Lux Magna Orta Est

by J.D. Roth

On Sunday afternoon, I join Dave and Karen and Nicole for a concert at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in northwest Portland. Trinity Episcopal is certainly the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen: the towering red doors, the daunting narthex (that’s a new word for me), the vast nave, the towering pipe organ.

While we wait for the concert to begin, I eavesdrop on the two couples in front of me. They’re discussing The Lord of the Rings. “I loved the first movie, but I hated the second,” says one woman.

“Oh, I loved the second movie,” says the other woman.

“I hated it,” says the first woman. “Too many battles. The movie was just one battle after another.”

Quietly, the second woman says, “I loved the giant talking trees.”

I glance through the program. What’s this? Kari Brenneman is listed under the sopranos. I knew she was in a big Portland choir, but I hadn’t realized it was the Trinity Consort. Will her parents be here? Will John and Louse be here? Will Jeremy and Jennifer be here?

I look around, and sure enough, there are John and Louise. I walk over to talk with them. They, along with Carolyn and Judy (John’s sisters), have brought all of the young Gingerich/Brenneman cousins: Nicole, Andrew, Julian, Brooks, and others I’m unable to name (they occupy an entire pew). Andrew’s long hair has been put into dreadlocks. Nicole’s short hair has also been put into dreadlocks. Brooks’ hair is still in a gigantic afro. (What is with these Gingerich kids? I’ll have to get a photo of them this weekend.)

The concert itself, entitled “A Baroque Christmas at Trinity”, is lovely. Eric Milnes, the conductor, is an early music aficionado, and the pieces are performed on period instruments.

The first piece, Dialgoue between the Angels and the Shepherds of Judea on the Birth of the Lord is by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), a composer with whom I am unfamiliar. I particularly like the Latin text; even its English translation has a lovely poetry:

Tenor: Even as you avert your face, Lord, and disregard our tribulations.

Trio of the Just: Remember your covenant which you declared. Come from on high, and set us free.

Bass: Be comforted, daughter of Zion, why are you consumed with grief? Your King will come with mildness, you will not weep at all. And the pupil of your eye will be still. In that day the mountains shall drip sweetness, and the hills will flow with honey and milk. Be consoled, be comforted, daughter of Zion, and support God, your Savior.

Chorus: If you would only burst through the heavens, our redeemer, and descend. You heavens, drop dew from above and let the clouds rain down the just one. Let the earth be opened up and sprout forth a Saviour.And my favorite bit:

Chorus: Caeli aperti sunt, lux magna orta est, lux magna, lux terribilis! (The Heavens are opened, a great light appears, a great light, a terrible light!)

I quite like this first piece.

The next few pieces are purely instrumental, and while nice, they don’t hold my attention as well as a choral piece would. (I’ve always been more fond of choral pieces than purely instrumental pieces.) The nave is hot, and with the dulcet sounds of the orchestra, and my perpetual lack of sleep, I am drowsing off.

I try to stay awake by looking around at the cathedral. I look at the elaborate stained glass windows, each of which is inscribed with a line from the beatitudes. I look at the immense pipe organ which looms in the apse. (Is it the apse? I have trouble with terminology for elaborate church structures.) I look at the two rows of chandeliers which run the length of the cathedral, their lights perhaps meant to be almost like candle-light. I look at the slat-like construction of the ceiling. I look all around, absorbing the beauty of the church.

Still, it’s all I can do to keep from dozing.

The final piece is, thankfully, more choral music. Various individual bits from Johann Sebastian Bach have been combined into a Christmas Oratorio, and among these is one of my favorites, Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, performed in the original German.

After the concert, the four of us walk up to Laslow’s Northwest for a bite to eat. I order the pork chop, and the waiter asks me how I’d like it prepared. I’ve never been asked that for pork before, so I choose medium, which turns out to be a mistake. The pork is delicious, but it’s too done. I ought to have ordered medium-rare. Don’t restaurants usually prepare pork as they best see fit?

On the way home, I stop at Home Depot to pick up molding and paint, etc. I walk into the store, and have only made it to the paint section when an employee announces the store is closing. I thought Home Depot was open 24 hours! (Seriously.) Not this one. Ah well — it’ll be nice to get to bed early for once.

(I do stop at Krispy Kreme for a donut and hot chocolate, though!)


On 15 December 2003 (12:14 PM),
Paul said:

If you don’t already have it, I give high marks to Anonymous 4’s cd “11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula”. Wonderful vocal work. When does a group of singers become a choral group? Can a quartet be a choir?

I am also a big fan of Arvo Part’s choral compositions. I have this cd and really enjoy it, “Arvo Part: Kanon Pokajanen”. Though Part’s “Arbos”
has what I believe are soulful organ instrumental pieces, the interspersed choral pieces may be too infrequent.

If you find any pieces that you like of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, please let me know.

Enjoy the music.

On 15 December 2003 (01:47 PM),
Dave said:

To answer Paul’s question, I conceive of the defining characteristics of a choir as being a group of singers in which you have at least four distinct parts, usually characterized by the vocal ranges of the singers and frequently divided into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts. Each part has more than one individual singing it. This would normally preclude a quartet from being a choir since each person in a quartet usually has their own part.

On 15 December 2003 (01:51 PM),
Dana said:

Yeah. But four-part harmony is pretty keen sounding in a different way than a choir. Both are cool, I think.

On 15 December 2003 (02:37 PM),
Jazzercize said:

you can have as many singing mouths as you wish if you can carefully form them and then open them in the proper way. one person then is the whole and whole is of holes emitting sounds that combine together to form a ragged tapestry of traps that hurt your fingers finally. god enjoys the quiet to reflect. his ears do not demand noise. the headaches come fast and furious.

On 15 December 2003 (02:49 PM),
dowingba said:

Wait, I’m confused. Loud noises gives God headaches?

JD, I too have never heard of restaurants serving different kinds of pork like that. “Rare” pork would be pretty uhh…horrible to eat.

The Home Depot in my town isn’t open 24 hours. I can’t imagine them getting much business at night time…unless people are doing midnight renovations often.

On 15 December 2003 (03:32 PM),
Tiffany said:

The Home Depot & Lowes here are open from 4am to 12 midnight. There are also signs says that contractors can arrange to be let in early if required!

On 15 December 2003 (03:40 PM),
mac said:

Home Depots (I almost typed “Depot’s”!) in Portland used to be open 24-7, but no longer…at least not since last May or so when I made the same mistake you did J.D.

On 15 December 2003 (04:06 PM),
Denise said:

Yes, Home Depots close at 8:00 now. We asked an employee and he said they didn’t get enough business in Oregon during the late evening/early morning hours to warrant being open past 8:00pm.

On 15 December 2003 (05:01 PM),
Joel said:

Oregon, the sleepiest of states.

This is actually the second time I’ve heard of a restaurant asking a customer’s pork-pinkness preference. I wonder if they’d serve it at less than 170 degrees? “Mm, that pig sure was tasty! And I just love these trichinellosis cysts imbedded in my muscle tissue!”

Those lyrics are wonderful, but what does “the pupil of your eye will be still” mean?

On 15 December 2003 (05:23 PM),
J.D. said:

Well, the translation in the program is even worse: “The pupil of your eye will be silent”. I took the liberty of altering “silent” to “still” because it seemed to make more sense. Sort of. 🙂

On 15 December 2003 (05:25 PM),
J.D. said:

Also, I just remembered another bit of the womens’ Lord of the Rings conversation. Woman one (who hated The Two Towers was raving about Viggo Mortensen’s heroic Aragorn, and woman two said something along the lines of: “I like Sam. I think Sam’s the hero of those movies.” She was quiet, but perceptive.

On 15 December 2003 (08:28 PM),
Dana said:

Here in Minneapolis, some Home Depots are open 24-hours, and some aren’t.

(PS – Go Sam!)

Updated: 15 December 2003

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