This week I am excited and honored to be taking part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprise the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I'm tweeting, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.
For me, Day 2 of the Congregations got underway as every day should, sitting in a room with a few organists and talking about hymns.
Pasi Tangent: This year represents my first encounters with Pasi instruments. This instrument of his at Yale is the first I've heard, and this summer his Opus 5 will be moved to St. Benedict Parish in Richmond, Virginia, the city where I live and work.
John Ferguson is a hymn expert, and he gave us the gospel truth about many hymns before letting us grill him a little bit. His underlying theme is that the music of hymns -- on top of the texts -- is an exegetical medium, and that as organists we can highlight this. Furthermore, organists must do this in a way that supports amateur singing (which is what hymn singing is), and is sensitive and appropriate to its context both within the life of the congregation and within the specific service.
We also talked a goot bit about "ethnic" or "folk" hymnody, and how they necessitate a different approach from traditional hymnody. Ferguson's working principle is not one of literal "historically informed performance" -- or I suppose you could say "geographically" or "culturally" informed -- but it is congruent with the very nature of these "folksong" repertories that involved in community. He advocates for an adaptable approach that treats the music with integrity and respect, suggesting that this music can be sung very differently from community to community.
In the afternoon, we held two plenary discussions around two of the projects, the first being an Wednesday evening concert series just outside First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. This project has a lot in common with our situation, the church being right downtown, but we cannot boast the high level of pedestrian traffic that they do. One of the themes that emerged was evangelism through beauty: arts as a gravitational pull toward the church.
The second plenary shared this theme in a sense: a discussion about a spiritual arts collective at Robertson-Wesley United Church in Alberta. This is a fascinating project, and the kind of thinking that the team has already done about getting people together in the church to collaborate on some kind of artistic creation is impressive and inspiring.
A few remarks in response to this project made an impression on me.
Art we care about threatens us. –David Bartlett #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 22, 2013
All doctrine begins with image and metaphor -Don Saliers #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 22, 2013
The Holy Spirit has never, never, never rejected good rehearsal. –Don Saliers #YaleCP— David Sinden (@sinden) June 22, 2013
Finally, a glimpse of the other organ that has caught my attention at the Institute of Sacred Music, the new mean-tone Taylor and Boody organ in Marquand Chapel:
Morning Prayer was a sung service written by John Tirro, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, and a Project participant from Tyson House in Tennessee. I found the Lord's Prayer in particular very singable and rather compelling. It was an "upbeat" setting of these words without being cheesy -- not easy to do! His setting held together well, and it's one of the pieces of music I will want to bring back with me.
Evening Prayer was our attempt at a service in the style of St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco. In hindsight, this service fell flat for me, not because I wasn't eager to take part in the human tableaus or the liturgical dance, but I think because the service did not culminate in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, I found the shapes and movement of this service resonated with me, and I am now more eager than ever to experience this service in San Francisco.
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