One hundred fifty years ago on Ascension Day, 1867, Queen Emma Kaleleonālani, wife of King Kamehameha IV, founded St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls. Today’s Ascension Day service combined orchestra, band, choir, organ and congregation to celebrate the school’s founding—and the decibel level in St. Andrew’s Cathedral was so loud that when I played full organ on the Aeolian-Skinner, I could not hear myself play! I swear, I could see my fingers moving on the keys, and I had pulled out all the foundations, mixtures and reeds including the festival trumpets coupled together, and I honestly don’t know if I was playing the right notes, because I couldn’t hear myself! Now, that’s loud! But it was oh so glorious!
The opening hymn was “Hail thee, festival day,” and I had no trouble following band director Gordon Tokishi, who held up one, two or three fingers for the three different sections of this piece. Did I ever tell you that I once got lost in playing the eight verses of this hymn, and after playing the refrain, didn’t know which set of verses to go to next? You see, the odd-numbered verses and the even-numbered verses have different melodies. You cannot imagine how scary it is when you are playing the organ and get lost in this piece! Luckily, we only sang four verses today.
The second hymn was called “Priory Hymn,” composed by former Priory organist Michael Markson in the 80s. Mike sadly succumbed to the AIDS virus in the early days of the disease—my husband Carl and I attended his funeral and I remember feeling how tragic it was to lose such a talented musician and composer!
(Naomi Castro directs the Priory Choir in Valerie Shields’ “Ascension Hymn,” with the school’s Petit and Fritsen handbells.
The service was a full-blown Eucharist, ending with a grand procession to the Coral Cross in the Mary K. Robinson courtyard of Kennedy Hall. The final hymn chosen was “Alleluia, sing to Jesus” (HYFRYDOL), and of course I played Carl Crosier’s harmonization as the last verse. Yes, I thought about him a lot today—he spent 29 years of his life employed by the Priory, and every time I come to play chapel, I can’t help but think about him—his presence is still felt in the fabric of this place, this building, these students. A couple of people came up to me to tell me that they were sorry to hear about his demise, even though it’s been over two years.
The Coral Cross is decorated the night before by the Junior Class. There are many speeches, leis, tears, and songs sung to bid the Seniors farewell and thank the teachers and administrators. My only responsibility was to play the Priory Alma Mater on the piano. I was surprised that even I got a lei today!
Hey, did you know that it has been 29 years since my last Ascension Day at the Priory? You see, all of this is déjà vu, since I was formerly the handbell instructor from 1983-1988, and the Priory organist from 1974-1977.
Speaking of tradition and 150 years, yesterday I played the 150th anniversary Memorial Service at Punahou School in which alumni who have served in the armed forces and paid the ultimate price were remembered. The theme of the service was “patriotism,” and I was requested to play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the postlude, as apparently has been done over the last 30 years. My organ student, Sachi Hirakouji, and I made the Wilhousky arrangement into an organ duet—I played the melody with harmony and the pedals, and Sachi played the bugle calls and piccolo parts. What fun!