Okay, I am an admitted political junkie, and can’t get enough of watching the debates, talk shows and news about the presidential race. This morning, though, for once I was grateful for the two-hour respite without partisan bickering as the nation paused to remember the life of Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving justice in today’s Supreme Court at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. No matter what your politics, the service took you to another place, especially with the beautiful music provided by Dr. Peter Latona, music director of the Basilica.
After I checked my email, it is my custom to find out what’s happening in the world and I saw that the funeral mass was being streamed live on CBS news. With the first notes of the introit, the Latin chant for Requiem in aeternam, I immediately sent a message to my friend, Edith Ho, in Boston, knowing that she didn’t have a television. Just a couple of days ago, Edith had sent me a link about Scalia and his love of the Latin mass. Check out the link here: Scalia the Music Critic and Pew Policeman from the Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:
The church’s pastor at the time would hear from Justice Scalia about the choir’s underwhelming performances. In what would become a familiar ritual over a period of months, we would fail to sing basic, four-part sacred music in tune. Justice Scalia would register his disappointment with Father, and I would be urged to try to do better. I wasn’t surprised when one day I was called into the pastor’s office to be gently informed that my volunteer choir-director days were over.
I think what caught my ear about the service was all the organ music, of course, of which there was an abundance! I especially liked all the organ improvisation, which traditionally has been used to connect parts of the liturgy: background music, if you will. After the Requiem chant, the organist did a grand improvisation leading up to the singing of the first hymn, O God our help in ages past. I couldn’t believe how long the organist made it last— I know there were seven verses in the program, but I bet it lasted ten minutes or more with all the improvisatory interludes! The purpose, of course, was to continuously provide music for the grand procession and the ceremonial actions.
You can watch the entire service on C-Span, including the organ prelude and postludes by clicking here:
Guess what! The organist chose Bach for the prelude, “Adagio” from the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, and the beloved “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” from the Great Eighteen Chorales, both pieces which I’ve played many times. (In fact, I played “Schmücke dich” for yesterday’s Sacred Tea Ceremony which I wrote about in the post “SOS Organist Needed!”)
I really enjoyed the postlude, which followed the singing of the great hymn, THAXTED, with the organist segue-ing into Maurice Duruflé’s fugue from the Prelude and Fugue on the name of ALAIN which I played on my senior recital. He then immediately played Dan Locklair’s, “The peace may be exchanged,” from Rubrics. This last piece is one I have played many times and I thought was especially appropriate for this time—peace in a time of great political divide. The words “the peace may be exchanged” come from the rubrics (instructions) for the Holy Eucharist.
Click here for the complete program in PDF format.
UPDATE: The organ was played by Ben LaPrairie from the opening hymn to the offertory. Assistant Nathan Davy played the organ postlude.