Midsummer

St Placid 6-24-17

St. Placid Cemetery, just before Evening Prayer on 6-24-17.

I’m writing this while on a silent retreat at St. Placid Priory, in Lacey, Washington, where I am an Oblate. The weather in the Seattle area has finally plunged fully into summer, but the Priory is surrounded by tall trees where it’s very pleasant to sit in the shade and read.

Today is June 24, celebrated by many cultures (especially Scandinavian) as Midsummer. The Christian Church, having set the time of Jesus’s birth near the Winter Solstice, placed the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this day about six months before Christmas Eve. This was done according to the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:36), in which the Angel Gabriel informed the Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was already six months with child.

The feast of St. John the Baptist brings back memories for me of a wonderful motet, Suscipe clementissime Deus, that we sang at Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral back in the early 1990s. The piece was by the great Venetian master Giovanni Gabrieli (d. 1612) for a six-part male choir, with a second choir of six trombones. I had wanted to do the piece ever since 1977, when I was living in England, and heard that the conductor Andrew Parrott was going to make a recording of Venetian choral music which included Nigel Rogers, one of my voice teachers. When we finally sang the motet at Compline, it was very gratifying for me to hear this work for male chorus designed for the sonorous acoustics of St. Mark’s Venice have its American debut in the sonorous acoustics of St. Mark’s Seattle!

The piece was not recorded, but here is a link to a recording of Suscipe done by the Gabrieli Consort and Players in 1996.

Gabrieli - Suscipe

I suppose one of the things that’s made me yearn for these sonorous acoustics is the current state of construction at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle. A long-overdue Capital Campaign and Construction Project has been underway since mid-April. The exterior walls, north-east-south will be clad in limestone, and the windows will be replaced. Currently, many of the old windows have been removed, and the noise from the I-5 freeway is all-too evident on our latest podcasts.

St Mark's construction

Construction on the north wall of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The Compline Choir hopes to return to its usual corner by mid-August. In the meantime, the half-size window on the east wall above where we sing will be dedicated to the memory of Peter R. Hallock, and the choir is actively raising money for this project. For more information, and to contribute see the choir’s Window Page.

So on the week of June 24, 2018 I say: “Bring back the trombones.”

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  1. #1 by Ken Peterson on June 27, 2017 - 9:50 am

    In listening to this motet again, I am impressed with a couple of things. First, the way that the music proceeds in slow waves – and then…”duh”..it’s Venice – they were constantly surrounded by water. And second, the dramatic harmonic change at “Jesu Christe,” and the change in tempo and texture at “Thou only art holy.” Another “duh” moment. John the Baptist’s whole purpose in the Gospel is to point the way to Jesus, who is is the natural focal point of the whole piece. Compare to the focal points in contemporary art…

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