Lenten Litany

Central Tower of the Washington National Cathedral

At yesterday’s service on the First Sunday in Lent at the Washington National Cathedral, Andrew — a tenor in the men’s choir — was the soloist for the Lenten Litany.  This particular version of the litany was arranged by Canon Michael McCarthy, the Director of Music at the National Cathedral.

It is a moving seven minutes of music, to help bring the faithful into an observance of the holy season of Lent.  The solo begins around the 13 minute mark.

With blessings for whatever practice you bring to the season.

More to come…

DJB

Good Friday 2011

It is no surprise to regular readers that one of my favorite services of the year is the Good Friday meditation at the Washington National Cathedral.  I wrote about it in 2009 and again in 2010.

Candice, Claire, and I were back this year with two friends joining us for the service.  My blog must be reaching huge numbers as the St. Joseph’s chapel was packed!

The music was as contemplative and haunting as ever.  Cathedral Music Director Mike McCarthy was the soloist on his arrangement of the Troparian.  Andrew’s voice teacher, Soprano Diane Atherton, sang the lovely solos that soared above the Taize chants in the vault-like setting of the chapel.

We missed having Andrew with us this year, as he’d already attended two Good Friday services and we gave him the night off.  At his school’s chapel he sang a solo on the opening verse of that wonderful spiritual Were You There, and then he was off to his singing gig with St. John’s Lafayette Square for their noon day service.

I don’t have Andrew singing his solo, but I have something that’s mighty fine.  Here’s a video of American Treasure (and MacArthur Genius Grant winner) Marion Williams with an amazing version of Were You There.  I love it when she says, “I can’t stand too much of this song.”  That says it all.

More to come…

DJB

Good Friday 2010

One of the treasures of Washington is the National Cathedral.  Earlier this evening Candice, Andrew, Claire and I gathered together in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel for the moving and beautiful Good Friday meditation.

There is no more appropriate place to spend Good Friday than the vault-like chapel deep in the heart of the Cathedral named for Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus in order to provide a proper burial in his own new tomb.  The stone and wood space is made for the chants, solo cello, and Taize music of this service.  The sounds have a special resonance that envelops the soul.

Cathedral Musical Director Michael McCarthy has structured a beautifully meditative service for this evening, beginning with Gita Ladd playing the groaning Sonata for Cello solo, Op. 28 by Eugene Ysaye.   The plainsong chant of Psalm 40 by the gentlemen of the Cathedral Singers begins in the traditional fashion, yet two-thirds of the way through McCarthy underpins the plainsong with spare piano chords that eventually lead into the Taize chant Wait for the Lord. Soprano Diane Atherton’s solos during the Taize chants are a delight throughout the evening.

To my mind, the highlight of this service every year is hearing Mike’s arrangement of the Troparian, and this year was no different.  Andrew used to sing as a Cathedral Chorister with many of the men we heard today, and he quickly identified Karl Hempel as the magnificent bass who sang the moving text while the choir repeated the “Give me that Stranger” figure underneath.

When he saw that the sun had hidden its rays, and that the veil of the Temple was rent as the Savior died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate, pleaded with him, and cried out:  Give me the Stranger who since his youth had wandered as a stranger.  Give me that Stranger killed in hatred by his kindred as a stranger.  Give me that Stranger upon whom I look with wonder, seeing Him a guest of Death…

Mike told us later that he set these words to music about four years ago at the request of then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold specifically for this Good Friday service.  It is a marvelous piece that deserves to be recorded and shared.

I could always leave after that canticle, but there is a meditation and more music.  Tonight, the musical reflection following the meditation was the beautiful Sarabande to C major suite, BWV 1009 by Johann Sebastian Bach.  The solo cello was made to be played in that space on this day, and I’ve included a video of  Wen-SinnYang’s version of the same piece below.  Enjoy this special meditation on this Good Friday.

More to come…

DJB

Good Friday 2009

St. Joseph of Arimathea ChapelGood Friday was a day of heightened – and mixed – emotions.  It began with an email from Andrew’s school about the irrational act of a disturbed man that some of the students observed.  In the early evening, Candice and I helped Andrew and Claire’s youth group prepare sandwiches and meals for Grate Patrol.  And while they delivered the sandwiches to the homeless throughout Washington, Candice and I closed out the day with the powerful Good Friday meditation at the National Cathedral.

We’ve been around the Washington National Cathedral for years, but I only discovered this Good Friday service a couple of years ago.  It quickly became my favorite.

Held in the St. Joseph of Arimethea chapel (photo) – the most appropriate of spaces – the service showcases all that is wonderful about the Cathedral.  The stone and marble combine with the vaults and intimate space to send the music on a magical journey to your ears.  And make no mistake – this is a service made for music.

A hauntingly beautiful cello solo – Candice described it as “moaning” – began the service.  Then the first of several Taize chants filled the room.  Cathedral Director of Music Michael McCarthy’s arrangement of the Troparian was stunning in both its passion and complexity.

When he saw that the sun had hidden its rays, and that the veil of the Temple was rent as the Savior died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate, pleaded with him, and cried out:  Give me the Stranger who since his youth had wandered as a stranger.  Give me that Stranger killed in hatred by his kindred as a stranger.  Give me that Stranger upon whom I look with wonder, seeing Him a guest of Death….

Mike had the choir repeating the Give me a stranger figure, while a beautiful baritone voice carried the story forward.

Give me the stranger whom envious people estranged from the world.

While the service could have ended on that emotional note, it continued with a meditation, more chants, and then lighting of candles and personal prayer.

A beautiful time for reflection and  rest.

More to come…

DJB