Solemn Vespers for the Third Sunday in Advent—on Saturday!

Monastery of the Holy CrossAlmost since our founding, back in 2001, Chicago Chorale has sung in various liturgies and concerts at Monastery of the Holy Cross, at the corner of 31st Street and Aberdeen, in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. The monastery’s beautiful chapel is an acoustic gem—one of the really sublime spaces to hear choral music in the city. The Benedictine monks who live there, take full advantage of this beauty, chanting appropriate psalms and liturgies several times a day, day in, day out, throughout the church year. Their prior, Father Peter, was, in a former life, a University of Chicago undergrad, who majored in music and participated fully in the musical opportunities the University had to offer; and he has carried his love of good music, his erudition in selecting and performing it, and his skill in teaching others to perform it, into his life in the Monastery. Some years ago, Father Peter and I settled upon a model for a choral advent service, very different from most such services in the city. Completely eschewing the warm, somewhat sentimental approach of most such services (which tend to focus more on the actual Christmas event, the birth of Jesus, rather than upon the period leading up to the birth), Father Peter strictly follows the texts and rubrics for the season, acknowledging the historical character of Advent as “a little Lent”—a time for reflection and self-examination, for acknowledgment of our darkness and of our yearning for enlightenment and salvation. He adapts the Solemn Vespers liturgy to the season, retaining the elements that are part of every Vespers service, every day—the Magnificat, the Pater noster, the chanting of psalms-- and then enriches this framework with the addition of polyphonic settings of such hymns as Alma Redemptoris Mater and Conditor alme siderum, and appropriate motets ( this year, Ecce Domins veniet).

The monastery’s chapel is particularly suited to polyphonic, unaccompanied music, performed by a smaller group of light, clear voices—so each year I choose a subset of Chorale’s singers who are particularly adept at this repertoire, and enthusiastic about the disciplines that go into performing it. Father Peter is interested in the historic background of Roman Catholic music, and in experiencing it in its appropriate role as liturgical, rather than concert, music. Each year, we explore the liturgical music of a particular composer—music one would usually hear in concerts by groups which specialize in renaissance music, but less and less in actual liturgical practice. This year’s composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria, was the most famous composer in 16th-century Spain, and one of the most important composers of his era. He studied in Rome with Palestrina; but his music has a brooding, emotional quality very different from that of his teacher, and appeals viscerally to modern listeners in a way Palestrina’s sometimes doesn’t. Many singers claim Victoria as their favorite renaissance composer: not only does he write beautiful lines which combine in beautiful harmonies, but he appeals to the heart and the feelings.

If you are free at 5 PM this Saturday afternoon, December 13, come and experience this beautiful service in this beautiful space. We request a donation of $15, but are happy for anything you can give; mostly, we want to you come and hear us, to step into a world of peace, quiet, and stillness and let all the elements of this Vespers service have their way with you.

Saturday, December 13, 5 PM, Monastery of the Holy Cross, 3111 South Aberdeen Street.