Outside the bounds of time

St. Mark’s Lenten altar

It was again another gorgeous day in Seattle—the sky is blue and clear, no rain and it’s cool, in the lower 60s F. When I walked into St. Mark’s, the choir was rehearsing the Kyrie in a mass setting by Uģis Prauliņš  (b. 1957), a Latvian composer who “is noted for his powerful and idiosyncratic voice in a variety of genres… (including) popular music, Renaissance polyphony, Orthodox chant, folk music, the 20th-century avant-garde and more—without sounding like ironic pastiche.”

The choir just sounded gorgeous! I had been told by Jason Anderson that the remodel of the building actually increased the reverb time by about half a second. It was already a fantastic acoustical environment in which to make music.

St. Mark’s Choir now sings a mass setting every six to eight weeks (Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) “inviting the congregation into a more contemplative approach to the prayers and praises” in the liturgy.”

For the prelude, Michael Kleinschmidt, canon musician, played a selection from Marcel Dupré’s Stations of the cross. “Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem” was a piece that I actually played maybe about ten years ago, but I still remembered the piece well. The only irritating thing was that people behind me were talking throughout and I didn’t have enough courage to turn around and give them a “stink eye!”

Michael played the hymns in a very straightforward manner but still had opportunities to connect the service parts with quiet improvised interludes. His postlude was “Christus, der uns selig macht,” BWV 620 from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. It all seemed just right for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Dean Steve Thomason’s sermon started out by saying today was Daylight Savings—yes, something I had not experienced in 45 years since I moved to Hawaii. I was so afraid of oversleeping that I actually woke up at 4:30 am!

The Dean then went on to say that on Palm Sunday, in two weeks’ time, St. Mark’s will present Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time, written while the composer was at a Nazi prisoner camp. At Stalag VIII-A the barracks were built to house 15,000 people but when Messiaen was there, the barracks overflowed with 31,000 people. A German guard, Karl Albert Brüll, recognized Messiaen’s musicianship and regarded him as a fellow human rather than the enemy. He supplied Messiaen with music paper and helped secure four badly-damaged instruments: a clarinet, violin, cello and piano, for which the quartet is scored.

The premiere of the work took place in the prison yard on January 15, 1941. “Several hundred men, including the German guards, gathered in the freezing temperatures to be moved by the piece, and by its quest to stand outside the bounds of time, incarcerated as they all were by the haunts of war. That one hour spent together, listening to the music, remains one of the great stories of human history.”

“Messiaen’s brilliance as a musician included rhythms and patterns that offer the listener non-retrograding harmonies that if carried out will repeat infinitely. He drew on birdsong for rhythms and serial loops of time, and he passes through the abyss of sadness bound in mortal time and unfolds into a timeless chorus of praise designed to resonate across the cosmos in endless fashion.

Brüll helped secure Messiaen an early release in 1941, allowing him to return to France where he served as organist of La Trinité for more than 50 years… “but this piece, forged in the crucible of such pain, held a special place in his heart.”

It really makes you want to attend the performance, right? So sorry I won’t be here as I’m returning home tomorrow.

The anthem was John Stainer’s “God so loved the world,” one of those choir “chestnuts” which I first learned as a teenager playing the organ at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Carl Crosier also programmed it at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu several times. Of course, the St. Mark’s Choir sang it so beautifully and sensitively! I hadn’t heard this piece in years.

After church, I walked right up the hill to the Volunteer Park Water Tower and easily climbed the 107 steps to the top. People on Yelp complained that the grate in front of the windows made it hard to see much of anything, but here are the pictures I took anyway.

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About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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