Vespers at Monastery of the Holy Cross
Chorale has been singing at Monastery of the Holy Cross, in Bridgeport, almost since the group was founded. Father Peter, the Monastery's Prior, spent his undergrad years at the University of Chicago, singing in the choral groups, stage-managing, assistant-conducting-- he even baby-sat my daughter on occasion (she really was a baby back then). So it was natural to reconnect with him when Chorale was formed and had found its particular repertoire direction-- much of what we sing is appropriate to the Monastery's liturgies, it's acoustical properties, and it's visual ambiance. Most musical performance available for public consumption during the Advent and Christmas season is either light, entertaining, humorous; or grand, heavily-produced, portentious. Nothing wrong with either of these directions; I happily prepare and perform in both types of concert. But many composers, historically, have responded to the season, especially the Advent part of it, with music that is introspective, self-examining, intimate-- music which seems appropriate in a shadowy, quiet, dimly-lit space, away from the crowds, the shopping, the holiday camaraderie; music reflective of the solstice, of the approaching wintery cold, of the darkness and yearning many of us feel within ourselves at this time of year.
The Monastery is ideally suited to this music, this mood. A subset of Chorale's singers will present several works to enhance the monks' Vespers for the Second Sunday in Advent-- the "Evening Hymn" from Rautavara's Vigilia; "Scapulis Suis" (Under his wings) by Chicago composer Robert Kreuz; a harmonized Kievan chant, "Behold, the Bridegroom Comes;" Arvo Pärt's "Magnificat;" Stravinsky's "Otche Nash (Our Father); Randall Thompson's "Alleluia" (heard in these circumstances, it seems an entirely different and better piece than the one we all sang to death back in high school); and Giuseppi Verdi's "Ave Maria," a gorgeous and under-presented setting of this text. The choir, and the monks themselves, will also chant various psalms in the course of the liturgy.
My personal feeling, each time we sing for a liturgy there-- I feel so fortunate for this island of silence (strange comment from a musician!), this time and space in which my mind can slow down, sort itself out, focus on the season and on the beauty of the music we are presenting. We are a concert-oriented culture; but almost none 0f the music we perform was actually intended by its composers to be presented in concert settings. In singing these Advent Vespers, I feel closer to the music's original intent, and oddly stimulated, reinforced, in my vocation.