I’m on the Acela after a fine brunch with Emmanuel Church friends Ryan Turner and Pat Krol – this after the service at which my Gaudete in Domino was premiered. As I expected, the choir did a great job. By calling for a slightly earlier rehearsal time before the service than usual, Ryan (the group’s conductor) got the ensemble some extra time to touch on various details of my piece. Ryan knows what he wants – a slightly different emphasis in the text, a warmer sound here, a lighter sound there – and knows how to ask for it; the choir, in turn, knows how to respond to his requests, and does so with skill and with abundant good will. The congregation at Emmanuel is uniquely trained to listen intently, having listened to weekly Bach cantatas and other great stuff for years. So they are uncommonly receptive to my music, often responding with unusually insightful comments. One gentleman this morning remarked on my setting of the words “Dominus prope est” - the Lord is at hand. He noted that the customary reading of this line associates it with the imminent arrival of the Lord at the end of time (the scripture texts for Advent have an apocalyptic side). My setting – pianissimo, warmly harmonized, low in register – represented another reading: a sense of calm assurance about the Lord’s presence here and now.
Emmanuel Church is indeed a place where the Lord’s presence can be felt – a place where the hidden wholeness of which Thomas Merton wrote breaks into our lives. I’ll say it again: for this I am deeply grateful.
update: My shots from Sunday’s rehearsal mostly didn’t come out well – just this one seems worth sharing:
update #2: Emmanuel parishioner Elizabeth Richardson was kind enough to pass along a picture taken at the post-Eucharist gathering for hospitality. Here I am (on the left) with parishioner Michael Scanlon (I dig the bowtie, Michael. There were some nice ones among the choir members as well.)