Wednesday, November 20, 2013

comfort, then and now

I don't suppose I thought to mention that, now that I don't have a regular altar gig on Sundays, I have joined the choir. Yep. We don't sing every Sunday. In fact, we've only sung on one Sunday so far since fall kicked in, but we're now preparing a couple of pieces for Advent Lessons and Carols. 

We're sort of a pick-up choir, since people who are part of the St. Augustine's family have schedules that demand their presence elsewhere with some regularity. Like a multitude of other volunteer organizations in the world, we work with what we've got. Let me just say that I'm glad it's a group that is willing to work with me. St. A's is littered with song-writers and musicians, and there are folks who show up once and are ready for their solo. I don't have any voice training. I can carry a tune, but learn best by ear rather than reading music (which I don't exactly know how to do). It doesn't hurt that I know how to play the piano and can play the recorder, which means that music is not a foreign language. It's just not my best language.

Anyway. Lessons and Carols. One of the pieces we're preparing is "Comfort, Comfort," arranged by John Ferguson. All good 'piscies reading this are no doubt humming the tune of that Advent hymn right about now. This is the same song, but written for four parts. I can't find a good video on you tube to share (oh, wait, I did find one, linked below), but maybe--when the time comes--I can get Ken to record it on his phone when we perform it. 

The hymn to which I refer is better know by the words of scripture that are set to this tune. "Comfort, comfort ye my people," hearkens from Isaiah. It has a special place in my life, a prelude, if you will, to my transition into the Episcopal Church. It is, as well, a sort of anchor memory for me of a time and place in my life. 

The first house I owned was just down the hill from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, in the neighborhood known as "behind the rocks." Trinity sits up on a bit of a precipice, a rocky crag, if you will, hence the name. The crown jewel of the campus' picturesque architecture is the college chapel, a neo-gothic beauty designed by the same architectural firm as The National Cathedral. Yes. Sigh. It is utterly lovely. Because of the geographic setting of the college the spire of the chapel can be seen from afar, a sort of beacon of the academic life that hums around it. (And to think I turned down an opportunity to serve there as seminarian!)

Among other things Trinity's steeple includes a carillon, and during the summer carillon concerts are a popular weekly offering that many enjoy while picnicking on the broad lawn outside. Because of the proximity of my house to the college and chapel I didn't have to wander up for concerts (although I did). I enjoyed them from my home. 

I also enjoyed the practice sessions of the carilloneur during the week as he prepared for Sunday's prelude. One such practice session stands out. With leafless winter branches now framing a view of the chapel spire from an upstairs window of my house, I remember looking out to it, aglow from the floodlights at its base. The tune that rang out was "Comfort, comfort ye my people." It was unfamiliar to me then, but burrowed a place in my heart and memory as I listened to its distinctive rhythm drift across the night and behind the rocks. My spiritual journey was moving toward baptism, and the childhood rituals of my family's observance of Advent were about to take on new depth and meaning. Always a special season for me by virtue of those family traditions, the sight and sound now associated with this hymn formed a touchstone that has since been foundational for subsequent Advents. 

Now, as I learn my alto part for this arrangement our choir is preparing, that history returns with a poignant twist. My home parish was also in the "behind the rocks" neighborhood, just six blocks from my home. A couple who were an integral part of my formation there, and who became dear and valued friends, had their own connection with Trinity. A year or so after my ordination and relocation to Missouri, Al died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 51. Having worked at the college for many years his remains are in the chapel's memorial garden. Two weeks ago, Lynne, Al's widowed bride (as he always called her), died peacefully after too many years struggling with diabetes. She, too, will find her eternal rest there in the memorial garden. As her sons have dealt with the closing issues of their mother's life, pictures of Trinity have made appearances on facebook, escorting me back to another time and place, to a season of beginnings, the dark nights of Advent, and the anticipation of things to come.  It is a blessing for me, so many miles now removed from that place, to be able to reconnect to it and remember and honor Lynne (and Al) through these memories.

As we live through our own challenges approaching Advent this year I do take comfort in Isaiah's words, and in the music that has become part of my song:
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
 (Can't remember how to embed video in the blog. Click the link with the "music" for a video of the tune.)


The Bug said...

What a lovely post! I always think that Advent is too short & this year it's ESPECIALLY short! I wish I could hear you guys sing...

The Bug said...

Ooh I just got home & listened to the link - I think our choir should sing this! I love it! It's one of my favorite Advent hymns too...

Jayne said...

I think it's just so wonderful that you are singing in a choir!


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