Jason Allen Anderson

A Seattle-based conductor, liturgist, organist, teacher, singer, and composer

Compline. Church. Change.

Extracted from my address to the Compline Choir,
delivered at the choir’s annual meeting on January 18, 2015

2014 was a year of measurable, palpable change—for better, for worse. Change is a constant in the natural world. Seasons change, landscapes transform, mountains rise and fall, trees grow and decay, flora explodes revealing a rainbow of colors only to wither and turn brown. One need only go on a hike to witness these changes—and I went on many hikes this past year.

Even the Church, capital C, changes—usually for better, but always at a glacial pace. Monody turns to organum, organum to polyphony, polyphony to anthems accompanied by instruments. The language of the Church changes from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to Latin and the vernacular. Daily prayers of monks, nuns, and clerics change to corporate prayers led by lay persons. And this is where the Compline Choir fits in. The very thing the choir does, singing the office of Compline, happens precisely because the Church has embraced—or at least managed—change.

Has the Compline Choir changed in our 58-plus year history? Yes. What began as a 12-man chant study group changed into a 22-person choir. While initially limited to plainsong, the choir now sings polyphony and anthems of the great composers—from Josquin to Hallock. Instead of singing to an empty cathedral, the choir now sings to 250-plus persons and 15,000-30,000 Classical 98.1 KING-FM radio and internet stream listeners. The choir’s board of directors has changed from a largely passive, rubberstamp entity, to one that actively seeks to fulfill the choir’s unchanging mission through an adaptive, changing strategic plan. And as our financial statements reveal, the choir has moved from an impoverished, “please send us money” non-profit, to a non-profit with a 2015 budget, a permanent fund and financial policies in place to allow significant investment in our future. Certainly, I have pressed the board of directors “behind and before” as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139, but the board has responded well.

There was of course a fundamental change to us last year. Ken Peterson, in a recently published Saint Mark’s Cathedral Rubric interview said, “Compline went through a process since I joined that I would call ‘changing with Peter.’ We were a reflection of his passions and purposes at any given time.” On April 27, we became a choir changing without Peter.

This change permanently altered my life and our shared life together. This change sent me, and perhaps some of you, into a period of reflection on love, loss, mentors, friends, relationships, endings, and new beginnings. From the moment of Peter’s death last year, I was plunged into such a period of profound, aching loss, that my productivity plummeted. Had it not been for help from you, from dear friends, and for Providence Hospice’s “Writing through your Grief” class, I might still be in the very deep depression that enveloped me for nearly six months last year. Peter’s death changed me.

Peter’s death changed us. We can’t have an email exchange with him. We can’t hear his voice on the other end of the phone. We can’t ask him about his compositions or why he wrote a particular passage the way he did. We can’t share recipes with him. We can’t gossip about the goings on at church X or cathedral Y. We can’t share rector-musician war stories. We can’t ask about long-lost loves.

But if we’re truly still, if we’re truly listening, we can “hear” his voice, his life’s experiences, and his personal theology and philosophy, through his music. And though I truly lament and have shed a great many tears thinking of those of you who never met or spoke with Peter, I take some comfort in knowing Peter lives on through WHAT we do, HOW we do it, and WHY we do it—in short, by being the choir and community WHOM he created us to be.

© 2015 Jason Allen Anderson. All rights reserved.
Updated: 01/20/2015 — 9:51 AM
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