Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy Thursday

I'm a member of the choir at Park Street Church in Boston.

The church itself is of historic significance, one of the stops on Boston's Freedom Trail. Founded in 1809, it was the site of the first performance of "America" ("My country, 'tis of thee...") It was the site of the first public abolitionist sermons of William Lloyd Garrison. It's located between the Boston Common and the Granary burying ground, resting place to the family of Ben Franklin (though not Ben himself), Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, three signers of the Declaration of Independence (including John Hancock) and the victims of the Boston Massacre. And others.

I mention this because we're singing tonight. Tonight is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the Tenebrae service that technically extends through tomorrow night's Good Friday service and ends on Easter morning. Though I grew up in a Congregational church, which Park Street also is, it was, in some ways, not similar. I had actually never heard the term "Maundy Thursday" until I was in my late 20s, and havw still never been to a service on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday in which I wasn't singing. The key point to the Maundy Thursday service is, naturally, the communion, as we commemorate the last supper.

In any event, we'll sing a couple of songs tonight and a couple more tomorrow. We practice every week - we sing for the congregation every week. The entire purpose of the choir is to minister to the congregation as a part of the service. It's a ministry.

But no one in the congregation gets anything like the ministry that the choir gets. The congregation will hear, tonight, two choruses from Haydn's Seven Last Words Of Christ. They'll spend a total of 7-8 minutes with that music, with that text and text-setting. The members of the choir have spent hours on it. I've got a recording, I've listened to it, I've sung it. To the extent that a piece of music has the power to change someone, to affect someone, who's better positioned to experience those effects than the members of the choir? (That was rhetorical, as the answer's obvious.) Two years ago, we sang 3 choruses from Mendelssohn's Elijah. I'd be shocked if anyone in the congregation could remember any of what we did. But, while working the pieces for 6 months, I purchased a recording of the oratorio, and listened. It's a masterwork. It's a tremendous piece, from start to finish. I've listened to it more than 20 times in the past 2 years. We worked on it in order to minister to the congregation, but no one's life was enriched more than mine...



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