Sunday, November 1, 2009

How Do You Celebrate When You're 125?

You don't get a chance to celebrate being 125 years old very often. But this month the Order of the Holy Cross is 125. Fr James Otis Sargent Huntington OHC made his profession of vows on the 25th of November a century and a quarter ago, and of course we had to celebrate - a more modest celebration, certainly, than our centennial celebration 25 years ago, but some event was clearly called for.

So this afternoon we had the first of the events, and it was a Solemn Vespers of All Saints Day together with the Dedicatory Recital of the new organ in the Monastery Church.

As it turned out it was a truly marvelous occasion. Br Scott designed an interesting and imaginative service which combined the celebration of Vespers with the recital. Vespers and the organ pieces were interwoven with each other. There were two very familiar All Saints hymns at the beginning and the end of the service. Then the organ pieces were placed between the singing of the Psalms and the Magnificat and the reading of the scripture lesson. Our chant harmonized beautifully with the organ music, which was both stimulating and reflective. I've never seen anything quite like it - the closest thing I can think of is a service of Lessons and Carols which you sometimes see around Christmas, but this service had a well thought-out shape and a real feeling of both movement and unity.

The organist was Erich Borden, who is the brother of our own Br Scott Borden. Their mother, Jane, gave the beautiful Pipe Facade which is high on the south wall of the Church and encloses the speakers of the organ. The organ itself is a digital instrument made by the Rogers Company. It was given by our dear friend Dr Lalitha Manoharan, who was close to us for many years and now after a long time in this country is again living near her family in India. The organ is an instrument of extraordinary flexibility and wonderful tone. It sounds splendid in our church, certainly much richer than the instrument that it replaced.

The music that Erich selected was entirely modern, and included works by Sigrid Karg-Elert, Jehan Alain and Daniel Pinkham, all well-known composers of modern organ music. The pieces were carefully chosen to display the breadth of interpretation of which our new organ is capable, and they were not only lovely but quite interesting as well. There were some breathtakingly rich moments in the pieces and some amusing ones as well - as in the Pinkham "The wind from the West", which is Movement IV of his piece "The Four Winds." You could hear the locusts being cast into the Red Sea from the passage in Exodus 10 that was the inspiration for the movement.

One of the great advantages of a digital instrument is that the console is movable. For this occasion we put it at the head of our choir, positioned so that the keyboard faced the congregation. This gave everyone a full view of the instrument and they got to see how Erich managed the controls and what his playing technique looked like, which is not something you usually get to see at an organ concert. It also gave anyone who was interested an opportunity to come up afterward and inspect the console - several people were obviously very interested in walking all the way around it - and Erich stayed for a long time answering people's questions and talking with them about the concert and about the organ.

We finished the afternoon with a reception, Holy Cross style, which featured our chef Edward's platter of meats and cheeses and luscious home-made brownies by Lori, our Guest House Administrator. It was one of the nicest receptions I can recall. The group was a manageable size, so that it was possible to have a real relaxing social time, and that is indicated by the length of time that people stayed. We were all obviously enjoying the time with each other and no one felt rushed to go.

All in all it was quite an afternoon. What better way would there be to celebrate being 125? Creative liturgy, marvelous music and good food with good friends. A very Holy Cross sort of celebration, and a small example of why on this evening I am feeling so content and happy and so proud of my community.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Playing that organ for Sunday services was among the great joys of my time at OHC last year, and I'm glad to hear it got to be part of OHC's 125th anniversary celebration. One would never know it is electronic!

Br Bede Thomas Mudge OHC said...

I know - in fact at one demonstration of this model the organist who was comparing an organ with pipes to the electronic on played something on each on and said "You'd never know that Organ 1 was a pipe organ and Organ 2 was electronic" - and in fact he had them exactly backwards! It really is a marvelous instrument.