Sacred Sunday: “As One Who Has Slept,” John Tavener


Today, in the Christian tradition, is one of the last significant days in the liturgical calendar before Ash Wednesday: Transfiguration Sunday.  This day marks the occasion that Jesus transfigured, or metamorphosed, before his disciples – upon summiting the top of a mountain, Jesus’s face and clothes shone with a white light.  While emanating this heavenly brilliance, Jesus is seen to speak with the prophets Elijah and Moses, both long since dead, about the upcoming final months of his life.  Peter asks whether he and the others should prepare three shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  But before he finishes, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Elijah and Moses disappear.

This story is important for a few reasons.  First, it identifies Jesus as the proxy of God on earth – the people’s judge, savior, and direct link with the divine.  Second, it previews the resurrection – of Jesus himself, and of all who believe in him.  But I love this story for another reason: I love it because of the achingly human motivation behind Peter’s question.  He acts as anyone who has experienced something transformative would act: they want to freeze time.  Sailing right past the fact that Elijah and Moses are very, very dead, Peter wants to set up camp for them (They’re here now, aren’t they?).  He wants to keep them there.  This is, of course, impossible.  But, God love him for trying.

We take two-dimensional pictures of landscapes, of people, to capture their three-dimensional physicality, and the multi-dimensional feelings we felt upon seeing them.  We tattoo our skin to immortalize a meaningful time in our lives.  Even though we know, as Peter must have rationally known, it isn’t possible to suspend time and trap a moment, or a person, or a ghost, still we can’t help ourselves from trying.  The promise of Jesus is that he will connect us to the eternal.  One day, we will be able to relive these moments.  One day, we will be able to never be without someone again.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which leads to the retelling of the crucifixion narrative, and then onward to glorious, redemptive Easter.  I am approaching this season of Lent with more dread than in other years because I know that, this year, I have more of Peter in me than I’ve had before.  I lost a very close friend and mentor to cancer last year – my choir director.  His death comprehensively hollowed out church and sacred music, and though I have continued singing, nevertheless, that hole is still there.  And so, half of me expects his resurrection at Easter.  It’s a bafflingly irrational feeling but I can’t help myself from envisioning him conducting the timpani and brass quartet ornamenting “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” as we all process in, and completely accepting that he’s there.  “Oh, hey – Ben’s not dead!” would be as easy to say as “Oh, hey – Ben made it back from vacation in time for the service!”  The other half of me – the sane half – knows that Easter will bring back so many happy memories, now bittersweet, that it will feel like Ben is, in fact, there in spirit.  I will want to freeze that feeling.

That, of course, will be impossible.  But, God will love me for trying.

Tavener’s piece comes from the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday: “As one who has slept, the Lord has risen; and rising, he has saved us.  Alleluia.”


Sacred Sunday: “Wade In The Water,” The Staples Singers


Sorry for leaving you stranded yesterday, Tune-Up Nation.  Chateau Yankette lost power.  It was very sad.  But we’re back up and running today, just in time to run outside and trudge through three-feet-high snow drifts just to finally get out of the damn house.  That said, the city is really beautiful in its snow blanket, and now that the sun is out, everything looks shiny and clean.  It’s also marvelously quieter than it usually is – no honking, no construction, no sirens.  It’s delightful.



Sacred Sunday: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” The Fairfield Four


One of the hardest things to reconcile is your own infinitesimal  insignificance in the grand scheme of the world with the pretty significant impact you can have on a group of people depending on how you choose to spend your time.  The flash-to-bang ratio of the thought process that goes from “Ooh that’s a nice sweater” to “Here, have $45” can also benefit someone else.

The water in Flint, Michigan, is now so contaminated with lead that, according to the EPA, it can be classified as toxic waste.  The water in Troy, Michigan, a town 45 minutes away, has lead levels of 1.1 parts per billion (ppb).  That’s pretty OK.  Flint’s water is up to at least 27 ppb; in some homes levels are as high as 5,000 ppb.  The highest discovered by a team from Virginia Tech was 13,000 ppb.  The water that pours out of fire hydrants and kitchen faucets is as brown as tea and smells to high heaven.  The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible.  Some children have started losing their hair.

Here is a link to Flint’s public schools:  A pack of 35 water bottles on Amazon costs $20.  That’s a pretty cheap impulse buy.  This is where the impulse part of the brain kicks in: you know that there is a horrible happening to people in your country, and you realize that, if you were in their situation, how much you would want a bottle of water, and then it hits you that you can actually send that water yourself.  So I sent a school in Flint a box of water.

Doing something, just the simple act of standing up and showing up, is how any change happens.  As Dr. King said,”The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”



Sacred Sunday: “Toumast Anlet,” Tamikrest


“The situation of the Touareg is very difficult right now. Even before I played the guitar and started recording, I had this ambition to be a lawyer or you might say, an ‘advocate’. I wanted to be capable of expressing the hurt I felt in my heart, and speak out about the situation, even at the United Nations. Because we’re a people who don’t have journalists, we don’t have advocates. But it was only later that I realised that a musician can play that role. What is the weakest part of any nation or people? It’s ignorance. We are stuck in our ignorance. I see the world changing, racing ahead, and leaving us behind. And the only thing that is holding us back is our ignorance. As artists, it’s our duty to make our problems known to the world, to sing songs about the nomadic life, about our traditions and culture. But above all, revolutionary songs, about what we see, about what the government is doing to our people, which makes no sense to me.”
– Ousmane Ag Mossa, leader of Tamikrest

Sacred Sunday: “Sanctus,” Franz Schubert



This heartbreakingly beautiful piece is from Schubert’s German Mass.  I love the version with words, of course, but this simple instrumental version is haunting.  It is my go-to for when I need to calm down and center myself.

FRIEND WEEK! Sacred Sunday: “And I Saw A New Heaven,” Edgar Bainton. Submitted by Sara.


Yankette’s Reaction:

Oh, stick a fork in me.  This piece might – might – be more fun to sing than listen to, but nevertheless, it’s a sucker-punch.  It starts so mildly, but by the end, you’re completely wrung out.  It’s a masterwork.

Shameless friend promotion!  Sara is the best singer I have ever sung with, in my life, ever, and probably always will be.  She also happens to be an astoundingly cool person.  So listen to her singing and then put her in any and every musical production you have going.  Trust me.

Sara’s Justification:

Here is Edgar Bainton’s “And I saw a new heaven.” If you’re Anglican you’ve probably heard it; if you’ve been involved in church music at all you’ve most likely sung it. I am of the opinion that most British choral music that has stood the test of time is pretty darn good, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this anthem might be the best one ever. It’s written in the same lush late-romantic style as pieces by Bainton’s better-known contemporaries, like Vaughan Williams, but what I think makes this one so special is that it doesn’t draw on any of Vaughan Williams’ sensible British folksiness. There is a sense throughout the anthem – in both its dynamic and textual heights and most hushed moments – of an otherworldly ecstasy that cannot be matched in the rest of the choral repertoire from this period. Listening bliss. Enjoy!

Sacred Sunday: “I’m Building Me A Home,” Traditional Spiritual


I know it’s a bit outré to use a video clip from a TV show, but hear me out.  Click the second link below first before you watch the clip.  The Morehouse College Glee Club sings the song masterfully.  The harmonies are tight and the dynamics are powerful.

Now click on the video clip.  It’s an entirely different song now.  Using it as the song the railroad workers sing as they hammer the nails into the track – singing a song about building a home as they’re building the railroad – is genius, and very moving.  The clip is from the TV show, “Hell on Wheels,” which is about the creation of the Union Pacific railroad after the Civil War.  By and large, the men working on the railroad are (very recently) freed slaves.  The rest are immigrants from Ireland and settlers from the rest of the country.  Together they are building the railroad that will knit the country, torn in two by the war, back into one nation – a new home for everyone.  The first sharp clang of the hammer on the nail is a wonderful moment.  The rest of the scene shows the protagonist of the story, Cullen Bohannon, a former soldier in the Confederate army who has sought a kind of redemption in spearheading the construction of the Union Pacific, being led to a Mormon camp to answer for a crime he committed.  The Mormons, too, are building a home for themselves in the new country.  To have this song running through this scene that shows all of these different groups joined by the same goal…it’s pretty powerful.



Sacred Sunday: Steve Reich, “Tehillim (Parts I and II)”


Tehillim, pronounced “the-hill-leem,” are psalms.  Reich wrote these pieces in 1981.  The words of part one are taken from Psalm 19:1-4: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheath his handiwork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheath knowledge.”  The second part, which begins at 11:31, is Psalm 34:13-15, whose words are: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.  Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.  The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.”

These pieces just make me so very happy.  If you’d like to know more about this music, this is a really interesting interview with Reich about the Tehillim in which he talks about what it was that caused him to compose these pieces.  It’s wonderful.

Sacred Sunday: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Etta James



One more week.  One more week on the road.  One more week of living out of a suitcase.  One more week of hotels and hotel food and hotel smells and hotel lamps that are inexplicably hard to figure out how to turn on and hotel bathtubs that are pointlessly shallow.  Gotta get the blood up.  Can’t start flagging now.

Sacred Sunday: “Steal Away,” Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole



Brains are weird things.  This song, for some reason, was going through my head last night as I lay in the dark dealing with both a migraine and food poisoning at the same time.  (How exciting!)  Then, after I finally fell asleep, this is why my fevered brain came up with as a dream.

I was in a bar/restaurant/liquor store and needed a strong drink to help me forget some recent heartache. I went up to the bar to order a single malt. The bartender was Elizabeth Warren. We got to talking and I discovered she owned the place. At the moment I complimented her on her excellent (and enormous) establishment, out of nowhere appeared Sam Waterston in a corduroy jacket and bow tie.  I recognized him as my traveling companion. Elizabeth offered us both a gift certificate to the restaurant plus a year of free drinks if we both agreed to seven years of indentured servitude. Even though it wasn’t clear what, exactly, that meant, Sam declined immediately, looked at me, shrugged, and walked off.  I, startled, said I needed to think about it, and left the bar/restaurant/liquor store to go to CVS, which was managed by, obviously, Shaquille O’Neal.

So, there you go.  Have some Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole to soothingly carry you through Sunday.