FROM MARK PETERSON: TRANSCENDED
Every so often one gets the chance to witness something unique, something outside the expected norm. And occasionally that experience may serve to reinforce something you’ve always known somewhere deep within yourself. I had one of those experiences a week ago Monday evening when Saint Mary’s presented the first offering in its new Saint Cecilia Chamber Music Series, featuring Dr. Robert Cassidy and our newly acquired Knabe Grand Piano in Saint Joseph’s Hall. I knew we would draw people who loved the piano and the literature written for it, but I didn’t expect as informed or experienced an audience as we assembled. These were not people who were merely curious about our event, or merely out for an evening of entertainment. These were seriously thoughtful people seeking an experience of live music (in a day when the solo recital is nearly gone) and, I have to believe, of transcendence. One of the members of our altar party commented, “Ever since I've been at Saint Mary's, I've heard how music draws people in, but I've never seen it in action this way before.”
In a series of lectures entitled “The Joy of Music,” Leonard Bernstein, the great American impresario, spoke of the wonder of music’s persuasive power. In that series he is quoted as saying, “. . . our reply to violence and apathy will be to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Music is, after all, a primary mode of human expression. It accompanies occasions of joy and celebration; and it offers solace to those who grieve. It's a perennial part of our family gatherings, our sports events, and our national observances. Music fosters community. Music can help define families and it has gone a long way to identifying Episcopal parishes! Sarah Dessen, the American author, wrote, “Music is the great uniter, an incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”
Music can speak where words prove to be inadequate. I'm thinking of the occasional song that rose spontaneously from amongst the crowds that surrounded Saint Paul's Chapel on Broadway, north of Trinity Church, after September 11, 2001. As you will remember, Saint Paul’s Chapel offered shelter to the countless workers who devoted days, weeks, and months to the recovery and clean-up effort at the World Trade Center site. The great wrought-iron fences around that historic church served as notice boards for those still looking for loved ones and was something of a memorial for those lost in that tragedy. On any given day it was not unusual to hear a lone voice begin to sing, gradually joined by others, a familiar hymn or spiritual. In that singing we heard great human need, deep faith, and the expression of solidarity in the face of incalculable grief. It was the music that served to communicate and comfort when every other faculty had failed. French novelist Victor Hugo wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
While often reduced simply to a mode of entertainment, music is, in fact, an exact science that is altered by each hand or voice that interprets it. It is also a time-honored discipline of learning. John Adams, our second president, wrote: “I study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics, philosophy, history, architecture, and commerce in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, and ultimately, music.”
But there is another role that music plays, namely the music of worship: Sacred Music. The word “sacred” implies an object of some action; something that has been set aside and dedicated to a particular purpose. Since music exists and can only be created by virtue of things that God has already given us, it would be easy enough to think that all music is sacred, but like so many elements of the liturgy, music is a common, everyday thing that is made sacred by its usage.
In its sacred role, music displays another amazing facet. To the medieval church, with its cycle of daily offices, chanting was a vital form of meditation that recharged the spirit and regulated daily energy. The music of the unaided human voice provided both tonic and stimulus for that “fuller experience of God's perfection in body, mind and spirit.” There is no shortcut to that state of total immersion, which T.S. Eliot describes as “music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts.” Saint Mary’s provides the opportunity to experience this type of meditation and “recharge” as few other churches do with our cycle of daily offices. “Music proclaims the ineffable, the inexpressible. For wordless music can, in its unique way, signify and interpret the liturgical mysteries and foster ‘worship in spirit and truth.’” (Cf. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 32.)
How is this music to be moderated and integrated into the worship of God’s people? The late Erik Routley, composer, hymn-writer, and Anglican seminary professor, wrote:
Perhaps the future of the church’s communication with the world lies with the prophecy and priesthood of the musicians, who handle mysteries and make them friendly, who can speak the unspeakable in a language that [needs] no words, in whose art action and thought are joined, in whose hands applied science is the servant of beauty and honor. In every place where the Gospel is being preached, this secret is waiting for its revelation.
But what is meant by the phrase, "the servant of beauty and honor?" It means little unless you understand music as gift and ultimately as an offering to God. One has to go far beyond the superficial strictures of current musical thought and engage in something far more involved. Music has the power to comfort, to edify, to illuminate, to enliven, and to lift one to true transcendence, if we’re willing to allow it to.
“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”—Kurt Vonnegut, American novelist.—Mark Peterson
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Barbara, Jay, Pauline, Suzanne, Rebecca, John, McNeil, Takeem, Sylvia, Rick, Jack, Linda, Arpene, Scott, Phillip, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 21: 1901 Mary Rabe; 1913 Orville Leonard Allen; 1915 Elizabeth Westervelt; 1951 Lillian Elizabeth Kennedy; 1976 Harold E. Pim.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR . . . are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between Blair Burroughs of Queens, New York, and Renée Pecquex of Queens, New York. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the third time of asking. James Ross Smith
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Monday, September 22, Saint Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist (transferred): Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Monday, September 22, 7:00 PM, Meeting of the Board of Trustees . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, September 20, by Father Jay Smith, and on Saturday, September 27, by Father Jim Pace.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Father Paul Burrows, the recently retired rector of the Church of the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco, will be the celebrant and preacher at the 9:00 AM Mass on Sunday morning. We are pleased to be able to welcome him to the parish . . . If you would like to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church this year, or if you or somebody you know is thinking about being baptized, please speak to Father Gerth or Father Smith . . . We hope to receive donations for flowers for October 19 and 26; the Eve of All Saints’ Day (Friday, October 31); and November 9, 16 & 23. We also hope to receive donations to help defray the costs of the reception following the Solemn Mass on October 31. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the finance office . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish between Friday, September 19, and Sunday, September 21. He returns to the office on Monday, September 22 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 203.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was born near Prague, then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire. Dvořák was the first of fourteen children, eight of whom survived infancy. Dvořák was baptized a Roman Catholic in the church of Saint Andrew in the village of Nelahozeves, and his strong Christian faith was nurtured during his formative years, as was the Bohemian heritage that so strongly influenced his music. Dvořák learned to play the violin at a young age and showed early talent and skill, playing in a village band and in church. Dvořák took organ, piano, and violin lessons from his German-language teacher Anton Liehmann, who also taught him music theory and introduced him to the composers of the time. Liehmann was the church organist in Zlonice and sometimes let Antonín play the organ at services. Dvořák took additional organ and music-theory lessons with Franz Hank who encouraged his musical talents even further. After leaving for Prague in September 1857, Dvořák entered the city's Organ School, studying organ with Josef Foerster and theory with Frantisek Blazek. He graduated from the Organ School in 1859 and applied for a position as organist at Saint Henry’s Church. He was unsuccessful but remained undaunted in his determination to pursue a musical career, concentrating on composition in later years. Dvořák traveled a great deal, making a total of nine trips to England and several to the United States. England’s great choral tradition inspired Dvořák to write his only choral works, beginning with a Stabat Mater, which was followed by a Requiem. On a later trip to England he was encouraged to teach but complained in letters home that his teaching duties interfered with his composing. He did, however, manage to complete a number of major works during this trip, including the Biblical Songs, the Cello Concerto, and the Sanctus, the first part of what would eventually become his Mass in D, Op. 86. From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. At the ministration of Communion at the Solemn Mass on Sunday, we will hear Psalm 23 from the Biblical Songs, Op. 99, sung by tenor Chris Howatt.—M.P.
The Saint Cecilia Chamber Music Series opened with its inaugural event on Monday evening, September 8, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. Pianist Robert Cassidy performed works of Noon, Mozart, Debussy, and Brahms before an appreciative audience. The donor of the Knabe Grand Piano, Deborah Wythe, was present, along with her husband, Larry Trupiano. Mark Peterson presented a twelfth-century manuscript, a choir book fragment, to Ms. Wythe in appreciation for her generous gift to the parish. At intermission, Father Smith welcomed the audience and offered a prayer of dedication in thanksgiving for Ms. Wythe’s gift. It was a very successful beginning to this new music series here at Saint Mary’s. Please plan now to attend the next event on the Chamber Music Series calendar when harpist Lucia Stavros presents a program on Monday, November 17.—M.P.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Sunday, October 5, 2014: Regular Sunday Schedule Begins! The schedule between October and the feast of Corpus Christi, June 7, 2015, is as follows: Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Church School 9:45 AM (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), Adult Forum 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Organ Recital 4:40 PM (except during Lent), Solemn Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM . . . Monday, October 13, Columbus Day, Federal Holiday Schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM, only the noonday services are offered, and the parish offices are closed . . . Sunday, November 2, 2:00 AM, Daylight Saving Time ends.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION & SPIRITUALITY . . . Sunday, October 5, 1:00 PM: A Tour of Saint Mary’s and Its Art & Decoration, led by Dr. Dennis Raverty, with the assistance of parish archivist, Dick Leitsch . . . Sunday, October 12, 19 & 26, 10:00 AM, Mission House, 2nd Floor: “For All the Saints”—The Origins & History of the Veneration of the Saints. On October 12 and 26, the class will be led by Father Jay Smith, and on October 12 the class will be led by Grace Bruni . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on October 15 at 6:30 PM. The class, which is led by Father Jay Smith, is normally held in Saint Joseph’s Hall, 145 West 46th Street. We will be reading the Book of Isaiah this year.—J.R.S.
CONCERTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . October 18, 2014, New York Repertory Orchestra (Annual Benefit Concert). Tickets are required ($10 at door). Program: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante (with Sheryl Staples, acting concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, violin, and Cynthia Phelps, principal viola of the New York Philharmonic, viola); and Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Tuesday, September 30, 6:30 PM, Fordham University Church, Rose Hill Campus, Bronx, New York: Orthodoxy in America Lecture and Honorary Degree Ceremony, honoring the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, one-hundred-and-fourth Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. Archbishop Williams will deliver a lecture entitled “Liturgical Humanism: Orthodoxy and the Transformation of Culture.” Reservations may be made online . . .At the New York Solo Theater Festival, “Saint Mark’s Gospel: The Inspiration Begins,” solo theater piece performed by Tom Bair and directed by Kathleen Conry, on Saturday, November 15, at 4:00 PM, at the United Solo Theatre Festival at Theatre Row, 410 West Forty-second Street. Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 for reservations and tickets. Tom Bair, the husband of Bishop Geralyn Wolf, is a good friend of Saint Mary’s and worships with us frequently.
OUTREACH . . . The spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia and in other parts of West Africa has been rapid in recent months, and, according to recent news reports, the numbers of those affected continues to mount. We have received requests from Liberian clergy working in our diocese to publicize ways that New York Episcopalians can help. You may visit the website of the Liberian Episcopal Community USA (LECUSA) to obtain more information . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please place your donations in the basket near the ushers’ table on Sunday mornings. You may also make cash donations. We are also happy to receive donations of new white socks and underwear, protein bars, hand cleanser, small bottles of shampoo and other toiletries, for distribution to the homeless and others who are in need. This will become increasingly important as the weather grows colder.