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, August 18, and August 25. You can hear all three services by going to the podcast links for each of the three dates given.
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…