While sirens wailed through Paris streets, speeding their way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Mike and I attended an extraordinary concert at First Congregational Church in downtown Columbus. Under vaulted cathedral ceilings, the evening light streaming through stained glass windows, soloists, choir, and The Chatham Baroque Orchestra performed J.S. Bach’s, Johannespassion, BWV 245, conducted by Kevin Jones, First Church choirmaster/organist.
The nave was filled to capacity, and in rapt attention we heard the distinctive warm tones of the period wind instruments, all of wood construction. The archlute was a revelation, with a long fret board that extended up and over the entire orchestra, contributing a sound texture unique to the Baroque era.
With delight, I studied the soloists as each prepared to sing. Soprano Elizabeth McConnaughey planted her Mary Jane’s decisively on the stone floor, and with her entrance approaching, extended each elbow outward, one at a time, as if to make her torso wider for that first breath. The countertenor, Wee Kiat Chia, affected a slow-motion walk from his seat to center stage, demonstrating to us and to himself his full command of the moment, and of his voice. Tenor Dennis Shuman as the Evangelist produced dulcet tones for the duration of the two-hour work, in-and-out of his chair more times than I could count, his role the most demanding due to the stamina required.
Christopher Humbert, a soon-to-be Capital Conservatory graduate, stood front row center with the choir, towering over his neighbors, with a sound to match his stature. He made it look effortless. So did Margaret Wells, her soprano voice clear, expressive, and free. Our ears and eyes value effortlessness. We prefer free and flowing tones from our musicians, and it is no small feat to cultivate skills and artistry that make it all look so easy. May I commend the Alexander Technique to those of you who aspire to making such beauty? With ease of use comes ease of tone, and along with it the phrasing and musicianship demanded by fine music.
And yes, perhaps the sounds we reveled in last night were all the more appreciated because we had assembled in a cathedral space that was not burning, thus able to be especially grateful for the privilege, even as much of an 850-year-old structure was destroyed half a world away.
Keep your light shining and make a little beauty today. We have as inspiration the Notre-Dame votives, lit earlier in the day by visitors; they were still alight when firefighters entered the charred Cathedral deep in the night. What is that camp song phrase, ‘Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine.’ Shine on—