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Taize Chants, Labyrinths, Singing with Friends - New Year's Eve - nhpeacenik
Taize Chants, Labyrinths, Singing with Friends - New Year's Eve
The days leading up to New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day itself were intensely snowy. Driving had been difficult, I had spent much of Dec 30th chopping ice-dams off the roof with an axe, and we expected the night's celebration to be snowed out., but on December 31, we had a short but blessed respite from the snowfall and it proved possible to go out for the evening. So... where to go?

Our daughter had decided to go somewhere unspecified with a group of her friends, possible to the massive "First NIght Boston". She had spent the previous night away from home, and Denise and I were left to plan a trip together.

I had been looking forward to seeing Mad Agnes perform before their extended Southern and European tour began. Their last performances before leaving New England were at "First Night" celebrations in Northampton and Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester is an hour's drive from our house in good weather, but the city is largely unfamiliar to us and admission was $15 per person. Most of the other entertainment besides Mad Agnes was uninteresting... family puppet shows, country clogging, fireworks, etc. It's hard to praise Mad Agnes's spiritual and harmony-based music enough... this blog isn't long enough. Suffice it to say that their songs, particularly those of Adrienne Jones, have been at the center of some amazing  positive coincidences in my life recently.

We had learned the day before that a Taize Chanting ceremony was to be held in Walpole, NH, and some of our friends from the Wilton/Milford song circle were planning to attend. I had long been intrigued by Taize's music - it is a mostly a cappella choral tradition based on the work of a religious community in southern France. I like participating in other forms of hymn singing, especially a cappella traditions such as shape-note and west-gallery. I had heard recordings of Taize singing, but I had no idea how it was organized. My enthusiasm for these forms of hymn-singing has nothing to do with the theology expressed in the lyrics (some of which I find repugnant), but with the amazing harmonies and the joy of creating something beautiful with friends and neighbors.

Coincidentally, we had been invited to drop in at a party being held at a friend's house in Peterborough. The friend is Mary Beth, the lead singer of Full Cold Moon. There was to be food, drink and singing, and we could drop in whenever we could make it.

We opted to go to the Taize singing and set out along the snow-narrowed but mostly clear roads to Walpole. Google maps directed us to the wrong place, but we eventually found the Unitarian church where the event was to take place. We were late for the 4:00 teaching session, but were welcomed anyway, Denise as a soprano and I as a tenor. There were 12 songs to learn, and I would have done better if I had been practicing my  parts for a few weeks, since I'm not very good at sight reading of music. The atmosphere was congenial, positive and supportive, just like that at a shape-note singing. Some of the songs were in Latin, one was in German, but most were in English.

Walking into the church, we were greeted by women holding signs that said "In Silence". We sat down and waited until the minister started the first song by playing the initial notes for each of the four parts on a Casio keyboard. The sound was overpoweringly sweet and engulfing. Beween songs there were periods of silence, which appealed to me strongly as a Quaker. On some songs, a clarinet and a recorder accompanied the singing. The minister sat in a pew with his back to the congregation, so that there was no sense of being led, but a sense of communal responsibility for the tone of the proceedings. On the last song "Da Pacem Cordium", a woman danced with a candle in the front of the church.

After the singing, we returned to the rectory where a Labyrinth had been laid out on the floor, and, along with most of the singers, we walked the labyrith  without speaking to the accompaniment of a CD of chants. I had walked labyrinths a number of times before: it has become a New Years tradition to set up a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartres Cathedral in the Peterborough Town House, and all kinds of people come to walk slowly inward to the center and outward to the periphery meditating on their hopes for the coming year. The Chartres labyrinth has separate paths for going inward and going outward, but the Walpole labyrinth occupied a small space and had only a single path, so that walkers had to pass each other going in opposite directions, making the experience more social. The outlines of the Peterborough labyrinth are lovingly laid out using electrical tape, while those of the Walpole labyrinth were laid out in christmas lights and fir boughs.

Back to Peterborough, where we walked into the party at Mary Beth's and were joyously greeted by friends sitting around a heavily-laden table of food. I was honored to meet Tom Febonio, who has composed much of the music that Full Cold Moon performs. In addition to singing a number of familiar winter tunes together, there were musicians (pianists, a cello player and recorder players) who performed baroque tunes and lots of Febonio's compositions. We talked of many things. A young couple announced their engagement, farmers talked of the pains and delights of raising pigs, recipes were exchanged... All too soon it was time to go home to face the new year.

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Current Location: Greenville NH
Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
Current Music: Full Cold Moon, Scottish (by Febonio)

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