenzied religious fervor of the “revivalist meetings” of his day. The last six verses of the poem (12 through 17) are a prayer for the return to peace, calm and simplicity. Five of these six verses became the familiar hymn, included by Garrett Horder in his Congregational Hymns (1884). He omitted verse 15, but I have included it below to show how the reference to manna from heaven sets up the next verse (“drop thy still dews of quietness”).
The two most popular musical settings of the hymn are Repton, by C. H. H. Parry (1848-1918), and Rest, by Frederic Charles Maker (1844-1927). The Compline Choir sang the latter, and I felt that we were all especially inspired that evening. It is always gratifying to sing with others who can turn out such quality work with only ten minutes of rehearsal. And it’s such fun to sing close harmony on nineteenth-century hymns (think “barbershop”), especially in the third verse, where the tenor part sings the melody an ocatave lower, and the top part sings the tenor part an octave higher.
So, set aside a few minutes to let the words and the beauty of this hymn lift your spirit this week:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!
[the following stanza is omitted]
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
For the Whittier poem, see The Brewing of Soma. Parry’s hymn tune Repton, can be heard in a wonderful version (especially the soprano descant at the end) here. The podcast of last week’s Office of Compline can be heard on king.org - just look for “Compline Service” in the drop-down menu under “On Demand”. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” in a setting by Searle Wright, is one of the musical examples in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, to be published in November.
In May, the Compline Choir from St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle released a new CD entitled I Will Meditate, which not only is the first CD of the Compline Service since Feathers of Green Gold* was released in 1994, but contains a number of recording premieres of music written for the Compline Choir by Peter Hallock and Richard Proulx.
The recording is published by Loft Recordings, LLC, and is available at The Gothic Catalog, where also one may read the program notes that Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, and I co-wrote. The CD is also available at Amazon and iTtunes, and via The Episcopal Bookstore or The Cathedral Shop in Seattle. You can listen to various sound bites from the recording on the Amazon site.
Several pieces by Richard Proulx (1937-2010) were written or arranged for the choir when Richard was organist / choirmaster in the Seattle area from 1970-1980; two of these are on the recording: the “Nunc dimittis,” and the arrangement of the hymn-tune Land of Rest. Another piece from this period was his wonderful arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” which we sing often, and recorded on a CD of American hymn and spiritual arrangements called Music of Faith and Longing* (Peter Hallock contributed an arrangement of the second verse in 1997). The other two Proulx pieces are “I Will Meditate” (which gives the CD its title), and “In Praise of Music.” Both pieces are dedicated to the Compline Choir, and were written in the last fifteen years (see the program notes for more information).
Peter Hallock (b. 1924), our founder and director from 1956-2009, wrote many settings of the psalms for the Compline Choir (and he still sends us the occasional new one), and the recording features eight of these gems that have not appeared on other recordings. I have included a few of these as musical examples in my forthcoming book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, which will be available November 1. The examples will also include some of his other psalms that were recorded on the now out-of-print Feathers of Green Gold.
The recording was recently reviewed by Jonathan E. Dimmock in The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians (you can link to the article here, which is found on page 21 or by searching on “I Will Meditate”). I particularly appreciated his comment that “Anderson has done a great job in this recording! The diction is stellar, the intonation is impeccable, the choir’s unison blend is very beautiful.”
Let’s hope that future CDs will be forthcoming. In the meantime, you can look to more recordings of the Compline Choir on a new website, prayerasnightfalls.com, that will accompany the book when it comes out.
* No longer in print
I’m happy to be finally writing again, after spending the last six months focusing on finishing my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, which will be published in November by Paraclete Press (the picture is from their Fall catalog). I sent the manuscript in the first week of April, and the editing took a couple more months. Recently, I went over the copyedited version, and sent that back yesterday, so I think I can come up for air now!
As you can see from the description, I take six themes inspired by Compline which are intertwined with history and stories from my own spiritual journey. But what I am really excited about is that there will be a website where one can listen to many examples of the music and texts which have been most inspiring to me
Expect to hear more about the book in coming blogs, but there is so much more to write about. Next time I will tell you about the Compline Choir’s new CD (released at the end of May), I Will Meditate. Also check out a new source of Compline podcasts at king.org. Search for the Compline Service under the “On Demand” menu.
On this Christmas Eve, enjoy a composition written this year by Peter Hallock, founder of the Compline Choir and its director from 1956 to 2009. The work was commissioned by the Compass Rose Society to honor Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who retires at the end of this year. It was a setting of a poem written by Williams called “Advent Calendar”, and was performed by the Canterbury Cathedral choir at a service of Evensong on October 5th, 2012. It was also given its Seattle premiere by the St. Mark’s Cathedral choir on the first Sunday of Advent, at the annual service of lessons and carols.
The following recording of “Advent Calendar” is by Seattle’s Byrd Ensemble, and it is available in both CD or download format. The CD also contains a version of Hallock’s composition ”Night Music”, sung by the Compline Choir (more on this in a future post).
May you have a happy Christmas.
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.