On October 12, 2014, the Compline Choir celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of my joining the choir in 1964. Some of the alumni who had sang with me over the years were invited to sing Compline, as well as come to a little dinner-celebration before. I was also invited to choose the psalm, hymn, nunc dimittis canticle, and the anthem for the service, which can be heard at the choir’s podcast site.
In addition, Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, asked me ten questions in the form of an interview, which will be published in the St. Mark’s quarterly, The Rubric. Following is the complete text that I sent – I hope you will find it of interest:
JA: Could you describe your book Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline in four sentences or less for those who might not know about it? Why might one want to read your book?
KP: One review of the book was titled “a love story at day’s end,” and I thought that was very apt; the reviewer went on to describe it as “equal parts history, memoir, travelogue, theology, and music history.” There are several strands that I weave together: the story of Compline within the greater narrative of Christian fixed hour prayer; themes relevant to the spiritual journey; my own experiences; and musical examples for listening and reflection. I think that anyone on their own inner pilgrimage would enjoy this book.
JA: You masterfully weave multiple, distinct story lines in your book. Talk about the early history of the book and how you came to write it as published. When did the idea of authoring a book about Compline first come into your mind? Who helped you along your journey as author?
KP: About fifteen years ago, a fascination with Compline led me to create a new version of our Order of Compline, in modern, inclusive language; this led to my wanting to tell both the story of Compline, and of my own spiritual journey, as a preface to a collection of prayers, hymns, psalms, and anthems, selected from our service. In 2009 this had metamorphosed into a number of chapters organized around different themes such as “Light and Darkness” and “Death and Life.” I sent several chapters to Phyllis Tickle, author of many books, including The Divine Hours, a daily compendium of fixed-hour prayer. She thought my book was a wonderful idea, and put me in touch with Jon Sweeney at Paraclete Press. But as it went through their committee process, I realized that it just wasn’t a cohesive story. I got a writing coach, Waverly Fitzgerald, who helped me immensely, and a totally reorganized book went to Paraclete with a formal proposal in 2012. At that point they gave me a contract, and when in April 2013 the manuscript was submitted, Jon Sweeney (who is now the publisher of Paraclete Press) gave it a superb once-over that caused me to re-arrange chapters, write one new chapter, and, in general, eliminate those things that would cause the reader to “go to sleep.”
JA: Can you retell the story of your first Compline experience? When did you first hear about Compline and from whom? How did you come to join the choir in 1964?
KP: I had just started my freshman year as a music major at the University of Puget Sound, when David Calhoun, a UPS alum, invited me to sing in the Compline Choir in Seattle. The first chapter of my book describes this experience, but it is interesting that from my very first contact with Compline I sang in the choir, rather than first coming to hear the service (which is more typical).
JA: You have a love for early music, medieval and Renaissance music in particular. Is this a result of your Compline experience or another influence?
KP: Yes, Compline gave me my initial contact with chant and Renaissance music. And from Peter Hallock I received a connection and fascination with the Early Music movement. In 1965 the Flentrop organ was installed, a manifestation of the interest in neo-Baroque tracker-action instruments, and in the fall of that year I attended a concert of Renaissance and Baroque music where Alfred Deller (Early Music pioneer and the reason why Peter became a countertenor) was soloist and conductor with groups from the University of Washington School of Music. At the same time I took my first music history course, which really implanted a passion I have had for early music ever since.
JA: Of all current singers in the Compline Choir, you have the longest history of working with and learning from Peter Hallock. Would you share some favorite stories, events, and/or pearls of wisdom from him?
KP: I’ll try to pare this down to just three anecdotes about rehearsals, communication, and humor. One quote about taking notes was really from his teacher Eva Heinitz (another pioneer of the Early Music renaissance): “If I can use a pencil, YOU can use a pencil!” At the end of every summer the choir got Peter’s “August letter,” which was not only a call to renewal of our commitment to sing Compline over the following year, but often an essay about something that he was passionate about at the time – for instance, the Buddhist concept of “attention.” His wanting to involve us in his passions led to several notable events – the trip to Russia and Scandinavia in 1997, and the trip to England in 2000. His humorous side came out especially in the musical skits (one was a parody of “Blazing Saddles”) for several performances at the Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth, WA. Each “musical” always found a way to give Harriet Bullitt, the owner, an opportunity to dance the flamenco.
JA: Peter Hallock and the Canterbury Connection is something about which both of us have written. What pilgrimages have you undertaken and where? How have those pilgrimages changed and formed your spiritual life? Where might you recommend others go as pilgrims and why?
KP: There are some journeys I have taken which to me seem like classic pilgrimages due to a particular objective: the Labyrinth at Chartres, the Crypt at Canterbury, Solesmes Abbey, singing at the Papal Audience in Rome. And certainly the experience of these goals shapes and forms one’s spirit. But there are also journeys where the unexpected takes over, like the time that I had a compulsion to fly to Boston, and drove to New Haven to hear Compline during a lightning storm, where I had an amazing revelation about light and darkness. Aside from specific places (I’ve never been to the Holy Land, or Santiago, for instance) I would urge one to visit some place of refuge from the noise of daily life – such as a retreat at a monastery, or time out in the silence of nature.
JA: How has Compline changed since you joined in 1964? How has it remained the same? What are your best hopes, dreams, and wishes for Compline in the next 5, 10, and 50 years? What role might choir alumni have in helping realize these hopes, dreams, and wishes?
KP: Compline went through a process since I joined that I would call “changing with Peter.” We were a reflection of his passions and purposes at any given time. After the trip in 2000 we didn’t take any excursions outside of St. Mark’s, mainly because Peter was “done with traveling.” One thing that has never changed is the fact that the choir has never been paid as professional musicians (we always pay instrumentalists who assist us however), while at the same time the quality of the group has always been of a high professional standard. That’s just the way it is, when we have to rehearse the five changing pieces of a typical Compline service at 7:30, then sing them on live radio at 9:30. Since Jason has been our director for the last five years, we have begun to do more extra performances, such as in the premiere of John Muhleisen’s Pietà, or our appearance in the movie Nothing Against Life. One of the roles that alumni can play now is to support and further the work of the Hallock Institute, which is currently in its formative stages. I would hope that Compline continues for at least another 50 years, and have the great GREAT grandchildren of the Hippie generation coming to experience the Numinous every Sunday!
JA: God always seems to be calling you in new, different ways. Would you write about your faith journey? Who and/or what were the greatest influences along your journey? What role did Compline play along the way?
KP: My journey has been one of a deepening Christian faith, while becoming ever more open to what insights the other great faiths of the world offer. I agree with the writer Alan Watts that faith is much more important than belief, which seems to me more a source for discord than unity among the various denominations. Compline, in its sacred “spaciousness” has been a constant in my journey – ever the encounter with the Numinous in sacred time, every Sunday with a “cloud of witnesses” of saints, composers, poets, and choir members. As to people who have influenced me — two that I met in the early ‘60s, Peter Hallock, and Fr. Ralph Carskadden, were mentors of mine almost the whole of my five decades. Recently Srs. Sharon McDonald and Lucy Wynkoop have become mentors to me in my journey as a Benedictine Oblate at St. Placid Priory, in Lacey, WA. They both celebrated the 50th anniversary of their profession in 2013.
JA: Fixed, daily prayer is something about which you have spoken or wrote extensively. Do you have thoughts, suggestions, or best practices for someone contemplating intentional daily prayer? How has daily prayer shaped, changed, or formed your spiritual life?
KP: I have a list of resources for fixed-hour prayer at the end of my book, and very soon I will be putting the list on the book’s website, http://www.prayerasnightfalls.com, so anyone can access it without having to buy the book (likewise the 25 musical examples from the book are there for listening). If one wants to explore the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, there are several online sites that make it very easy to go through a particular office, like Morning Prayer or Compline (Night Prayer) – so wherever you are, you can just call it up on your smartphone, and be tuned in to whatever day’s prayers are appropriate. It is also good to have a physical book in case there is no internet available! As to how daily prayer has formed me – I have found, along with others, that even when it seems like “going through the motions,” a few moments of silence and prayer can be very calming and centering.
JA: Saint Mark’s is embarking on a capital campaign entitled Living Stones: Building for Ministry—a theme taken from 1 Peter 2:5. How do you interpret being a living stone? Who were the living stones in your own life–those persons who have had such a positive, formative impact on your life? How have you been a living stone to others?
KP: “Living stones” always reminds me of the hymn “Blessed city, heavenly Salem,” with its verse: “Many a blow and biting sculpture polished well those stones elect.” A stone is not alive in the sense that we are, but it is not without change over time. We are all both stone and sculptor – “polishing each other” in community. Our immediate family, our teachers, authors, and friends all have influence (positive and negative) on the “sculpture” that we become. Sometimes an adversary even engenders an ultimately positive impact on our lives. For me personally, there have been many living stones that have contributed to my own spiritual framework – especially Peter Hallock and Fr. Ralph Carskadden. As for me — I have been a living stone in the sense of giving my time, voice, and words to the Compline service — to this wonderful prayer at the end of the day.