Compline in Austin

Compline Choir of St. David's, Austin, Texas

Compline Choir of St. David's, Austin, Texas

I started last week to write about groups across North America praying the Office of Compline on a regular basis outside of monasteries, and this week I’m writing about the Compline Choir at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.  It was founded in 1985, the third group chronologically after the choirs in Seattle (1956) and Honolulu (1976 – the subject of last week’s blog).  But St. David’s was the first group whose founder had been a member of the Compline Choir in Seattle.

Leslie Martin left his post in Seattle in 1985 to become organist/choirmaster at St. David’s, Austin.  His love of the Compline service inspired him to start a group of men’s voices (similar to that in Seattle) singing a weekly office of Compline, but, unlike Seattle, the service was based on the order in the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a few modifications.  When Les left Austin in 1989 for a position in New Britain, CT, the choir continued under the direction of David Stevens, who is still Director of Music at St. David’s today.  Les started a Compline group in Connecticut, but that group ceased after he returned back to Seattle in 1992, where he sang again with the Compline Choir at St. Marks until 2005.

About ten years ago, David Stevens decided to change the Compline Choir to a mixed group of men and women: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB).  They sing a variety of choral music in the same places (Orison, Psalm, Hymn, Nunc Dimittis, and Anthem) as we do in Seattle.  They also, like us, meet a couple of hours before the service to rehearse; their service is every Sunday at 9 p.m.  One of the choir members, Susan Richter, has maintained a web page for a number of years now where one can listen to sound clips of the music.  I’ve included one of these music files here from the Christmas season.  It is a polyphonic setting of the hymn “Virgin-born, we bow before thee”, which was sung as an Orison on the Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3, 2010.  The melody is from Psalm 86 in the Genevan Psalter of 1562; words are by Reginal Heber (1783-1826):

Virgin-born, we bow before thee: blessed was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild, blessed was she in her Child.
Blessed was the breast that fed thee; blessed was the hand that led thee;
blessed was the parent’s eye that watched thy slumbering infancy.

Blessed she by all creation, who brought forth the world’s salvation,
and blessed they, for ever blest, who love thee most and serve thee best.
Virgin-born, we bow before thee; blessed was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild, blessed was she in her Child.

David Stevens described to me a phenomenon that we have long experienced in Seattle – that many persons’ first encounter with a particular parish is through attending Compline there.  It is the nature of this meditative service, where all that is expected is a kind of attentive listening, that creates a welcoming “sacred space” for attendees.  For more than 25 years now this has been offered at St. David’s in Austin, and the Underground congratulates you!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Last Sunday was quite a treat for me, as I was resting at home after surgery, and was able to see the weekly videocast of the Byrd Ensemble’s Compline service (7:30 PST) and then catch the service from St. Mark’s Cathedral live on www.king.org.  The Compline Choir celebrated the Baptism of Christ by singing the anthem of the same name by Peter Hallock, with the countertenor solos taken by our newest member of the choir, Tyler Morse.  Here’s a link to the podcast (the piece begins at about 21:13) – also read last year’s blog about this wonderful composition.

Peter Hallock (b. 1924) has also released his latest CD of several of his large-scale compositions, The Last Judgment and Te Deum Laudamus, recorded by the Tudor Choir, and only available right now at Ionian Arts.  I’ll be blogging about this CD in the future!

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  1. #1 by Margaret O'Donnell on January 12, 2012 - 3:49 pm

    Good to know that all throughout the US, this lovely service is being sung. I like having the clip to listen to the choirs you profile.

  2. #2 by jefe on January 13, 2012 - 10:38 pm

    It’s good to read and hear about the lineage of the House that Peterbuilt. Hearing the clip reminds me of how important the venue is to the success of Compline. More than ANYthing else, it sets the mood for the partakers. Especially with plainsong, lots of reverb is a must. We have a new suspended-from-the-rafters mic placement giving more hall sound and a smidge of added reverb on the mp3’s. I’ve been transcribing the complete Compline offices from the Liber Usualis, 1951(pre-Vat II), in order to have all the Roman chant for our Compline. That and 20 settings of Ave Maria should keep us busy for a while, edging ever more and more Catholic.
    Thanks for the travelog. It’s good to hear how others have found their way along the obscure road to Compline.
    regards, as always, jefe

  3. #3 by Ken Peterson on January 14, 2012 - 12:49 pm

    Great to have your comments as always, and interesting (for me and for our readers) to hear about your wonderful labors on behalf of Compline. I just got a wonderful volume a couple of months ago – The Office of Compline: In Latin and English. This is the “novus ordo” or post-Vatican II Compline – Latin if from the Liturgia Horarum of 1987, and the English is from The Liturgy of the Hours of 1974. I have not compared this with the pre-Vatican II Liber Usualis, but I want to write a future blog about this. There is a good review of this new edition of Compline in a blog called “The Chant Cafe”, which I will add to my blog list.

  4. #4 by Ken Peterson on January 14, 2012 - 12:52 pm

    I’ve decided to put the weekly feature about Compline Choirs across N. America in a kind of sidebar. I think the “Compline in blah”, “Compline in blah”, is already getting a little tiresome.

  5. #5 by Ken Peterson on January 14, 2012 - 1:23 pm

    I found it difficult to find the entry on the new order of Compline in The Chant Café. Here is the link: http://www.chantcafe.com/2010/11/fr-webers-office-of-compline.html .

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