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…


Still Singing

Andrew in 2005

Andrew with Leonard Slatkin in November 2005 after singing the treble solo in the Chichester Psalms

(Editor’s Note:  Candice posted the following on her Facebook page earlier today.  I’m putting it here on More to Come… as she wrote it.)

In 2001 at the age of 8, Andrew began singing at the Washington National Cathedral as a novice boy chorister. In 5th grade, he joined the boy choristers and went on to become head chorister in 2007. Pictured here is Andrew in 2005 with Leonard Slatkin of the National Symphony Orchestra when Andrew was the treble soloist for the Chichester Psalms. Those were exciting years.

Today, Andrew sang for the first time as one of the men of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. The second picture shows Andrew this morning as the choir was ready to process into the service. It’s been a great ride, Andrew, and we are excited to see where life, your talent, and your dedication takes you next.

Andrew at the Cathedral

Andrew sings with the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys earlier today

More to come…


Standing on Shoulders While Looking to the Future

Photo by Suzy Mink

Photo by Suzy Mink

Every four years, when the country gathers to inaugurate a president, some of the nation’s most historic buildings take center stage. From the Benjamin Latrobe-designed St. John’s Church where the First Family attends a morning service, to the White House where the President meets with his successor or the leaders of Congress, to the U.S. Capitol where the Chief Executive takes the oath of office under a magnificent dome largely completed during the darkest days of the Civil War—our nation’s peaceful transfer of power occurs in and around stately buildings that are cherished witnesses to history.

And the inauguration ceremonies end the following morning at yet another historic building – Washington National Cathedral – where the nation’s secular and religious leaders gather for the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.

I have attended many different services and ceremonies beneath the Cathedral’s soaring vaults. I remember Evensong services in the great choir where I heard young trebles sing a Pie Jesu that lifted the congregants—all twenty of them—to another level of grace. The sanctuary worked surprisingly well as a backdrop for this intimate gathering. But when the sanctuary is filled to capacity with thousands of guests and visitors gathered in common cause, the transformative power of the Gothic structure atop Mount St. Alban becomes self evident.

What do historic spaces such as the Cathedral—where National Trust president Stephanie Meeks and I were privileged to attend this morning’s 57th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service—have to offer that other buildings do not?

Washington National Cathedral, like any important historic building, reminds us that our lives are built on the shoulders of those who came before and that we have a responsibility to those yet to come. When the Children of the Gospel Choir sing the traditional spiritual Way over in Beulah Lan’ and we think of those who struggled to see beyond this time and place, their voices rise and linger in a building that holds a piece of lunar rock in the Space Window. Beautifully sung calls to prayer from the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions remind us that the Cathedral was built as a House of Prayer for all people, not just the privileged and powerful. When The Reverend Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kansas, builds a sermon around the emancipation story, the Walter Hancock statue of Abraham Lincoln bears silent witness to those who have made great sacrifice for the good of the nation.

These special places cannot serve the nation without the love, care, and support provided by countless stewards. Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Washington National Cathedral a National Treasure to help those stewards recover from the damage of an unexpected earthquake and develop a vision forward for the preservation of this magnificent landmark.

It was clear again this morning why we need historic places such as Washington National Cathedral.  During the service, The Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, asked everyone to join hands for the final prayer in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He did so in front of the pulpit where King gave the last Sunday sermon of his life.  In that sermon, King said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will all perish together as fools.”

Throughout this weekend of the inauguration of a president, Washington’s historic buildings reminded the country that we have often disagreed—and even fought—as a nation.  However, they also speak to the fact that we have come together more often than not to focus on the ideals that make us Americans.  In the extraordinary, and yet also humbling, space of Washington National Cathedral, Dr. Warnock’s final prayer called us again to those ideals.

Let us recommit ourselves this day to one another and to the work of building together the beloved community. May God transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of the human family. And through us may all the families of the earth be blessed.

More to come…


(Note:  This blog post was originally written for the PreservationNation blog of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.)

Moving Heaven and Earth

When she was in the fourth grade, my daughter Claire – in response to the question “What Does Your Father Do?” – told her class that I “signed papers and went to meetings.”

Today was not that kind of day.

With two colleagues from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I joined officials from the Washington National Cathedral on a glorious fall morning to see first hand the extent of the damage from the August 23, 2011 earthquake that hit the east coast.  We were visiting the cathedral as part of ongoing conversations about the restoration and preservation needs of this national landmark.

The cathedral’s website has a gallery of amazing photographs that document the damage – from just after the quake until the present.  I encourage you to view it and more importantly make a donation to help rebuild this unique place.

On our tour, we viewed the damage from outside the building (including the cracks in the flying buttresses at the historic end of the cathedral), and then traveled up to the very top of the central tower.  There we were at the center of the worst damage to the building, where the beautiful pinnacles – weighing several thousand pounds each – had shifted and in one instance fell during the quake.  We saw how the engineers and stone masons have secured the stonework in preparation for the reopening of the building this weekend for the consecration of a new bishop of Washington, The Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde.

The best description I have heard as to why the damage occurred at the towers is to think of the quake’s impact like the snapping of a whip.  The end of the whip – or the top of the tower – is where the greatest movement takes place.

For readers interested in earthquakes and why one would happen in the eastern United States, I recommend Simon Winchester’s A Crack in the Edge of the World.  Winchester’s account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake contains a chapter entitled From Plate to Shining Plate that describes the magnitude 7.0 Charleston quake of 1886, explaining why cities in the middle of the North American Plate are still susceptible to the movement of the earth.  It is a fascinating tale (made all the more so as I head out to Charleston tomorrow morning).

So without further ado, here’s my photo update of the ongoing stabilization of the Washington National Cathedral some two months and a few days after that moment in August when the earth moved – and so did a bit of heaven.

More to come…


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…


Ave Verum Corpus – Music Made for a Cathedral

Yesterday Andrew and Claire were confirmed in a magnificent service on a beautiful fall day at the National Cathedral.

There’s so much I could cover:  The pageantry.  The three bishops.   The time spent with godparents and their families.  The wonderful discernment process that our Assistant Rector, The Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson, led the twins through over the past two years.  The personal thoughts that ranged from a baptismal service with two infants some 17 years ago to confirmation with two beautiful and talented young adults whom I admire for their thoughtfulness and integrity.

Instead (no surprise) I want to talk about the music.

The Cathedral Singers – comprised of women sopranos and gentlemen in the counter tenor, tenor, and bass roles – were in residence for yesterday’s service.  Their work was beautiful throughout.

But when they sang William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, I just closed my eyes and listened to the wonderful melodies that come together in that magnificent piece reverberate around in the acoustics.  When they finished, I turned to Claire’s godfather and said, “There’s no better music for a cathedral.”

So today, Andrew and I were catching a bite to eat and he said, “I’m so glad they sang Ave Verum at the service yesterday.”  I laughed at how our thoughts converged, and then we launched into a five-minute discussion of how we were both singing along with the choir (I had the tenor line covered, while Andrew was channeling his old chorister days and was handling the soprano.)  Andrew said, “that piece has the BEST alto lines” and right in the middle of Montgomery Mall we began singing the alto line we both loved.

Just so you, dear reader, can also hear this wonderful music, I’ve posted a video of the Tallis Scholars’ version of Ave Verum Corpus following the picture of Claire, Andrew, Bishop Eastman, two of Claire’s godparents, Candice and me taken after yesterday’s service.  Enjoy.

More to come…


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…