Sunday 30 January 2011

"Go quietly to bed"

Sunday evening, I had the privilege of singing Compline with the choir at St Mary's Addington. I started attending services in the parish once in a while in order to visit a friend of mine who is Curate there, but the community -- and especially the choir -- has become a real resource for me. As an organist working in a C of E church but who doesn't come from an Anglican background it's been excellent to be exposed to some of the standard repertoire from the rehearsal side as well as hearing it sung in services and, eventually, joining in and even conducting from time to time; they also did me the honour of singing a piece I composed. I've always been made very welcome and if the journey from Leytonstone weren't so silly I'm sure I would want to be there more often.

Anyway, Compline. I hadn't ever attended a Compline service before, not even a said one, so this was a new experience for me, though I'm familiar with the general shape of the liturgy. I've had a bit of a brush with chant notation in other contexts, and it's pretty straightforward to read if you're already good at transposition, so that wasn't a problem for me. I struggled a bit more with the psalm pointing but once I got the hang of it that was also straightforward. The service was by candle light, and very atmospheric. Choir and cantor sang well; that sort of unaccompanied unison singing is harder to do well than you might imagine, but the pitch stayed pretty stable throughout and I think the timing was good.

Compline is the last Office of the day and it is traditional to go quietly to bed afterward, without speaking and certainly without any cavorting about. I can certainly see how after singing the service in the cosy intimacy of St Mary's, going home quietly and to bed without further ado would be quite welcoming even if it meant a fairly early night. That option was, alas, not open to me: my journey from Leytonstone to Addington had been by bicycle, then train, then tram, and so on the way back I did the same in reverse (well, I didn't ride the bicycle backward, that doesn't work...). I wouldn't say I was cavorting, exactly, but even on a Sunday night in London one must keep one's wits about oneself on a bicycle. Still, I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to go.

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