Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Post-Easter installation

We have based our Lent-Easter worship loosely on resources from Sanctified Art, "cultivating and letting go." After letting go during Lent, we are now cultivating! This installation is simply brown butcher paper taped and hung in our narthex. There is a Bible verse from Galatians (5.22-23), and a simple question: what will you cultivate this season? One week in and there are few leaves popping out.


Defiant Requiem

A couple of singers are participating in this next month. This is a write-up provided by one of them, Linda Sperath.


In 1868 famed opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was grieving the loss of his colleague, the equally famous Gioachino Rossini. Verdi suggested to his publisher that the leading composers of Italy should collaborate in writing a mass for the dead in Rossini’s memory. Sadly, the project failed and the performance never took place. However, a few years later Verdi realized that the Requiem sections he had written constituted a valuable core that he could develop into a complete work – which is exactly what he did in 1873, and it was performed for the first time in 1874.

Fast-forward to 1941, when Rafael Schächter, a brilliant young conductor, was arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Theresienstadt (Terezín in Czech) concentration camp, along with many other accomplished artists and musicians. Schächter was determined to sustain courage and hope for his fellow prisoners by enriching their souls through great music. He recruited 150 prisoners and taught them Verdi’s Requiem by rote in a cellar using a single smuggled score, after grueling days of forced labor. He was forced to recon­stitute the choir three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. The Requiem was performed on 16 occasions for fellow prisoners. The last, most infamous performance occurred in June 1944 before high-ranking SS officers from Berlin and the International Red Cross, to support the charade that the prisoners were treated well and flourishing.

Fast-forward again to the 1990s, when American conductor Murry Sidlin discovered the story of Rafael Schächter and the Requiem at Terezín. Sidlin began to ask himself: Why would a large group of Jews, imprisoned for being Jewish, willingly volunteer to learn, rehearse, and perform such a demanding choral work of Catholic liturgy? He became convinced there was a hidden reason that this chorus of prisoners undertook such a risky endeavor. His research, including interviews with survivors and relatives of the prisoners, made it clear that the Verdi performances were a statement, an act of defiance and resistance against the Nazis. As Schächter told his choir and musicians, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”

By this point in his exploration, Sidlin had also perfected a new kind of performance that he called the “concert-drama,” a combination of music, narration, and multimedia elements, as a new way to present traditional repertoire. He conceived and created the concert-drama Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, which premiered in 2002. More performances followed, including three at Terezín, as well as documentary films. The production has now been presented more than 40 times worldwide and has raised more than $10 million in funding for survivors and Holocaust education.

Time-travel now to the near future – June 1, 2019 – when Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín will be presented at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville. The concert-drama will feature a full performance of Verdi’s Requiem, with an international cast of soloists, the Asheville Symphony, and a choir including members of the Asheville Symphony Chorus and the Asheville Choral Society. Video testimony from survivors of the original Terezín chorus, film segments, and actors’ interpretations will accompany the music. Sponsors include the Defiant Requiem Foundation and Carolina Jews for Justice. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster or at the US Cellular Center box office.

Why bring Defiant Requiem to Asheville? the sponsors provide this explanation:

“As time passes, there is a tendency to relegate tragedies such as the Holocaust to the distant past, diminishing their relevance to today’s world. [This performance] not only preserves the memory of the Holocaust, but also demonstrates how resistance to oppression is possible even in the most trying circumstances. The event raises these issues [across the region], stimulates thoughtful discussion, and provides educational opportunities for all ages – especially children – who may not know about the Holocaust. Music is a perfect vehicle to move beyond words and feel the essence of suffering and defiance.”

[Excerpts from defiantrequiem.org and local promotional materials.]
 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Art Installations Lent 2019

To begin, our art installations this year were characterized by two very different formats for our two worship spaces. We envisioned a set of five pieces for the sanctuary that spanned the (liturgical) east wall of the nave, the lectern, table, pulpit and were complete on the opposite wall. Thematically it was one large-scale piece, in 5 segments. The idea was that over the six weeks of Lent, elements of the pieces would be let go as we passed them in the Sunday readings. We used a similar color scheme in the fellowship hall, and used a six-part plan, but the panels were much more closely configured on a single pole hung on a wall. For the thematic elements we selected vivid images from any/all of the weekly lections though in reality most Sundays we actually hear only the gospel lection read in worship. Because of the peculiarities of our worship life we switched Lent 2 and Lent 3 this year. What follows is based on how we executed everything. From the Bible readings we got, in order of the weeks: eagle/wings (Psalm 91); water (Isaiah 55); stars (Genesis 15); fence (the prodigal son story in Luke and the imagined fence that must have corralled the swine with whom he dwelt for a time); oil/pitcher (when Mary anoints Jesus in John 12). Finally the tree will be removed to reveal a cross that will carry us through Holy Week. Here are some pictures of the final products. We are much-indebted to the many hands that helped bring this off!

The sanctuary:






The fellowship hall:

Folk immediately noticed the missing eagles in the sanctuary. With the blue (water) gone for the second week, things look rather stark already. Some folks have had a bit of a hard time wrapping their heads around "letting go" of certain Bible images, but we hope that repetition of the concept that we are letting go for a time as an act of spiritual discipline will begin to resonate more fully with them.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Lenten art 2019


We are using resources from A Sanctified Art this year during Lent and Eastertide. The theme is "cultivating and letting go." We opted to split the theme and are using the "letting go" aspect during Lent and will switch to "cultivating" during the great 50 days. Working with our worship committee and our resident artists and crafters, we have devised two unique installations for our two worship spaces (above). Today was a big workday (below) with lots of people involved, plus the thrill of seeing concepts getting fleshed out. Here are some pictures so far. Updates will come when the finished works are installed.




Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Good Friday Experience 2016, part 3


I'm not sure what kept me from writing this installment for so long, other than a wish to convey how deeply affecting the whole experience was. I believe I have covered the background and development of the undertaking, so here I will lay out the various stations, with photos.


In the narthex folks could pick up a brochure which would guide them through the rest of the experience. They could also attach pieces of tissue paper to a cross-shaped installation on the window which was made from double-sided clear contact paper. From here the sanctuary was available (quiet and dimly lit, with a sheet of simple prayers and readings) for quiet meditation.


Upstairs we had squares of aluminum foil available to shape into animals. Ideally these would have been animals mentioned in the Bible narrative (donkey, rooster, etc) but we got a variety, and as the evening wore on even non-living sculptures! With one of our resident artists located here, this went much better than one might expect.



In another room persons could use wire and nails to make a cross, of sticks and yarn to make God's eyes. This seemed to appeal to older folks, as I found many of them in this center chatting together all evening!


I asked on of our carpenters to build a wood frame and add nails to serve as a base for weaving yarn as prayers. Over the years our supply of yarn has increased exponentially, and this was a great way to put some of that to use.


I asked one of our other elementary art teachers to create a mural-sized depiction of the Palm Sunday narrative: Jesus, donkey, town, villagers, etc. We provided paints (and smocks) for persons to paint that mural. We also had smaller pieces of paper and markers of various types available for individual, small-scale projects.



Outside we explored the labyrinth as a device for prayer. We had supplies available to make a labyrinth out of paper and sand to take home, and a kid-scaled version to walk in our lawn. It included prayer suggestions along the way. The outdoor aspect helped the children who were participating considerably by providing a place to release some energy.


Finally, we had a simple dinner of soup and bread (and peeps) available in our fellowship hall.


I was delighted with the turn-out, and gratified that folks found meaning in the various stations. I hope we can do something like this again.

Good Friday 2016, stations event

Following up on the initial post on our Good Friday event this year, here are some more details about the evolution of the event.

Our community has a history of sponsoring a community Good Friday service. It is one of the last in a series of services sponsored by the clergy association in town. It takes place at midday. Our church has supported this service, and the whole series for several years, so we have avoided adding anything of our own to Good Friday that might take away from the population for the community service. I offered a sacred concert of organ music for a couple of years, feeling that this was different enough from a worship service that it would not detract from the community service, and that it was also not going to even attempt to draw the same crowd that would attend a "regular" worship service. I have also had our choir offer choral music on Good Friday in recent years, with the same thinking in mind.

This stations event would build on that concept: it would target persons who might not normally go to the community service, and it would not be a "service" in the typical sense. We were hopeful a good cross-section of our congregation's demographic would attend, especially families with children. And we felt the "art" aspect would really separate it in the minds of our community.

Planning with our artists was very gratifying. They had plenty of ideas of creative ways to explore Bible passages for Good Friday. Ultimately we decided to expand and somewhat superficially cover all of Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday, but avoid any hint at Easter, all without it being a "gloomy" event. We settled on 6 stations with 8 "projects. It was a very dynamic exchange with lots of adjustments as I offered possible Bible passages, to which the artists offered possible art projects. We wanted everything to be attainable by even young children, but yet wanted the whole evening to provide enough theological heft to appeal to older adults.

By this point we knew we wanted to offer food at the event and settled on a specific time-frame during which food would be available, with folks coming and going at will from the other aspects of the evening. We also wanted to have our sanctuary available as a quiet place for prayer. These really became two additional stations, the dining hall being a chance to reflect on the last supper Jesus shared with his followers, and the sanctuary emblematic of Jesus praying in the garden prior to his arrest.

Next post I'll go into detail with the specific stations and the art projects.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Pentecost stained glass

Our worship and arts team has been transitioning away from floral arrangements in our worship space for some time. We have had fewer people sign up to provide flowers, and the committee has been hesitant to spend money on weekly arrangements that didn't seem to speak to worshipers in the way they did in generations part. The committee has taken this as an opportunity to expand what we offer in our worship space, by including the visual arts. Our first foray into this was for Pentecost this year.

Member Barbara Brinson has been dabbling in stained glass for some time. As we developed our plan for worship art installations in the sanctuary she shared an interest in creating something in glass. Over the course of several months we shared in committee meetings her planning, design, and execution of the project, as well as the usual emotional work that artists endure as they create something. The end product was ready a couple of weeks ago, and we installed it late last week.

The piece is 28.5 inches square with zinc borders. One piece is chipped which we agreed was part of the charm of the overall work. The piece was well-received by both worshiping congregations yesterday. We intend to have the piece framed and later installed in our facility. We purchased a nice easel to support the piece, as those we had on hand were too flimsy to support. We hope to have other stained glass pieces to display similarly in the future.

In addition to Pentecost festivities, we designated 5/20 to be our own congregation's 110th birthday, so there were balloons and cake to round out the visual feast.