Holy Cross played host to its annual Lenten Lessons and Carols Service yesterday afternoon, and from this choirboy's point of view, There are very few services that I have sung that were as close to flawless as this one from an artistic point of view.
The service consisted of an assortment of readings performed by members of the congregation, from the Bible and from modern authors that mostly took the form of poems and prose. These readings were interspersed with a wide variety of musical selections rendered by the Combined Choirs of St. Stephen's, Wilkinsburg; Redeemer, Squirrel Hill; and Holy Cross, Homewood. Along with members of these three church's choirs were a group of choristers and musicians known as the Friends of Holy Cross Choir, a number of finely talented and extremely generous musicians and singers who have helped out Holy Cross's Choir on many occasions by lending their gifts to us. The selections took the form of congregational hymns, instrumental and vocal solos, and choral anthems. The Passion Gospels from Matthew, Mark, and John were recited by the clergy of all three churches
The service was designed to take the congregation through the Passion of Jesus Christ from His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane; through His trial and punishment; the agony of His Crucfixion and finally, the hope of his Resurrection.
Major props to Holy Cross organist/choirmaster Phil Cynar who decided which reading went with which piece of music because there was a an unbroken line of continuity that went through the entire service. Each reading went perfectly with each piece of music.They were all powerful and made the congregation think deeply about what Christ had experienced those three days.
Dr. James Wilson of Holy Cross on saxophone and bassoon, Dr. Frances Dannenberg of Redeemer on flute and Friend of Holy Cross Choir, and Friend of Holy Cross, Bob Kestner of St. Michael's Lutheran, on trumpet filled the Holy Cross sanctuary with beautiful and soulful playing of their instruments during their respective solos as well as provided strong support for the choir and their soloists. The choir was in top form with 25 choristers bringing a big, full sound that enveloped the whole of the sanctuary. The harmonies were spot on and lush. The wealth of talent in all three of these churches was very much in evidence.
The soloists delivered big time. Adrienne Booker's solo on H.T. Burleigh's "Were You There?" was awesome, she has such a clean, bright and angelic voice. The best comparison I can make is like when one taps a fork against a beautiful crystal champagne glass. The pure bright tone devoid of any off-notes. Writing about it does not do it justice. It had to be heard to truly understand it. I love to hear this young woman sing. Ruth Still and Carol Parrish of Holy Cross added their unique voices to a duet of John Reynold's " O, My God, I Cry in the Daytime." These two have been singing duets for Holy Cross for years and their ability to mesh together their two voices shows that comfort and familiarty that develops when singing together for such a long time. Harriet Thomas, a prayer warrior of great faith at Holy Cross chimed in to make the choir's rendition of Dadee Reilly's "Weep, Sweet Mary" especially smoky and haunting. I was especially struck by Dr. Dannenberg's flute solo on Berthier's "My Soul is Sad" I felt the sadness and anguish pour out of every note. And there was a certain tenor who did a pretty good job on "I Wonder As I Wander."
Many thanks are due to the rectors of the three churches that participated in this service. The Rev. Nano Chalfant Walker of St. Stephen's, The Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert of Redeemer as well as out own Moni McIntyre of Holy Cross. Also the three choirmasters and organists that made sure that the music went where it was supposed to go and sounded great when it got there: William Ogburn of Redeemer; William Gisen of St. Stephen's and Phil Cynar of Holy Cross.
And finally to all the choir members and instrumentalists of all three churches, the lay persons who read the passages, and everyone else involved in putting this service on, I'm sure that the Lord has found our work pleasing to His eyes and ears. The Spirit was clearly in the church that night. I know I felt it. If there was one small issue that made itself apparent about that night, it was that there wasn't more of a congregation to experience this service. The sanctuary was only about a little more than a quarter full. But where two or three are gathered... If you missed this one, shame on you for a month of Sundays.
Upcoming events at Holy Cross.
HOLY WEEK 2009
Sunday April 5
Palm Sunday--Liturgy of the Palms and Low Mass 8:00am
Procession and Solemn Mass at 10:30am
Thursday April 9
Maundy Thursday--Washing of the Feet, Transfer of the Holy Eucharist to the Altar of Repose; and the Stripping of the Altar 7:00pm
Friday April 10
Good Friday--The Good Friday observance sponsored by the Homewood-Brushton Community Ministries will be held at Holy Cross at 12:00pm.
Holy Cross's Observance of Good Friday will be held at 7:00pm with the Solemnities of the Day; The Liturgy of the Word, and the Veneration of the Cross.
Church of the Redeemer will be observing the Great Vigil of Easter on April 11, 2009 at 8pm. And all three churches will be observing the Solemn Eucharist of Easter Day at 10:30am on April 12, 2009.
Correction: Dr. Wilson plays the bassoon, not the oboe.