One-Liner Wednesday: infinite knowledge

“And what is the point of infinite knowledge if it only cuts you off from the world?”
– Kate Soper, from the program notes for her opera, Here Be Sirens

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/08/19/one-liner-wednesday-the-superpower-we-didnt-know-we-have/ 

Alice Parker

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This is the first of what I hope will be several followups to the Smith College Alumnae Chorus celebration of Alice Parker ’47 which took place on September 21.  I thought it best to begin with a post concentrating on Alice Parker and her music.

The Alumnae Chorus sang two sets of Miss Parker’s compositions, Three Seas, with three poems by Emily Dickinson as texts, and Incantations, with four poems by Elinor Wylie. We also sang a Parker arrangement of the spiritual “Come On Up.” Miss Parker conducted her pieces in the concert, although we were able to rehearse with her only on Friday afternoon and Sunday morning.

The music was challenging, especially under the circumstances, with each member of the chorus learning the pieces on her own before coming together to have everything performance ready in under 48 hours.  (We also prepared three Ralph Vaughan Williams settings of English folk songs, which were conducted by Jonathan Hirsh, the current Smith Glee Club director.)  I knew there would be mistakes in the concert, but the performance was successful because we were able to communicate the poetry, music, and mood to the audience.  We were relieved to hear Miss Parker reminds us several times during rehearsal that there is no such thing as a perfect performance.

The best part of the experience of working with Miss Parker was hearing her talk about poetry, her process as a composer, and her life.  She read the poems to us in rehearsal – and to the audience in the concert, relishing not only the meaning conveyed but also the sounds of the vowels and consonants tumbling along one after the other.  She talked about how poems in English fall into rhythms in groups of twos and threes, which results in so much of her music being written in 5 or 7 (3+2 or 3+2+2) to follow the word rhythm.  Miss Parker works only on commission, so she always has a specific group for which she is writing and a deadline to deliver the score.  She explained that once she has chosen the texts, she reads them aloud over and over and, as she begins to compose the melody for the text, sings and dances the poems, filling in the harmony and counterpoint in her head. She wants the music to be fluid and alive as long as possible, only committing it to paper when the deadline is looming. She said, “The page is nothing but a prison for music.”  I was so struck by that statement that I hurriedly wrote it down.  It will always remind me that music is alive and not the static black-on-white notation that we struggle to replicate.

Miss Parker also told us stories from her life, especially her famous association with Robert Shaw, with whom she collaborated on many arrangements before taking on solo assignments from him.  The director of the Binghamton University Chorus, with which I have sung for years, also worked with Mr. Shaw and loves to tell stories about him, so it was fun to hear stories about him from a different perspective.

What was most heartening was seeing a woman born in 1925, still engaged in creative work and still engaged with family, friends, community, and her alma mater.  Should we all be so blessed.

 

One-Liner Wednesday – Aaron Copeland quote

“So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it.”
– Aaron Copeland

Join in with Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday:  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/one-liner-wednesday-whats-holding-you-back/

The rest of the Triduum

In the Catholic liturgical year, there is no starker contrast than the juxtaposition of the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday night.

Good Friday is the only day all year when Mass is not celebrated. The commemoration service is traditionally held mid-afternoon and begins with the clergy processing in and lying prostrate before the altar. It continues with readings, including the reading of the passion narrative from the gospel of John and then moves on to the veneration of the cross, in which all present process to a plain wooden cross and venerate it in some way, according to local tradition. At Holy Family, we bowed before the cross; other parishes genuflect or touch or kiss the cross. Then, after praying the Lord’s Prayer, communion is distributed from hosts that were consecrated on Holy Thursday night. The church is unadorned – no flowers, only the simplest altar cloth, which is removed after the service concludes, and the empty tabernacle with its door left open.

When we arrive at Holy Family for Easter Vigil, although the church is only dimly lighted, it is bursting with color – long bolts of cloth, each a different hue, radiate from a central point high in the sanctuary out over the congregation – flowers banked in several locations, not only the traditional white Easter lilies but also red and blue hydrangeas, orange lilies, pink azaleas, and light green mums – the altar draped in white, which is the color of Easter. The tabernacle, still empty with its door open, is the only visual reminder of the first two days of the Triduum.

We begin with the service of light, where a new fire is kindled and used to light a new Easter candle, whose light is spread to the candles that the congregation holds. After the Easter Proclamation is sung, we extinguish our candles and proceed with an extended liturgy of the word, including the singing of the Gloria and Alleluia, which are not used in Lent. Speaking to my daughter’s and my heart, the homilist chose to concentrate on Mary Magdelene’s place as the first witness of the resurrection, in a time and culture when women were not allowed to testify in court, chosen by God to go and tell, which is the apostolic mission.  In place of the creed, after new holy water is blessed, we renew our baptismal promises and are blessed with the new water. We continue on with the liturgy of the Eucharist and, after communion, the tabernacle is finally filled and the door closed.

One of the most powerful elements in these liturgies is the music, which is not only enhanced by the participation of our choir, cantors, and instrumentalists but also by the participation of the people. Because none of the liturgies of the Triduum are obligatory, the people who choose to participate are those who are steadfast in their commitment to celebrating as a community. On Good Friday, I was especially moved by people joining in with the choir singing the spiritual “Were You There?” and the Taize prayer “Jesus, Remember Me” during the long procession for veneration of the cross.  The Easter Vigil brings some music that is only used at that Mass. I was especially moved by the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) and a sung form of the Exodus reading about the horses and chariots of Egypt being cast into the sea to protect the fleeing Israelites, by Rory Cooney. The elements of light and water re-appear in the much of the music, with more songs about the Resurrection appearing after the Easter gospel is read. The music was extra festive because a trumpeter joined the choir, organ, and congregation for many of the songs.

I wish a blessed Easter to all Christians, continued blessings of Passover to all Jewish people, and peace, love, and light to all people!

Palm Sunday

This morning at Palm Sunday Mass, my daughter was singing in the adult choir which was serving along with the children’s choir in the music ministry, while I was sitting in the congregation, positioned so that I could look up and see her and the choirs.

Because the parish had purchased the music library from the now-merged parish that my daughters and I had attended when they were growing up, many of the pieces were familiar. In our old parish, my daughters had come up through the choirs from third grade on and had also rung handbells. I spent many hours serving on liturgy committee and assisting in the music ministry. I had accompanied my daughters’ choirs and, after orthopedic problems with my elbow interfered with my ability to play, sometimes conducted while the music director accompanied.

One of the pieces that was part of today’s prelude was a wonderful arrangement of “Jacob’s Ladder” which had become part of our original parish’s Palm Sunday tradition. I had played it for a number of years and then moved on to conducting it, so it was poignant to hear my now-adult daughter joining with the children’s choir to sing the arrangement she had first learned when she was eight. The piano accompaniment is quite challenging and I had to remind myself that I used to be able to play it.

I don’t often allow myself to miss what I used to be able to do as a musician. I also can usually keep at bay the longing for the parish that my daughters and I had called home for so many years, but that fell apart even before the last flood made the worship space itself too costly to repair and maintain.

Today was not a day that I could keep those losses walled off. It may be a difficult Holy Week.