Changing of the Seasons

Niche Ceremony

Beginning of Ceremony in the Compline corner. Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, holds the box containing some of Peter’s ashes, while the choir sings the “Kievan Kontakion.” (Photo: Kevin Johnson)

It’s been a while since my last post to the Underground — part of this is due, I’m sure, to my observing a period of grief since the death of Peter R. Hallock, my friend and mentor for almost fifty years. But now I feel like writing again — I want to give a recap of the events surrounding the celebration of Peter’s life, and observe the turning of the seasons, both in the world and in the liturgical year.

The weekend of May 17-18 was a very special time for all who were colleagues and friends of Peter, or who came to honor him at the burial rite on Sunday afternoon. The events have been excellently chronicled by Katherine Crosier in a number of articles on her blog, and I’ll provide links, so you can read about them in greater depth. They began with a party at Peter’s house in Fall City on Saturday, May 17 – a great time to share memories surrounded by all the familiar objects of his life. We were invited to take any books or CDs. My choice was Peter’s copy of Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God, to which another friend, Ralph Carskadden (1940-2011) made reference in his sermon at St. Mark’s on the 50th anniversary of the Compline Choir.

The Niche

Peter’s Niche in the pillar facing the Compline Corner of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The burial service itself was an amazing event, with the Compline Choir and St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir providing the music, which was almost all by Peter Hallock (the event was recorded, and I will likely provide excerpts in future posts). The Dean of St. Mark’s preached an excellent sermon, “God is in the Numinous.” The most meaningful part of the service for me was the placing of a small box containing some of Peter’s ashes and other objects, in a niche in the large column by the Compline Corner. Soon it will be covered by a brass plaque which, after Peter’s name and dates, will read, “Mystic, Composer, Founder of the Compline Choir – ‘God is in the numinous.'” It will be a constant reminder of Peter’s presence from now on as we sing the service. Choir members are taking turns providing flowers each week, next to the niche.

After the burial service and reception, Compline was sung by the current choir, augmented by about 20 former members, some of whom had come from as far as Hawaii and Rhode Island to attend (read about the service here, or listen to the podcast). Peter’s death initiated the formation of the Hallock Institute, which will be dedicated to the propagation and performance of Peter’s music, and will “celebrate and share the Compline ethos” through workshops and other educational channels. I’m sure this will give much more shape and direction to the “Compline Underground” in the months to come.

At the time of this writing, the summer season has begun, and the liturgical year has begun its longest season of Sundays after Pentecost, which stretch all the way to the end of November, when with Advent, the year begins again. Last Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and the anthem we sang at Compline was “Great Lord of Lords.” I think the choir has never sounded as good on this piece – maybe the fact that our director had to sing one of the parts, and was leading from the side, and our view was straight toward Peter’s niche – whatever it was, I felt a tremendous sense of unity and purpose in our singing.

Great Lord of Lords [words: Henry Ramsden Bramley (1833-1917), music: Charles Wood (1866-1926)]

Great Lord of Lords, supreme, immortal King,
O give us grace to sing Thy praise,
Which makes earth, air and heaven to ring.

O Word of God, from ages unbegun,
The Father’s only Son,
With Him in power, in substance, Thou art one.

O Holy Ghost, Whose care dost all embrace,
Thy watch is o’er our race,
Thou Source of Life, Thou spring of peace and grace.

One living Trinity, One unseen Light,
All, all is Thine,
Thy light beholds alike the bounds of depth and height. Amen.



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Services for Peter Hallock

An obituary was published in the Seattle Times, Saturday, May 17, 2014 for Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014), without whom there would probably not be so much talk about Compline.

A burial service will take place on Sunday, May 18, at 5 p.m. at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The Cathedral Choir and Compline Choir will be participating, and there will be a Compline Service sung at the usual time, but with many alumni of the choir participating. Most if not all of the music sung at both services will be compositions of Peter. There will be a commemorative concert in the fall, no doubt featuring some of his larger works for choir, organ, and other instruments.

Here is a link to the composition that will be sung at Sunday’s Compline service at the beginning – “Bring us O Lord, at our last awakening.” The words speak for themselves.

May Peter, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

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Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014)

Peter Hallock in KitchenSunday, April 27, 2014, was the Octave Day of Easter, also known as “Quasimodo Sunday,” after the beginning of the introit for the Mass of the day. Here are those opening words, which inspired Victor Hugo to have his character “Quasimodo” born on and named for that day:

Quasi modo géniti infántes, allelúja: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupíscite, allelúja, allelúja allelúja.
(1 Peter 2: 2)
As newborn babes, alleluia, long for pure spiritual milk, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

A little before 6 p.m. on that day, as my wife and I were preparing to take our dog for a walk, we received the news that Peter Hallock, founder of the Compline Choir, had died, shortly after getting back home from the convalescent center where he had been for several weeks.

Volunteer Park, 1930

Volunteer Park, 1930

We drove as planned to Volunteer Park in Seattle, which is near St. Mark’s Cathedral, where I would go on to sing Compline that night. We walked in the venerable park, one of the many projects of the Olmstead brothers, which was completed in 1912. I was in a kind of daze – or shock – from knowing that my guide, friend, teacher, and mentor for almost fifty years had departed this earth. Many memories of times shared with him came flooding over me. I was happy that he was able to read about some of them in my book, Prayer as Night Falls (2013), which is dedicated to him.

We walked by the spot where in 1969 I had come with a group of parishioners from Christ Church, Tacoma, to join with those of other parishes to picnic in the park, and then process to St. Mark’s for a communion service; it’s an annual event called “Cathedral Day.” As we entered the cathedral in 1969, Peter was there to greet us with a thundering improvisation on the four-year-old Flentrop organ.

It was on a similar Cathedral Day in 1936 when the 12-year-old Peter Hallock first experienced the space of the building,  was mesmerized by the sound of the organ, and knew his destiny was with that space and that place. We have all been blessed beyond measure by that day and that calling.

And from now on, the Second Sunday of Easter will have a new meaning for me – a day to remember the remarkable life of Peter R. Hallock, and especially his contribution to sacred music.

*   *   *   *   *

Here are several links from the last few days:

Jason Anderson’s recounting of Peter’s last few hours, from Katherine Crosier’s blog.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.

A wonderful tribute by organist Jonathan Dimmock.

And this is only the beginning….




Tenebrae factae sunt

TenebraeThe texts of the offices of Matins and Lauds during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday have been the source of wonderful musical compositions, and I would like to offer several today.

In monasteries and cathedrals of the Middle Ages, Matins and Lauds were ordinarily sung in the early morning darkness, with Lauds concluding just at sunrise. However, during the three days before Easter these two offices were chanted the previous day, after Compline, and while they were sung, candles were extinguished one by one, as a symbol of the death of Jesus. The last candle was hidden, then a loud noise was made to recall the earthquake, and the candle was extinguished, leaving the church in darkness (in Latin, “tenebrae”).

Below is the traditional structure of Matins and Lauds for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week. Matins consisted of three parts called “Nocturns,” each with three psalms, and three lessons, each followed by a “Great Responsory,” which is an elaborate version of the dialog between soloist and choir that we find in the smaller offices.” The first three lessons of Matins were taken from the book of Lamentations, the second set of three from St. Augustine, and the third set from St. Paul. The following gives the specific psalms and lessons for Holy Thursday:

Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 69, 70, 71)
Three lessons (from Lamentations 1:1-14), each followed by a Great Responsory
Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 72, 73, 74)
Three lessons (from St. Augustine), each followed by a Great Responsory
Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 75, 76, 77)
Three lessons (from St. Paul, I Corinthians 11, 17-34), each followed by a Great Responsory
Five psalms (Psalms 50, 89, 35, Exodus 15:1-19, and Psalm 146)
Benedictus canticle with antiphon
special antiphon Christus factus est pro nobis

 Imagine, if you will, the typical arrangement of fifteen candles on a rack (called a “hearse”), with a candle extinguished after every psalm – nine in Matins and five in Lauds – with the last candle remaining for the ritual at the end of the service.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah have been the subject of many great compositions over the centuries. Listen to the setting by Peter Hallock, which is one of the musical examples in my book, Prayer as Night Falls.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) wrote several settings of the texts of responsories from Matins of Good Friday. Listen to his setting of the responsory to the third lesson – “Vinea mea electa:”

Vinea mea electa, ego te plantavi: quomodo conversa es in amaritudinem,
ut me crucifigeres et Barrabam dimitteres.
Sepivi te, et lapides elegi ex te, et ædificavi turrim.

O vineyard, my elect, I planted you: how could you change from sweet to bitter,
to have crucified me and released Barrabas?
I protected you; I took away the stones, and built you a tower.

I wish you a blessed Holy Week, and a Happy Easter!


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Return to the Lord your God

Lamentation 1For the last five Sundays of Lent, the Compline Choir has sung as an anthem one of the many settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah (in most bibles, the book of Lamentations comes right after the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament). This has become a tradition over the years — the somber nature of the text and its theme of repentance lends itself well to the introspective season, with its culmination in Holy Week and Easter.

We also sing simpler versions of the other parts of Compline during Lent, which gives us more time to rehearse these rather challenging compositions, most of which are from the Renaissance.

The practice of singing from the book of Lamentations goes back to the Middle Ages, where they were the first three lessons (or readings) in the monastic office of Matins on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week. Matins was chanted in the early morning hours, and immediately followed by the Office of Lauds, which was timed to be sung at sunrise. In the old form of Matins, there were nine lessons in all, and they were chanted by a solo cantor. The Lamentations have a special reciting formula that is more elaborate than the other lessons.

The picture above is from a book of Gregorian chant, and shows the beginning of the first lesson from Matins on Holy Thursday.  Notice how, after the introduction, each verse is preceded by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (ALEPH, BETH, GIMEL, etc. in consecutive order). Each lesson ends with the refrain “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God:”


I excerpt here the “Jerusalem” section from each of the Lamentations that we have sung over the last five weeks, showing each composer’s unique approach to the same text. These excerpts are given in approximate chronological order by composer. There is also a link to the particular Compline service, if you want to hear the whole Lamentations setting for any given day:

1. Costanzo Festa (ca. 1485/90-1545), from our podcast of March 30, 2014. Heavy and thick, with antiphonal choirs, which comes as a contrast from the preceding verses of mostly solo duos and trios.

2. Jacques Arcadelt (ca. 1507-1568), from our podcast of April 6, 2014. Smooth, classic Renaissance counterpoint.

3. Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585), from our podcast of March 16, 2014. My favorite Renaissance setting; note the solo high voice in a kind of dialog with the others, and the poignancy of major and minor sonorities.

4. Alphonso Ferrabosco the Younger (ca. 1575-1628), from our podcast of March 23, 2014. Clashes and chromaticism in this early 17th-c. setting.

5. Peter Hallock (b. 1924), from our podcast of March 9, 2014. Composition from the 1980s by the founder of the Compline Choir, Peter Hallock, with solo cello.

Next week is Holy Week, and I will write about another custom from the offices of Matins and Lauds during the three days before Easter – a custom that led to an evening service known as Tenebrae, or “darkness.”

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Tysk, holy light, and van Gogh

Tysk Church Stockholm

Tyska Kyrkan (German Church), Stockholm

Recently we sang  a serene hymn at Compline whose unusual name is simply “Tysk.” I first sang it at Compline shortly after I joined the choir in the 1960s, and although I love many hymns, this one is my  favorite. One of the reasons it appeals to me is that I have both Swedish and German heritage, and this hymn was sung in the “German church” (Tyska Kyrkan) in Stockholm during the eighteenth century. The tune, from a collection called Psalm und Choralbuch (1719), found its way into the Episcopal hymnals of 1940 and 1982, with words based on the original German hymn by the German Reformed mystic and pietist writer Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).

I love the hymn’s stanza structure, with each in the classic AAB form – the “A” sections having lines of 6, 6, and 8 syllables, and the “B” section groups of 3, 3, 6, and 6 syllables.  It satisfyingly ends with the couplet of twelve syllables which it began. The lyrics too  are ravishing, movingly speaking of  adoration, quietness, surrender – ideal for prayer at the end of the day.

Listen now, and see what you think:

God Himself is with us; Let us all adore Him, And with awe appear before Him.
God is here within us; Souls, in silence fear Him, Humbly, fervently draw near Him.
Now His own who have known God, in worship lowly, Yield their spirits wholly.

Gladly, Lord, we offer Thine to be forever, Soul and life and each endeavor.
Help us to surrender Earth’s deceitful treasures, Pride of life and sinful pleasures:
Thou alone shall be known Lord of all our being, Life’s true way decreeing.

Thou pervadest all things, Let Thy radiant beauty Light my eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers Eagerly unfold them, To the sunlight calmly hold them,
So let me, quietly, In Thy rays imbue me, Let Thy light shine through me.

Come, abide within me; Let my soul, like Mary, Be Thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit, With transfiguring splendor; Love and honor will I render.
Where I go here below, Let me bow before Thee, Know Thee and adore Thee.

I love the images, especially in the last two verses, of the flowers, eagerly unfolding themselves to God’s light, or letting ourselves, like Mary, be imbued by the Holy Spirit. The gospel for the same day we sang Tysk contained the familiar “You are the light of the world,” and this was echoed by the end of the hymn’s third verse: “Let Thy light shine through me.” As we consider often during the season of Epiphany, we are asked to receive the light, and then reflect it.

This last weekend I spent at St. Placid Priory near Olympia, Washington, where I attended Victoria Scarlett’s workshop  on Van Gogh’s Art and Spiritual Journey through the Priory Spirituality Center. My friend Victoria, of the Center for Sacred Art, spoke of van Gogh’s passion for light.  I felt the exact parallel between the hymn Tysk about light, and the brilliance and energy of the later paintings of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The artist, through line and color, suffuses his paintings with divine light.

I’ll leave you with two images, both of flowers – one by van Gogh, and the other a picture I took this morning at St. Placid. “Let Thy rays imbue me .”

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014



CandlemasIn the Christian calendar, February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas (or “Candle-Mass”). This year, it falls on a Sunday, and we’re going to observe it in a new and special way at Compline at  St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, and so I wanted to give you a preview.

Candlemas commemorates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, on the fortieth day after his birth, to fulfill the Jewish law requiring both ritual purification of the mother and presentation of a firstborn son. As recounted in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2: 22-38, the aged Simeon (who may have been the officiating priest) took Jesus in his arms and said what we now know as the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
 your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
 which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
A light to reveal you to the nations
 and the glory of your people Israel.

In addition to Simeon, an elderly woman named Anna prophesied about Jesus as the long-awaited messiah – in fact, she is the first to utter this prophecy.

The Christian celebration of the feast of the Presentation (earlier called Purification) can be traced back to the early fourth century. When the birth of Christ became set to December 25, the celebration forty days later on February 2 was almost exactly midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, coinciding with the returning light and the beginning of preparation for spring planting. It became the time when candles were blessed for the new year, and carried by everyone in a great procession.

Compline was influenced by themes of light and salvation, and the Nunc Dimittis was made a key part of the Cathedral observance of the office. Jesus, as the “light of the nations,” gives us hope and encouragement as the day’s light dims and darkness takes over. And the themes of salvation and resurrection give us hope at the time when sleep presents us with a portent of our own death.

At St. Mark’s, people will receive candles on the way in to the Cathedral. The Compline Choir, Dean, and acolytes will gather in the chapel behind the altar, where the candles will be blessed, and the Nunc Dimittis sung with its antiphon Lumen ad revelationem gentium. Then a procession will be formed and go out into the cathedral, with the choir singing the chant Adorna thalamum, while acolytes will pass the light to everyone’s candles. The procession will stop at the altar, while it is incensed, and then the choir will process to its normal place singing the chant Obtulerunt pro eo Domino (“They offered for him unto the Lord a pair of turtledoves…”). From there, the Compline Service will take place as usual – except it will be entirely in the light of everyone’s candles.

Candles and incense and processions – oh my! Sounds like a beautiful way to celebrate this special midwinter day in the Emerald City.

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