August 2019 opened an entirely new chapter in the 63-year history of The Compline Choir from St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle.
The Compline Choir made a pilgrimage to England where they resided in two places: Canterbury and Salisbury. At each cathedral, they sang six Evensongs (Evening Prayer) during the week, and also were the choir at the main Eucharist on Sundays. In addition, the choir sang the Office of Compline in the Crypt at Canterbury on Sunday, August 18. The days were filled with morning rehearsals, planned excursions, and one totally free day on the Thursday while the choir was at Salisbury. In addition to the 23 musicians pictured above, there were seven others in our party, including Page Smith, who accompanied us on three anthems, and other choir spouses/partners, including my wife, Peggy.
On arriving at Canterbury, we settled into a wonderful facility that had been built since our previous visit in 2000: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge. If you take a look at some of the pictures of the lodge’s site, you’ll see it’s situated within the cathedral close. One of the first pictures I took was out our window of the sunrise on the Bell Harry Tower at 5:30 am on Monday, August 12, as I listened to the Compline Service from Seattle live – with The Women’s Schola in Residence, who sang Compline the three weeks we were away.
Rebekah Gilmore assembled a group of some of the best women choral musicians in the Seattle area to sing the services on August 11, 18, and 25. You can hear all three services by going to the podcast links posted on the home page of complinechoir.org.
Having Compline sung by a women’s choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral was certainly a history-making moment, and I want to speak more of this in a future blog. But in the meantime, I wanted to salute what had been up to now the only women-only choir in North America singing Compline – the Voces Angelorum of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Nevada City, California. Their director, Jeff Reynolds, has engraved upwards of 2000 pieces for Compline, including psalms by Peter Hallock, and I noticed that the women sang Hallock psalms each of the three weeks in Jeff’s arrangements.
Our week at Canterbury was filled with many memorable events, both musically and spiritually. It is one thing to attend a prayer service, but entirely another as part of a team that is leading prayer – and in such an awesome place, founded by Benedictine monks 1300 years ago, and the heart of the Anglican Communion. The fact that the organ was being repaired and covered in scaffolding did not dismay Michael Kleinschmidt, the Canon Musician of St. Mark’s Cathedral, who played exemplary preludes and postludes on the fairly decent substitute “appliance.” By the time we had sung our sixth Evensong we had really gotten into the rhythm of prayer, and it was a pleasure to share to Canterbury the music of American composers in our psalm settings by David Hurd, Ned Rorem, and Jason Anderson, or anthems by our own Tyler Morse, Erin Aas, and especially our founder Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014), who had been the first American choral scholar at Canterbury Cathedral from 1949 to 1951. Here’s a quick diary of our week:
Monday, August 12 – Our first rehearsal offsite; 1:45 – Archives and Library tour (where we saw “Thomas Tallis” in the 1541 list and “Peter Hallock” in an August 1951 entry); 5:30 Evensong (responses by William Harris, psalm 67 plainsong, Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis by William Byrd, Anthem “I thank you God” by Tyler Morse).
Tuesday, August 13 – Rehearsal offsite; 11:00 – Tour of the Cathedral, 5:30 Evensong (Responses by Leighton Jones, Psalm 69 by Jason Anderson, Mag & Nunc by Stephen Sturk, Anthem “Lamentations” by Peter Hallock).
Wednesday, August 14 – “No evensong” day for the choir – excursion to Chartwell and Leeds Castle.
Thursday, August 15 – Rehearsal offsite; free morning (we saw the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey); 5:30 Evensong (including Psalm 78 plainsong, Mag & Nunc by Grayston Ives, Anthem “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl); 8:45 Candlelight tour of Canterbury Cathedral for our group, led by the Archdeacon, the Ven. Jo Kelly-Moore – an unforgettable experience.
Friday, August 16 – Rehearsal offsite; 10:15 excursion to Dover Castle and the Wartime Tunnels; 5:30 Evensong (including Psalm 84 by Peter Hallock, Mag & Nunc by Byrd, Anthem “If we could shut the gate against our thoughts,” by Peter Hallock); Group dinner at “Cafe du Soleil” restaurant in the evening.
Saturday, August 17 – Last rehearsal offsite; 3:15 Evensong (Psalm 89 by David Hurd, Mag & Nunc by Byrd, Anthem “Come, Holy Spirit” by Peter Hallock).
Sunday, August 18 – 9:15 prepare for morning service; 11:00 Sung Eucharist (Mass: Thomas Tallis Mass for Four Voices, Motet: “The Good Shepherd,” by Alice Parker); 3:15 Evensong (Psalm 119:17-24 by Ned Rorem, Mag and Nunc by Charles Wood, Anthem “What Hand Divine” by Erin Aas); 6:30 Compline (Hymn: Tallis “Canon,” Psalm 91 by Peter Hallock, Nunc Dimittis by Aaron Aas, Anthem “Bring us, O Lord” by Peter Hallock.
All of the services were recorded live, and there are currently three selections available in an “audio postcard” from the choir. The last is the complete Office of Compline sung in the Crypt at Canterbury. I have written extensively about the meaning of the Crypt to us in my book Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, which is reprised in my post “Remembering Carl Crosier (1945-2014).” You can find there a link to another recording of the anthem we sang in the Crypt (both in 2000 and 2019) – Hallock’s “Bring Us, O Lord, At Our Last Awakening.”
Look for another post about our week in Salisbury…
On August 10, 2019, the Compline Choir from St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, leaves on a trip to England, during which it will be in residence for a week at Canterbury Cathedral, and the following week at Salisbury Cathedral. We’ll be singing all the major services in each of these two famous sacred spaces – a total of twelve Evensongs plus the Sunday morning Eucharist service at each cathedral. This is the first trip for the choir since the year 2000 – almost a whole generation ago!
We’re intentionally calling our travel a pilgrimage, which is defined as “a journey, made to some sacred space or undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose.” Our journey in 2000 also fit this definition; then, we were accompanying our director Peter Hallock as he celebrated fifty years since his studies at the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) in Canterbury, as well as becoming the first American Choral Scholar at Canterbury Cathedral. It was while there that Peter learned plainchant from a new edition of the Office of Compline, and sang it in the Cathedral Crypt. This edition was first used in Seattle in 1956, when Peter started the Compline Choir – so one could say that the Crypt at Canterbury became the “spiritual home” of the choir (for a picture of the Crypt, see this post). On the 2000 trip, we sang the Office of Compline in the cathedrals of Canterbury, Salisbury, and Ely; and we also sang Evensong at Norwich Cathedral and St-Bartholomew-the-Great in London.
Our 2019 pilgrimage will be as much a one of depth as the last was one of breadth. We will be based in only two places, making for deep understanding and relationship with place, history, spirituality, people, and each other. As J. Scott Kovacs, President of the Compline Choir and Board Chairman, described it so well: “Our hope is to deepen our connection with our roots, connect with our history in a meaningful way, and establish lasting relationships with the contemporary church. Part of our time will be spent visiting with the Precentor’s Books in the Archives at Canterbury Cathedral, where we will see the names of both Peter Hallock and Thomas Tallis listed.” (See Compline Choir home page).
In addition to the services of Evensong and Eucharist, we will also be singing the Office of Compline in the Crypt at Canterbury, attending a Plainchant Workshop by John Rowlands-Pritchard at St. Thomas Church in Salisbury, as well as doing some sight-seeing to nearby famous places. Our organist on our pilgrimage will be Michael Kleinschmidt, Canon for Cathedral Music at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle. Also Page Smith, who played in the premieres of many of Hallock’s compositions, will be along to accompany us in several anthems: the Lamentations setting of Hallock, and What Hand Divine, by our composer-in-residence, Aaron Aas. And yes, she has a seat reserved on the plane for her cello!
We have of course been busy rehearsing for the pilgrimage, and singing some of the psalms, hymns, and anthems for the trip at our Compline services in Seattle this summer. What a glorious experience to sing some of the English hymns, especially those that are not often sung in the US. I was especially moved by “O thou who camest from above,” sung to the tune HEREFORD by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) with words by his grandfather Charles Wesley (1707-1788). It’s in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982, but is rarely heard on Sunday mornings in America – perhaps because of of its devotional nature – ideally suited to Evening Prayer:
O thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart!
There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return
in humble prayer and fervent praise.
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work, and speak, and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up the gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat;
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make the sacrifice complete.
I also wanted to share with you one of the anthems we will be singing in England – at our very first Evensong at Canterbury. It’s I Thank You God, by Tyler Morse, one of our countertenors. When this anthem was sung at the end of the Office of Compline for July 14, 2019, Tyler was the reader, so I will include his reading of the poem, by E. E. Cummings (1894-1962):
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Tyler is married to Rebekah Gilmore, Associate Musician and Director of the Choir School at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle. who is forming the Women’s Compline Choir of Saint Mark’s Cathedral to sing the Office of Compline during the three weeks that the Compline Choir will be in England. Find out more about this at the Compline Choir home page.
Volunteer Park, Seattle, April, 2019 – a beautiful spring day, Monday of Holy Week, with the Conservatory in the distance…
It brought back memories of five years ago, when I blogged about walking in Volunteer Park after learning about the death of my mentor and friend, Peter R. Hallock, on Sunday, April 27, 2014.
And Sunday, April 28, 2019 will be almost five years to the day since that previous walk in the park, as well as the same liturgical day – the Second Sunday after Easter, “Quasimodo Sunday” (read more about that in the link above). How ironic — when Notre Dame Cathedral and its famous hunchback have been in the news of late.
On Easter Sunday, the Compline Service began, as it has for more than three decades, with Peter’s processional “Easter Canticle.” The piece has now been recorded on CD for the first time in the choir’s new CD Of the Lord’s Mercies, just released. The CD is described as “a sonic journey through the arc of what Western Christendom calls the Paschal Cycle, encompassing the seasons of Lent, including Holy Week, and Easter, culminating on Pentecost: The 50th Day of Easter.” Previously, the choir had recorded What Hand Divine, comprising music for the Christmas Cycle (Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany) – so the new CD is a natural sequel. Both recording’s title tracks are taken from works by The Compline Choir’s composer-in-residence Erin Aas (b. 1974).
The anthem at Compline on Easter Sunday was Jacob Handl’s “Christus Surrexit,” which is also on the new recording. This year, Jason Anderson made our performance especially exciting, by inviting half the singers on each part in the tutti sections to sing in a staccato fashion. The result certainly made the melodic lines stand out with excitement! I think the effect out in the cathedral was especially stunning – although it may have been a little too marked to the radio audience due to the closeness of the microphones. But see what you think – the anthem is introduced, with translation of the Latin, by one of our excellent readers, Gregory Bloch:
In a week where many Christians are focused liturgically on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the singing or reading of the Lamentations of Jeremiah is heard during the daytime prayers of Holy Thursday or Good Friday, or during the service of Tenebrae, as the candles are symbolically extinguished. During Lent, the Compline Choir at St. Mark’s, Seattle has a tradition of singing settings of the Lamentations, which are usually by Renaissance composers.
Early in the week came the disastrous fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, inspiring numerous lamentations and prayers. My friend Jim Friedrich posted photographs he had taken of the cathedral with quotes from the Lamentations, in his “Lamentation for Notre Dame.”
Last Sunday the Compline Choir sang the second part of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis. It was an ambitious undertaking, which lasted almost 13 minutes. The Compline Service broadcast probably set a record, lasting almost 45 minutes, and can be found here. There was some wonderful music, including the Vexilla Regis setting by Franz Liszt (with organ), but I’ve extracted the performance of the Lamentations, with the Latin text and translation. The choir provided what I think was (in my memory) one of the most inspired performances of the Lamentations.
Wishing you a good week and a happy Easter to come!
|De lamentatione Ieremiae prophetae:||The lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah:|
|GHIMEL. Migravit Judas propter afflictionem, et multitudinem servitutis; habitavit inter gentes, nec invenit requiem:||GHIMEL. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place;|
|DALETH. omnes persecutores ejus apprehenderunt eam inter angustias. Viæ Sion lugent, eo quod non sint qui veniant ad solemnitatem: omnes portæ ejus destructæ, sacerdotes ejus gementes; virgines ejus squalidæ, et ipsa oppressa amaritudine.||DALETH. her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the appointed feasts; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her maidens have been dragged away, and she herself suffers bitterly.|
|HE. Facti sunt hostes ejus in capite; inimici ejus locupletati sunt: quia Dominus locutus est super eam propter multitudinem iniquitatum ejus. Parvuli ejus ducti sunt in captivitatem ante faciem tribulantis.||HE. Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.|
|Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.||Jerusalem, return to the Lord thy God.|
The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels (Michaelmas) is celebrated in some Western churches on September 29, and we observed it the next day at Compline. I want to share with you our orison from that service: “The Guardian Angel.”
Ina Boyle (1889 – 1967) was, as noted in The Norton/Grove dictionary of women composers, was “the most prolific and significant female composer from Ireland before 1950.” She composed throughout her life in all genres, but because of her relative isolation and gender, her works have only just recently been revived and appreciated.
“The Guardian Angel” was one of a collection of 15 Gaelic Hymns, published between 1923-24, while Ina was a student of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text comes from the collection Carmina Gadelica: Gaelic Hymns and Invocations collected in the Hebrides and Western Highlands of Scotland, tr. Alexander Carmichael (1900) – See this link for the original Gaelic. Note that Ina Boyle omitted the second stanza, and changed a few other words for her setting.
To listen to this Compline Service from 30 September 2018, and other services, go to complinepodcast.org.
THOU angel of God who hast charge of me
From the dear Father of mercifulness,
The shepherding king of the fold of the saints
To make round about me this night;
Drive from me every temptation and danger,
Surround me on the sea of unrighteousness,
And in the narrows, crooks, and straits,
Keep thou my coracle, keep it always.
Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path below me,
And be a kindly shepherd behind me,
To-day, to-night, and for ever.
I am tired and I a stranger,
Lead thou me to the land of angels;
For me it is time to go home
To the court of Christ, to the peace of heaven.
On the eve of the latest royal wedding, and with June right around the corner, I was reminded of another wonderful occasion – the marriage of Rebekah Gilmore and Tyler Morse, celebrated at St. Mark’s Cathedral on October 7, 2017. Tyler, who sings Alto I in the Compline Choir, and Rebekah, the Associate Musician and Choir School Director at St. Mark’s, created a wonderful service, which involved four choirs and other instrumentalists.
At the time of the wedding, St. Mark’s was still undergoing renovation, so that all the walls except the west were shrouded in white plastic, which provided a festive background (it was like being inside of a wedding cake!). As you watch the video of the service you will no doubt hear the noise from the outside, since at the time all the windows had been removed, awaiting new ones (to see what a new window looks like now, see Katherine Crosier’s blog “Mysticism and the Sense of the Sacred,” from February 2018).
Here’s a link to the wonderful processional hymn, “O God beyond all praising,” sung to the tune Thaxted , which was arranged and conducted by Canon Musician Emeritus Dr. J. Melvin Butler. This hymn, to the words “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” is often sung at British royal occasions. The second stanza of Michael Perry’s text (1982) is often omitted in hymnals, but with its themes of the transitory life and resurrection, was so appropriate to have sung by the Compline Choir alone:
O God beyond all praising,
we worship you today
and sing the love amazing
that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder
at every gift you send,
at blessings without number
and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you
and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you,
our great and mighty Lord.
The flower of earthly splendor
in time must surely die,
its fragile bloom surrender
to you the Lord most high;
but hidden from all nature
the eternal seed is sown –
though small in mortal stature,
to heaven’s garden grown:
for Christ the Man from heaven
from death has set us free,
and we through him are given
the final victory!
Then hear, O gracious Savior,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.
The video on YouTube comes complete with links to other wonderful music from the wedding. It was truly a royal occasion!
Easter Day was on the first of April this year, and with the Compline choir roster at its greatest number ever (about 23), and the acoustics at St. Mark’s Cathedral restored to new splendor, I must say that the anthems for the season have risen to new heights – so I had to share three of them with you.
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On Easter Day, the choir sang something for the first time in its 60-plus history – an anthem from the Russian repertoire in Church Slavonic – the famous “Salvation is Created” written in 1912 by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), from his Ten Communion Hymns, Op. 25. It was a successful venture for the choir into the rich four-part close harmonic texture that is the hallmark of the Russian style. And we could not have done this piece without some good “Russian” low basses – fortunately, we are blessed with some.
Spaséniye sodélal yesí posredé ziemlí, Bózhe. Allilúiya.
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.
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Several weeks later, the choir sang “Christus Surrexit,” by Jacob Handl (1550-1591). This is a lovely 6-part setting of the chorale whose German version is “Christ ist erstanden.” Both this chorale and “Christ lag in Totesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death) are melodic variants of the 11th-century chant Victimae paschali laudes (see the example in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline). Jacob Handl worked mainly in Austria, at places like Melk Abbey and the Viennese court chapel. He ended his life working in Prague.
Christ is risen; he has covered our evil
and those whom he loved he has carried up to heaven.
And if he had not risen, the whole world would have perished.
Alleluia! Let us praise him, chanting a hymn of joy,
Let us praise him with a song of joy.
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On April 29, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we celebrated the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist (April 25), by singing the 10-part motet “Deus, qui beatam Marcam” by Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554-1612). It was written for the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, famous for its lavish polychoral anthems and acoustical splendor. In an early draft for my book, I rhapsodized about singing at St. Mark’s, Seattle, with its many comparisons to Venice – a rich maritime life, a school of glass-blowing – even a train station tower copied after the Campanile in the Piazza – and a cathedral of the same name known for its acoustics and “school” of composers – so I was in seventh heaven to be singing this anthem. Jason Anderson coached us to sing the “Alleluias” at the end with the kind of attack that conjured up the instruments that no doubt were used when this was performed in early 17th century Venice.
O God, who graced your evangelist Mark with the gift of proclaiming the Gospel, grant, we pray, that our ears be opened to his words, and our minds transformed by his teaching, and that we may be defended by his prayer. Alleluia.