Friday, June 04, 2010

Laetatus Sum... his quae dicta sunt mihi, "In domum Domini ibimus." These glorious opening words of Psalm 121 reverberated from the rafters in Christ Church on Friday night, as the massed choirs joined in a rousing rendition of Hubert Parry's splendiferous state anthem. Composed for the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the anthem earned Parry a baronetcy, and has been sung at royal coronations and archiepiscopal enthronements and other festival occasions ever since.

One such festive occasion was the recent marriage of Geoffrey Silver and Elizabeth Robinson, which was in fact the last time your scribe heard this piece performed at Christ Church. Elizabeth used it as her processional, and it worked so well that your scribe has shamelessly borrowed the idea in one of his novels, putting the suggestion into the mouth of James Kennerley (who played Elizabeth down the aisle). The other brilliant Robinson-Silver idea was to have two weddings, one on each side of the Atlantic, so as to accomodate their respective sets of Anglo-American friends. This brainstorm, too, has been shamelessly copped by your scribe in the Clark-King Chronicles. Thanks, Geoffrey and Elizabeth!

Friday's festal occasion was the Installation of the Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler as the ninth Rector of Christ Church, which by not-very-much happenstance also marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the new church on June 4, 1910. Almost every seat in the church was filled, by reserved ticket, and the newly-installed air conditioning warded off the sticky summery heat as well as that generated by the packed conditions. The stained glass windows were ablaze with the evening sun, and the church, thanks to the recent renovation programs, has never looked better in its hundred-year life. Just to be alive and inside its four walls was a soul-enriching experience.

The service began with a mini-recital by Simon Thomas Jacobs, the talented Associate Director of Music, who graduated with honors from Clare College, Cambridge just under a year ago, and has quickly become a most welcome addition to the Christ Church staff. Bach's bouncy Prelude and Fugue in G Major was followed by the meditative chorale prelude, Schmuecke Dich. The virtuoso Piece d'Orgue, better known here as the Fantasia in G Major, ranges from brilliant arpeggios to dense five-part harmony and back again. Simon's performance of all these lovely works was impeccable. He finished up with Elgar's "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations, thus setting the keynote (as it were) for the Edwardian feast to follow.

Sidney Nicholson's great hymn Crucifer ("Lift High the Cross") was the processional, an old Christ Church favorite, but rarely if ever has it been so splendidly sung and performed as on this night. The rafters rang as the assembled choirs and clergy made their way through the aisles of the church and up to the chancel. The procession included the guest of honor and preacher, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; the Bishop of Connecticut, Ian Douglas; the Rector-elect, Jim Lemler; the clergy and choirs of Christ Church; and various other local clergy including Heather Parkinson-Wright, head of the Greenwich Chaplaincy Services; Rabbi Mitch Hurvitz of Temple Sholom; Bill Evertsberg of the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich; Robert Alves of St. Barnabas; and so on and so forth. All in all, it was quite a sight.

Then came the Parry anthem. The trompette en chamade blazoned forth the opening notes from the rear of the church, answered by the full chancel organ in the front. From where your scribe was sitting in Row M, the result was perfect stereophonic sound. He used the old chorister's trick of cupping his hand to his ear, which not only magnifies the volume but brings out the overtones as well. What a treat!

The sermon by Dr. Tutu was a mixture of humor and social ecumenism. He told us how one of his students had sent him a photo of a billboard outside a church which read, "Do you have trouble sleeping? Let the church help. We have sermons...." He likened God's love for each and every one of His creatures to that of a mother for a perhaps not-quite-totally-photogenic baby, who might say to her infant, "You're not the prettiest thing in the world, are you?" But let someone else come up and say, "That has got to be the ugliest baby I've ever seen," and that person will be lucky to escape her wrath with his life. In a voice that modulated from thunder to mezzo-forte to piano to a whisper to mouthed silence, Dr. Tutu repeated the word "All", over and over again, to drive home his point that God loves everyone. "Gay, lesbian, so-called straight..."--his sly humor and understatement had us laughing about topics that ordinarily might make us uncomfortable. For such a small physical being (to call him five feet tall might be generous), Dr. Tutu had an extraordinarily commanding presence.

The Induction followed, with Bishop Douglas presiding. He put on his mitre to read the Letter of Institution which formally confirmed the call of Jim Lemler as the new Rector of Christ Church. The Gregorian chant of the Litany for Mission gave way to the presentation of "symbols and instruments of ministry and leadership," which included a "vessel of water" from the Bishop and a stole and chasuble from Wardens Tim Carpenter and Nancy Maulsby. Other gifts included a Book of Common Prayer and a Hymnal (the latter being the full-fledged musical edition, your scribe was glad to see), and a plant from the "religious community" of the Town presented by Mitch and Heather. Wendy Claire Berrie, Director of Children's Ministry, presented him with a children's Bible to remind him of his ministry to parishioners of all ages at Christ Church. The church staff presented Jim with a church bell, which he promptly proceeded to ring exuberantly.

Jim then knelt to repeat the ancient "Non sum dignus": "I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; yet You have called Your servant to stand in Your house, and to serve at Your altar...." He rose, and the Bishop formally presented him to us by saying, "I present to you James, as servant and leader." The rubric mentioning that "applause is appropriate" was a mild understatement.

Continuing the Edwardian motif, the choir sang Elgar's "The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me," the text from Isaiah chosen by our Lord as the basis for His first sermon (which almost got Him killed). Afterwards, Dr. Tutu told your scribe that he was warmly appreciative of the subtle "soloing out" and judicious use of 8ve and Sub-8ve couplers he noticed during Elgar's anthem. "Young Simon is a genius," he was heard to say. "And Philip Moore's bongo drums--spot on!"

Well, having brought up Philip Moore, no need to wait further to praise his numerous brilliant contributions to this festival liturgy. Philip is organist emeritus at York Minster, and comes over to Christ Church several times a year as Artist in Residence. As the service of Holy Communion continued, the choir sang his gorgeous arrangements of "I want to walk as a child of the light" and "Hyfrydol". The final hymn was "Siyahamba", in an arrangement completed by Philip just three weeks ago. Between the bongo drums and the trompette en chamade, the very stones in the walls of the church were pulsating with joy. Dr. Tutu himself boogied his way down the aisle as the choir and clergy recessed.

And who, dear reader, was the person who made this joyful celebration into a reality? Well, many people worked long and hard on it, of course, but none worked longer or harder than Director of Music Jamie Hitel. His impeccable musicianship has infected every one of the young people who sing under him, and the choirs of Christ Church have never sounded better than they did on Friday night. He has strengthened the program enormously with his ties to the world of English church music, viz. Philip Moore and Simon Thomas Jacobs, among others. He has brought us the Sunday afternoon chamber music series, and in fact this same group, along with others, will perform a festival centennial concert this very Sunday. He has continued the Friday evening organ concerts begun by his predecessors, Geoffrey Silver and James Kennerley. But most of all, he gives of his best to ensure that each and every service at Christ Church is as close to perfection as it can be, and by his inspiring leadership he brings out the best in the young singers under his charge. Bravo, Jamie!

Then we retired to the Parish Hall, where we toasted Rector Jim with champagne provided by Bacardi USA and parishioner Michael Rieck. But your scribe didn't need any bubbly to get high; he was already high on the musical and spiritual beauty of the service just concluded. One wonders what the parishioners of 100 years ago would have thought of this service had they been able to be in attendance; no doubt they would have been very proud of their successors as stewards of Christ Church, and proud, too, of their own role in building this beautiful church for our use and enjoyment today. The ancient words still ring true: "Surely God is in this place...."


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