For the first time since I was a teenager I went, on the second Sunday in Advent, to Vespers at Davidson College. I had forgotten how splendid an event it is. The Davidson College Chorale, Brass Ensemble and String Ensemble as well as the organist, offered a beautifully constructed musical service that ranged across centuries. It was as spectacular an art experience as I have had in a long time.
The harmonies in the musical invocation “Oh Come All Ye Faithful, both orchestral and choral, were ecstatic. The service started on that kind of edge , where we glimpse the enormity of our human experience. Just remembering the power of those voices in that huge space draws me into a sacred space. It makes me think that if we can bless ourselves in this way, then the small things, and even some of the big ones, that torment us are unimportant, dwarfed as they are by our huge seeking spirits.
The final anthem was composed by Jennifer Stasack, of Davidson’s music faculty. It began as one might expect. The chorale’s voices joined, but quickly deconstructed into individuated parts. The many voices pulling apart from the whole reconnected to create a woven three-dimensional experience. I was keenly aware of each piece of its warp and woof, and surprised by my sense of its materiality. Later in the week I heard an artist discussing the concept of a sound sculpture. That struck me as an apt description of what I had heard in Jennifer’s evocative, haunting, woven piece.
Strange to think that on the main street of a small southern town on a December evening an experience of such enormity was given to me, and anyone else who took the time to take a seat and listen.