In last week’s blog, I looked toward performances of Handel’s Messiah and an Advent Jazz Vesper Service with eager anticipation. Here’s what happened.
On first blush, the idea of “adding something” to a performance of Handel’s Messiah – enhancing it, if you will – is absurd.
But I and doubtless many of the other 2000 persons at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square last Saturday night received it that way.
Of course we heard an excellent choir and soloists and orchestra as usual. The concert was augmented by 13 illustrations from the 20th century Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible since the invention of the printing press, featuring ancient inks and gold and silver leaf.
For the performance of Messiah, these images were digitized and projected on a large screen above the choir and orchestra with animation – twinkling stars, coloured dots, angels floating to Jesus’ birth, the earth twirling, words and images slowly forming and reforming.
Far from being a distraction, these illuminations gave me additional Bible texts – favorites of mine not in Messiah but related to its words – which added to the depth of meaning already there for me. So my experience of Messiah was enhanced…deepened…illuminated…by 21st century slow, meditative media.
The animated illumination To the ends of the earth brought the final Messiah chorus, Worthy Is the Lamb, into the 21st century for me in a remarkable way. The earth, shown as part of the universe, kept changing, twirling, enlarging, receding, becoming darker and lighter. Strands of DNA emerged from the background, as well as images from the Hubble telescope.
I marvelled at the wonder of our 21st century universe while the choir sang praise of Christ full-throttle. Wonderful!
Advent Jazz Vespers
People aged 50 to 90 gathered, and engaged with eyes closed or small smiles or very gentle foot-tapping in a meditative setting where jazz pieces on piano, brass, guitar and percussion alternated with snippets of poetry.
This year, Conrad Grebel’s chaplain, Ed Janzen, chose readings from Love Poems from God, Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, featuring mystics and saints from various traditions.
So interspersed with tune fragments like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Go Tell it on the Mountain came tidbits such as: “It acts like love – music, it reaches towards the face, touches it, and tries to let you know His promise: that all will be okay…” (Rabia of Basra). Or from John of the Cross: “If you want, the virgin will come down the street pregnant with light and sing.”
The quiet meditative atmosphere changed with Joy to the World, announced as the final piece. By the end of it, heaven and nature are raucously singin’ and rockin’, and we’re bobbin’ and tappin’ vigorously, laughing, completely energized.
Then Ed suggests that if we applaud, who knows, there might be an encore. The pianist suggests Silent Night, and we laugh. Silent Night? After that rowdy rendition? But it works. The mood shifts. After the raucous music of the spheres, we tap into the ever so gentle side, quietly singing “sleep in heavenly peace” to the Christ Child…quietly acknowledging the dawn of redeeming grace.
Then we greet each other, put on the hats and mitts, and head for our cars. We open the door – and Look!
Snowflakes gently falling. A fresh dusting of snow. A sky made light on one of the longest nights of the year.
And, as revealed to another mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, we can’t help but echo that in any ultimate sense, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
For our hearts have been tuned to the music of the spheres and our spirits have played it – heaven and nature singing raucously, with the gentlest dawn of salvation, sleeping in luminous, heavenly peace
Celtic Harp Music
When we arrived home, the luminous peace prevailed as I played a new CD, Angels on High by Susan Toman on Celtic harp. We’d loved her sound on harpsichord at a wedding celebration in Ottawa several years back. And now the harp…
So…Messiah enhanced…raucous music of the spheres…luminous peace….the music of Advent.
Question for Reflection:
What musical concerts or recordings have most nourished your spirit this Advent?
Next week: The Cat Project