By Jennifer Palmer, St Andrew’s, Highland Park
October 22, 2012
I am a Cradle Episcopalian, born and raised in the Diocese of Pittsburgh at the Church of the Ascension in Oakland. I served there as an Acolyte from the time I was old enough to be trusted with a torch; It was in those choir stalls, singing with my father, that I fell in love with the great tradition of Anglican choral music under Dr William Lindberg’s direction as Organist-Choirmaster.
That’s the preamble to note how incredibly moving this past weekend’s events were for me on a very personal level. The tears flowed freely when the Rev’d Dr Harold Lewis read aloud the letter from the Rt Rev’d Alden M. Hathaway. Schism has been so painful, so very personal, rending friendships and tearing apart families… but that era is now over – completely, and at long last. This past weekend, friends, we took a huge step toward healing this Diocese and moving forward with the work of living the Gospel in this broken world.
But the Service of Ordination and Consecration itself? The music? The first thing that comes to mind is “wow.” The second is to note that the massed choir of singers from all corners of the Diocese, under the direction of Calvary’s Dr Alan Lewis, sang really the majority of what I think of as Good Anglican Music. Yeah, we missed a couple of standards (David Williams’ In the year that King Uzziah died, for instance), but really… Pulling off that much music of that calibre (and, frankly, difficulty) on only one group rehearsal in advance of the event? Evidence of the Holy Ghost in action, to be sure! A few moments really stood out for me, though…
When Alan cued organist Peter Luley (Organist-Choirmaster at St Andrew’s Highland Park) and the brass and we heard the opening strains of Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s glorious anthem, I was glad? I got chills and the lump in my throat threatened momentarily to prevent me from singing. The anthem was composed for the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, and heard around the globe during the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2011. It’s a perennial favourite, and we at St Andrew’s threaten to change the words to “I wore plaid” if we ever do this one on St Andrew’s Day… but I digress. The point is that the majesty of that piece never fails to inspire me.
I confess that I’ve now watched most of the service twice, via the link on the Diocesan web page. Thing is, we couldn’t see much from the Alto section of the South Transept at Calvary. Not that I would have given up singing the service for a better view, mind you! The final verse of the Processional Hymn, “I bind unto myself today,” to St Patrick’s Breastplate? That’s another of those chill-inducing moments; it’s one of the hymns that Cradle Episcopalians can sing from memory by the time we enter nursery school, one to which I connect my own Confirmation (I’m sure that’s true for a lot of us), so it’s pretty emotional… especially with tympani and brass. It was true on the day, and it’s true watching again. And again. Because, yep. I might have just watched the Processionals for a third time.
Hearing the congregation join in the singing of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Old Hundredth? That was magical. Over a thousand voices united in singing the praise of God in that magnificent space, on an occasion that signified our moving forward, on a day of celebration the likes of which we haven’t seen here in a long, long time? That’s how I want the world to view the Church: as jubilant, as loving, as seeking always to heal and never to injure, as a people who strive continually to “shew forth the praises of Him who hath called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light” (from John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man, the Anthem at the Offertory during the Service of Consecration).
Something else about the service was extraordinarily special for those of us in the South Transept. It was a Choral Family Reunion. Explaining the interconnectedness of that group would be impossible without a flowchart. As Peter Luley says, “there are no new singers in Pittsburgh” because, even if you’ve just moved here, chances are that you’ll find someone in the stalls who sang for your old Choirmaster. In Alaska. Or knew your second cousin twice removed in kindergarten. It’s a tight-knit little club, this group of people whose joy it is to make music together for the glory of God and in the great tradition of the Anglican Communion. A lot of the people who were shoehorned into the South Transept have known each other for decades, have sung together, broken bread together, and shared each other’s joys and sorrows for ages. We giggle like children over inside jokes that are the same around the world (or at least both here and across The Pond, in choir stalls from Inverness to Land’s End). For example, a line from Charles Wood’s Expectans expectavi (which you can hear during the prélude to the Consecration), “call thou early, call thou late” becomes (almost inevitably) “don’t call me Shirley. Call me Kate.” Wait. I’m sorry… but… did you actually just groan? Don’t let me get started because… Really. I could do this all day long.
Seriously, though: this music-making stuff? It’s another form of communion. It is, itself, a sacrament: it is an outward and audible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Music in this our Anglican tradition, along with the Body and Blood of Christ, is what feeds and sustains my soul week by week. Music binds us together in a way that not much else can. It is something that is done corporately. If we don’t work together, all eyes on the conductor, and all ears tuned to those around them, it’s a cacophonous disaster (just ask any Choirmaster). Rather a nice metaphor for the Church, that is. As we move forward here in the Diocese of Pittsburgh under the leadership and guidance of our Eighth Bishop Diocesan, the Rt Rev’d Dorsey W.M. McConnell, may we all tune our ears to each other’s voices, work toward harmony rather than discord, and keep our eyes fixed firmly on the one true conductor of our souls, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
It was so good to see old friends over this past weekend (Calvary Camp friends whom I’d not seen in the flesh in a quarter-century among them!), to renew acquaintances, to work with musician friends from throughout my life in the Diocese… I came away energized and with a renewed sense of purpose. First and foremost, though, it was an honour, a privilege, and a blessing to be part of celebrating the Phoenix’s ascent from the ashes of crisis to a new beginning, to a place from which we can, together, build “The Bridge of the Angels.”
Jennifer is a member of St Andrew’s, Highland Park, where she is the webmaster; she also acts as Ad-Hoc Assistant Herder of Choristers, is involved with Youth Group, and serves as chief cook & bottle washer for the Annual English Pub Night & Cabaret. She sings with the St Andrew’s Parish Choir and Schola Cantorum. You can see video of many services from St Andrew’s on YouTube or via Facebook.