Archive » June 28, 2012
Evensong – a celebration, a book
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
In hushed silence, they congregate at the back of the church – the summer sun low in the evening sky – then voices rise in song, a careful blend of thanksgiving and reflection.
Evensong at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church is a service composed in 1549 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. It is at once a time of reflection, a time to give thanks at the close of the day for the things received therein, as well as a time to petition for protection in the night, yet to come.
The service, held June 24 and officiated by Rev. Randall Day, brought choral singers from up and down the California coast to celebrate both the liturgical music and the book – of the same name – recently written by Brooks Firestone.
“Thank you to Brooks for yet another hare-brained idea gone good,” joked Day. “He comes up with these ideas, that at various points seem undoable, and then they work out.”
Firestone’s book unfolds his own experiences learning to sing liturgical music in the sunset of his life. “At the age of 69, I was able to hold my own in the bass section of serious choral performances,” he writes. “The pure pleasure of that acquired singing ability is almost beyond description, and I love every minute of it – the Evensong time of life is full of potential.”
With the sanctuary packed by a choir of more than 56 participants, all hailing from different walks of life as well as from different locales, Jo Anne Wasserman, conductor and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, directs the group.
“Brooks approached me with the idea and asked if I was willing to do it,” she says. She has conducted at St. Mark’s before and welcomed the chance to give so many people interested in music an opportunity to get to know one another and to sing together compositions that have a lot of meaning for them.
“A lot of people would like to be part of a choir, but don’t have the time for a long-term commitment,” says Day, enthusiastic about being able to open the doors for them. “I hope we will be able to do this kind of thing again.”
For Rinda Brown (alto, she says with a smile), one of the pieces in the evening’s program has particular meaning. She relays how while once sitting in a service, Thomas Tallis’ If Ye Love Me was performed. “It was just so moving,” she explains, noting that Tallis is her favorite of the old composers.
“Actually, he is the reason why I sing choral music.” For her, like Brooks, the music combined with the chance to perform has a depth of meaning that is hard to put to words.
“How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia,” the congregation sings Fred Pratt Green’s words as the choir makes its way down the aisle.
Rose Purcell Knoles is the organist while Larry Hill, on his piccolo trumpet, adds a dimension to the evening that makes the pieces particularly moving. Through open doors and windows, a gentle Santa Ynez breeze blows.
Shoulder to shoulder, the congregation sits quietly as the choir sings, joining from time to time in prayer and hymn. In his homily, Day speaks of fear, how “all of us are afraid more often than we admit” and asks if we can’t have both faith and fear. Both are normal responses to the realities of our lives that are so often beyond our control, he says. Can we allow the one to open the door to another?
In his autobiographical book, Firestone focuses not so much on his fear of approaching his senior years, but rather on their potential. Heir to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, he grew up with both affluence and name recognition.
He started out his adult life working for family in England, where he met and married his wife, Kate, then a successful ballet dancer. Together they moved to California in 1971, where they ran several wineries and the family ranch, before retiring to politics where Brooks served as Santa Barbara County Supervisor for a time.
Discovering late in life that he can sing, Brooks and Kate took off to travel the world no so much to see the great sites, as to sing at them – and as it turned out, so Brooks could record them within the pages of his new book – the sales from which on that night went entirely to St. Mark’s.
But if you want to know more about the Firestones’ travels, including the touching description of Verdi’s Requiem sung by inmates of Theresientstadt, a German concentration camp (in what is now the Czech Republic), a quick trip to the Book Loft in Solvang (where Brooks recently had a book signing) can net you a copy.
As the lyrical, reflective moments of the Evensong service blossom into a celebration of Evensong the book, the congregation follows the choir to Stacy Hall for wine, hors d’oeuvres and camaraderie.