Introducing a brand new evening prayer service written by members of the long-term Holden community. This service debuted during May Youth Weekend and seeks to honor night and darkness as times of blessing and renewal in our lives. It also has themes of creation, embodiment, and justice. It will be one part of the musical offerings during Summer 2023.
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Piano played by Steve Wolbrecht.
Introducing Vespers '23: Bless this Night
[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to the Holden Village Podcast. Holden is a community of education, programming, and worship located in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains. These snapshots provide a glimpse into the learnings taking place in our community. Let's tune in to this week's highlight.
[00:00:39] Dev: Welcome everyone to the Holden Podcast. I am your host Dev. I use he/him pronouns and I am surrounded by an entourage of musical masterminds...and in this episode we are going to discuss a particular composition that all of you have been working on recently. But before we do so, let's go around the circle...say our name, pronouns, our role in the village, and one profound musical memory that you have.
[00:01:15] Mark: Hi, my name is Mark. I use he/him pronouns and I serve the village as pastor. In the course of this project, there's been so many profound moments, but I just love it when we get to that right word and we all get goosebumps. Or we all say, "yeah, that's it, that's the one." I love those moments.
[00:01:31] Heather: My name's Heather. I use she/her pronouns. I have been surprised how much the dictionary has been my friend in this process.
[00:01:41] Steve: My name's Steve he/him pronouns. I've been very amazed at how we've been able to create this musical thing and to hit kind of dead ends a couple times and be like, "oh, that's it. There's no more creativity. That's it. This'll be the best it'll be." And then be able to push through that and then come up with, "hey, wait, no, this actually does work." And then have something come out of that is very nice and joyous and fun.
[00:02:04] Rachel: And I'm Rachel Joy. I'm the accountant lead for the village. I use, she/her or they/them pronouns. One moment that really stands out for was when I had played a part in the recent draft of the psalm I believe it was. And sometimes in the creative process, you think everything's absolutely wonderful, and sometimes in the creative process you think it's all just completely gotta be taken apart.
And I was at this taking apart moment--this doesn't say anything--and then Steve took it and put music to it and it was beautiful. So that sort of giving life to each other in this process was really profound in that moment.
[00:02:41] Dev: What is this composition that you've been working on?
[00:02:44] Mark: We're really excited about it. We're working on a Vesper's 23 service. When I arrived here as pastor in winter of 22, I inherited a conversation that the community had been having around metaphors of light and dark and the way those are represented in our liturgies, particularly in the beloved Holden 86 or Holden Evening Prayer Service.
And so really wrestling with changing some language and adapting that for kind of modern sensibilities and to reflect the current struggles we were having with some of the language. And then in this brief correspondence with Marty Haugen himself, he said in 1985 and 86, that winter community, we didn't have a vesper service that we liked. So rather than changing one that existed, we just wrote our own and extended an invitation to us to go and do likewise.
[00:03:31] Dev: I'm curious has there been any resistance to this process in regards to someone being very familiar with an old song and there being a new iteration for it?
[00:03:45] Mark: Last summer, one of the things we did intentionally to make room for something new was we didn't do hold an evening prayer every week. And that made some of our guests unhappy. There was a little angst and consternation around that, but that was that kind of cracking open.
[00:04:03] Steve: We had integrated three or four of the movements from Vespers 86 into the Eucharist service, so they still got to hear the music. I was expecting more kind of grumblings because it has become this sort of Mecca pilgrimage to come to Holden Village and do Holden Evening Prayer. That is for many guests that come up, that is their yearly tradition, that speaks very well and very very strongly to them. But the pushback wasn't as strong as I thought it would be.
[00:04:33] Rachel: And I would also add we're not abolishing Holden Evening Prayer. We're creating a new thing for a new time and we still recognize how beloved the Holden Evening Prayer is...and that will continue to be part of the musical services that Holden has.
The things that we take issue with in Haugen are what we take issue with in the Lutheran evening prayer liturgy itself. Particularly the use of the metaphor of light. And so we're leaning into a different thing entirely than people who have written evening prayers for Holden have done before.
[00:05:09] Heather: A traditional evening prayer service has a hymn of light, and the opening litany talks about Jesus Christ as the light of the world. And we are trying to move away from that metaphor and take a new focus. So, while our service will be recognizable as a vesper's service, it will have kind of a different focus than the longstanding tradition, using that light imagery at the evening prayer.
[00:05:35] Mark: But wasn't it kind of part of the fun of this too, taking that traditional pattern and recognizing it, honoring it, and breaking it a little bit. Moving it in a way that we feel is more authentic for what we hope to express today.
[00:05:51] Dev: Can you go a little deeper into how this new composition is shedding light onto the themes of light and dark?
[00:06:00] Heather: The Evening hymn. We are being very careful with the language that we're using and honoring the night and the purpose that night time serves. Whether it is a time of rest or a time of work--given that not everybody is privileged enough to be able to rest at nighttime--but that it is a regenerative time and a necessary time, but it is not necessarily bad or scary.
I also think that the modern sensibility of nighttime is very much affected by our use of electricity and the metaphor of light and dark is not intense when we can flip on a light switch and have floodlights in our houses, even our outdoors. And we're not constrained by night time in the same way that a culture might have been 200 years ago.
[00:06:47] Mark: I think it's important to name, the reason we're wrestling with that metaphor of light and dark is because we equate light and good and white. Then there's the connection between darkness and sin and evil, and even connecting that to bodies of color and the damage that's done, particularly in a Western context in Christianity. Being really sensitive to that and really challenging that, and maybe even being aspirational with the language that we use to try to create realities that we hope to see.
[00:07:16] Rachel: One of our commitments in this work is also to be true to our scriptural sources. So instead of taking inspiration from verses that talk about light and Jesus being the light of the world, we're using sources that use metaphors of darkness...that talk about God as a comforting and protecting presence, for example. So finding those scriptural sources that bring out the goodness of dark has been a part of our practice in this.
[00:07:44] Mark: There's something about the kind of embodied rhythm of the human experience that includes both day and night and we try to honor that. Day yields to night, a natural rhythm that we experience as human beings in the midst of all of creation. So we really try to pay attention to the particular sounds of night. Rachel did an amazing job incorporating the sounds and feel of Holden Village as the sun sets and that's captured in a lovely way.
[00:08:11] Rachel: I think another one of our commitments in this is to keep a really embodied awareness. So we want to describe this place. We want it to be set here and yet applicable anywhere. So somebody singing this in another location wouldn't be confused by a very specific Holden Village reference, but by describing this valley, we'd use the particulars to name something that's more general. Just keeping an awareness throughout all of it that we are in bodies, we're singing this in bodies, we're in community in bodies.
[00:08:42] Dev: What's your process in creating this? Do a lot of you take on different parts? Kind of do your own thing? Come back together as a group? or has it all been in a single room with all of you together?
[00:08:53] Mark: We started with the Annunciation and Magnificat. That was the kind of the kernel from which everything else grew. One of the things we really appreciated about Haugen's work was elevating Mary's voice, particularly. So we thought that was an important kind of centerpiece for an evening Vesper service. So we started with a novel translation of the Greek, of the Annunciation and Magnificat, with particular sensitivities to the issues that we've mentioned.
And then really tried to make Mary's voice very active. And so we had some kind of theological and sociological commitments that we made in that translation work (how we render different words and what the meanings of those are), and then how do we capture that in modern sensibilities.
That was in itself a creative task that took some time and we were tediously going through the words. And then Steve, with his amazing musical ability, starts putting music to this, changes it a little bit and they'll be like, "oh, that word looks good on paper, but it doesn't sing well," or "these syllables don't meet quite right." Then we're back to fussing with the language again. It was delightful then to showcase those two pieces, particularly for a group of people that were in the village.
[00:09:59] Steve: We would get the text that we would want, the lyrics mostly. It would be, "okay, Steve, this is ready. Go!" And then I would try to come up with the music to that, And then because I'm outta the village now, I would just record and send up copies on Google Drive for people to listen to it and be like, "yeah, okay. I think we're getting it. Yeah. Okay. This is in the right field. Okay, good."
And then as Mark was saying, then we go in and "okay, this word isn't singing right now," or "I can't quite get this to work. Okay, let's rework that text." And then massage that down til we got something that worked both musically and textually.
[00:10:28] Rachel: I would say that first working in the Magnificat was a little awkward. We were still learning how we worked together. And there would be times when I would be working on some words and Steve would be working on music and Mark would be working on translation. And Heather was also reading many of the drafts at that point, but hadn't come in as fully yet.
And we would go in different directions and one person would move forward on an earlier draft. And we had just a lot of inefficiency in that. And then once we had that work shopping where we were all in-person (it was a really intense weekend) we have settled since then into a pattern where we meet every week, so we have a time when we're all together focusing on a specific thing that we have our main focus on.
And then we have our little parts that we go off asynchronously and work on but come back together. So it's turned into a really wonderful thing that builds on all of our gifts. We're working in conjunction with each other. We're not pulling in different directions. And I would also say I had to let go of my ego pretty early on in this (uncontrollable laughter).
[00:11:33] Mark: I think sometimes being engaged in an intense collaborative process can breed friction and fractions, and I feel the opposite about this. We see the goal of making a product that is beautiful and captures the spirit of what we've been talking about, and I think that becomes the primary thing as opposed to "oh, I really wanted that particular word in there."
[00:11:53] Heather: We all have the same understanding of some of the values that Holden Village really holds dear. And the things that we want to say and the reasons of why we're doing this. So we all have this foundational understanding that comes from living in the community in this place for so long that has enabled us to get as far as we have and write this together as a cohesive voice.
[00:12:16] Dev: What did all of you learn most about yourself in this process?
[00:12:21] Mark: I've never done anything like this before. It seemed just kinda like this audacious challenge last winter. We're like, "oh, let's write Vespers 23" and here we are. There's a creativity that this requires and I can rise to that challenge.
[00:12:36] Steve: One of the other hats and other lives I live is I score film and have done 12, 14 projects over the many years. And predominantly it's just me doing that. I am alone in my little silo doing all the stuff. And certainly for post-production, once you get the picture lock--here's the film--then it separately goes to special effects audio and music, and we all work independently.
So that's largely been my experience as a composer most recently is working alone. So this has been fantastic to break down a little bit of my walls, to be able to let those fall down and then to be able to open up and work collaboratively beyond my wife Jennifer, just hearing, "Hey, can you listen to this? Does that sound okay? Is that good? Okay, cool. I'm gonna go with that." This has been the most collaborative work that I've been recently working on and it has been fantastic.
[00:13:32] Rachel: Most of my poetry composing has been solitary and for myself. I have learned more about myself as a creative person, how energizing it is and how much more I can do as part of a group with people who have different perspectives, but we're all pulling together towards something.
So that has been energizing and has made me rethink how I approach creative work. Not just as something solitary, but where are ways where I can add collaboration in? I'm just noticing how I come alive when I have a creative project. I'm more secure in who I am. I'm more able to engage authentically with other people, even just at casual, lunchtime, conversations. So it's been transformative for me.
[00:14:22] Dev: Is this the beginning of a band? Is this a one and done thing, or do you feel inspired to take this and do other compositions?
[00:14:34] Steve: Katabastic Breeze, is that our name?
[00:14:36] Mark: Matins 24.
[00:14:37] Heather: We gotta finish this one first (uncontrollable laughter).
[00:14:41] Rachel: So one big question about that is in another year if we're all in different locations and we're not living in community together, I think that is one part of what's making this work. We have a central point of daily life that brings us together. Even with Steve Down Lake, he's such a part of the community that that brings this group together in this time. I would love to see us go on and continue doing things.
[00:15:04] Dev: Any final thoughts or expressions that any of you would like to say about this process?
[00:15:11] Mark: One of the other commitments that I'm excited about is that we try to make it very approachable. And that feels like an important commitment that we've made and a creative constraint that we made, honestly. To use an octave, to use relatively simple guitar chords. And so it's really versatile. You can pull it off the shelf and somebody can lead it with a guitar, or if you have a concert, grand piano or an organ, any of these instruments would facilitate the service in a really lovely way.
[00:15:37] Steve: To dovetail on that, there wasn't another musician that came in after we left. And so writing something that would be approachable and easy to pick up for this community. I think that's been one of the lenses we've been very strongly using is we're doing this for this community, what speaks to us, this community here, but then also, looking wider as well.
[00:15:56] Mark: We've shared it with the in-village community. I think it's been really cool to Rachel's earlier point, the in-village community hears themselves in this work, and yet it's broadly accessible. You don't have to be in this, in-village community to have it make sense and to be a powerful experience. But it's been really lovely to hear the villagers who are in this winter community hear themselves reflective and hear their joy in noticing those different little things.
[00:16:20] Outro: Thanks for joining us. Be sure to view the links in the description for more information or visit our website to find out more about the village. We hope you will make a pilgrimage to Holden. Blessings and peace to you.