Standing here is quite transition for me – I’m much more accustomed to sitting in the transept or the choir stalls. When I was younger, but not much shorter – those of you who see me process Sunday mornings will notice that I am aspiring to the 5ft mark, thank you Brooks for the use of the box – I sang with the St. Cecilia’s girls choir. I had always been involved with choirs and music but nothing quite so challenging.
I had never had a chance to work with an instrument like the organ we have in St. Paul’s. I was and in still am in awe of it. The pipes, the pedals, the endless knobs, the stops – I’ve been asked to turn pages for the organist several times now and every time it leaves me on the verge of a panic attack. In my defense I’ve actually heard that the three hardest things to do in the world are brain surgery, piloting a jet and playing the organ. I’ve checked in with both a brain surgeon and a jet pilot – they agreed that the prospect of trying to play this organ terrifies them.
During my time in St. Cecelia’s I learned a lot about music, and about musicianship and about God particularly my last year in the choir. High school ushered in many challenges, amongst them an episode of deep, excruciating and unshakable depression. I was in pain, I was angry, isolated, inconsolable. Getting out of bed in the morning prompted anxiety attacks that made eating breakfast impossible. Homework was a Herculean task. The only thing I looked forward to was music and not just any music. Music in this place with this organ.
Music is often described as the language of heaven, and in that vein I firmly believe it has the power to articulate our feelings in a way that words cannot. In some of my darkest moments I sat here and while listening and practicing and singing I had the opportunity to connect with God in way that I had never understood before. Singing De Profundis Clamavi or “out of the depths I cry to you Lord” wasn’t an exercise in reciting words off the page, it was an act that allowed me to express an almost unrelenting feeling of pain. A triple pianissimo or barely audible line allowed me to speak and then listen for whatever God might say, and a triumphant ending inspired a sense of joy. And while I was in the midst of all this music I couldn’t help but feel that the space between the Divine and myself was really quite small. When I sang and when I listened God heard me and I could hear God.
With incredible experiences and friends I graduated and left St. Cecelia’s – it was time to head off to college to become a “grown up”, an “adult.” Surprisingly after school my professional life brought me back to San Diego and like a homing pigeon back to St. Paul’s. Now I sing with the allegedly adult choir though I often think we’re nearly, if not more, rambunctious than our younger counterparts. While the group is different, the experience is quite similar.
The music here still draws people in and whether they are singing or listening, it can help bind us when we feel shattered, comfort us in moments of sorrow, and help us celebrate in moments of joy. Music gives us a shimmery sliver of the Divine.
A significant part of what makes the music program here at St. Paul’s so incredible is the organ. Excellent care and maintenance have allowed it to push past the normal problems and pitfalls an instrument of this size and construction face. But, the time has come when for all its care and upkeep a significant effort to restore the organ must be made. I am generously supporting the restoration of the organ because I want and hope that others will experience a sliver of the Divine in music, which has been unspeakably meaningful to me. To do this – we need your help. We need your help to ensure that listening to this organ is an experience we can share with all who come here for years to come. I hope you’ll consider supporting joining our campaign Perfecting our Praises to restore the organ.