England Pilgrimage

Canterbury Cath interior

Canterbury Cathedral, Quire

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.

Salisbury Cath interior

Salisbury Cathedral, Quire

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 Rebekah and Esther

Tyler, Rebekah, and baby Esther

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.

 

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