Connecting Beyond the Walls

 Today’s word of hope comes from our own Jake Hill, Music Associate/Organist.

I’ve reflected on a few things this week that have seemingly all gravitated back towards physical church buildings:

We all know that the church-proper is defined by all of us who gather together- the beloved community that make up our dear congregation- more so than just the beautiful edifice we are lucky enough to call our church home. But, seeing all of you wonderful people in and around our magnificent structure are amongst the top three things I miss most during these pandemic times. Next to missing seeing each of you in our dear church house is missing HEARING you all sing and worship our great God together. Part of the elements that so define our style of corporate worship is our joined voice in song- particularly singing the great hymns of our faith. Take that a step further and I miss the grandeur of our mighty organ (albeit one of temporarily diminished capacity), collaborative music making with the dedicated souls that comprise our wonderful choirs, the hearty scripture readings, the fabulous sermons, the reverently thought out prayers, and even the faint echoes of our sweet children down the hall- I so miss being physically in our church and I specifically miss it with all of you!

If it weren’t enough to be missing our own church house this week, I’ve been catching up on the updates regarding the very recent one-year anniversary of the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. Churches, especially European ones, are something of treasure troves. Notre-Dame is one of the most iconic church buildings in the world, and, inside is one of the most historically significant organs in the world… and a large number of pieces composed for the organ in the French-Symphonic era were written on that very organ the cathedral still uses today (the fire, miraculously, was stopped just before it got to the organ and it can and will be restored)! It is not common in many instances at all for a person in the year 2020 to be able to play a 100+ year old piece on the very instrument it was composed on, much less in the room in which it was composed and get to hear it precisely as the composer did! And there are thousands of sacred choral works that premiered in there as well. The history of church music tied to that particular space is monumental to say the very least.

Fast forward to this evening, and again I find myself enveloped in a church building. Incidentally, I sat down at the piano to play for a while , as has become habit, and found myself working on one of Claude Debussy’s most famous preludes, La Cathedrale engloutie (translated: “The Sunken Cathedral”). This prelude comes from a set of twelve pieces that have become definitive in the greater collection of impressionistic compositions. Much like great French artists crafted impressionistic paintings, so too did French composers write to evoke images with their music during this particular period. This specific piece is centered around an ancient French legend of a “sunken cathedral” off the coast of a mythical island, and, at certain times the cathedral would gloriously rise from the watery depths.

I could write a dissertation on all of the imagery in the music of this piece, but to spare you all the details, here’s the short of it: listen at the beginning of the piece for the massive structure to be at the depths of the waters- this is evident by the very low notes you’ll hear played on the piano. As there seems to be forward motion in the piece, as it gets louder and seems faster, imagine the cathedral rising up out of the waters with its massive bells tolling, calling all to worship. In the very middle of the piece, at the climax, the cathedral is fully emerged and as the bells peel louder and slow in their tolling, the grand organ burst forth in song in thick, slow-moving, major chords! Now the service has begun, and the cathedral is filled with praise and song! As the organ dies down, slowly the cathedral slips back off into the aquatic abys. The music gradually softens, there is an underpinning bass line that rolls like waves, and at the very end, as the cathedral is nearly again at rest on the ocean floor, you can faintly hear the distant clanging of the tower bells.

This incredibly evocative piece, that coincidentally fell across my music desk, has brought me a great calm amidst its pages. Fortunately, our great cathedral is not sunken- it stands tall in a quieted city as a beacon of hope. Her grand bell tolls for all to hear (with the help of two great Knights!) and I can assure you, dear friends, it will again resonate with sounds of a splendid organ and joyous singing! Until that day, be comforted in knowing that we all are the church, and while we are not surrounded by the walls of our fifth-street building, they have merely been extended to the very reaches of our homes. May this musical moment bring the peace of Christ to each of you this day. 


Claude Debussy
Preludes, 1er livre
x. La Cathedral engloutie

Nelson Freire, piano

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This