I will meditate
Meditation and contemplation, folded in prayer, chant, and music are the essence of Compline at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle. The very existence of Compline in Seattle is due to the untiring efforts of Peter R. Hallock, who, through his own music-making with the Compline Choir, inspired countless church musicians to “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful” (Psalm 149:1). Among those inspired musicians is Richard T. Proulx.
This recording offers a sampling of ten of Hallock’s nearly 50 psalm settings and premiere recordings of Proulx’s works for the Compline Choir. Proulx’s haunting setting of Psalm 119:47-48 entitled I will meditate serves as the title track for this recording. The hymn tune Land of Rest (Jerusalem, my happy home) was arranged by Proulx for the Compline Choir in the early 1970s; from the same time comes his Nunc dimittis —a simple, two-part setting with a repeating handbell throughout. The Compline Choir commissioned Proulx’s large-scale anthem In Praise of Music for its 50th anniversary celebration (celebrated two years early in 2004—now we know better) and features choir, French horn, and tabor.
The Compline Choir worked with Richard Proulx on November 22, 2009 (four months before his death) at Holy Sounds for a Holy Space, a concert in honor of Peter Hallock upon his retirement as director of the Compline Choir. Proulx substantially revised In Praise of Music, traveled to Seattle, rehearsed with the Compline Choir and Jeffrey Fair (French horn), and directed its premiere.
This is the first recording of the office of Compline made since the compact disc Feathers of Green Gold (out of print) was released in 1994. Many voices heard on that recording are no longer with us. We honor the memory of those members of the choir who have entered the gates of larger life by singing the office of Compline every Sunday night at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.
—Jason A. Anderson
The Office of Compline
Compline is one of the monastic prayer services, or offices, of the Christian church. It is the last office said or sung at the end of the day – hence its Latin name completorium (completion). One of the earliest records of communal prayer before retiring is in the writings of St. Basil (d. 379); such prayer became more frequently a part of monastic life over the next several centuries, replacing nighttime prayers said privately. The specific form of the office is described by several guides for monks in the mid-sixth century, including the Rule of St. Benedict (d. 547), which became the standard for prayer in Western Christendom. The elements of Compline include one or more psalms, a hymn, the canticle Nunc dimittis (Song of Simeon), a short reading, confession of sins, and chanted prayers, versicles, and responses.
As in the other offices, Compline provides the time and space for silence, meditation, and mystic communion with the Divine. Because of its position at the end of the day and before sleep, it has several unique characteristics: vigilance, contemplation of mortality, self-examination, and a prayer for inner peace.
Compline at St. Mark’s
Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle
Peter Hallock became organist-choirmaster in 1951 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle. In 1956 he started a weekly service of Compline, sung by a group of men whose nucleus was a chant-study group that had met the previous fall. They sang from an Order of Compline that Hallock had used when a student at the Royal School of Church Music in Canterbury in 1949-51; its text was from the Proposed Book of Common Prayer (1928) of the Church of England, set to medieval chants. The Compline service in Seattle was the first offering of the office in English on a regular basis (outside of Anglican monasteries) in North America.
In the first ten years of Compline at St. Mark’s, there was little or no attendance, but due to weekly radio broadcasts beginning in 1962, and an influx of young people during the “Summer of Love” (1967), the service became immensely popular. Today, the attendees still number in the hundreds and are mostly young, and thousands listen to the live broadcast or recorded podcasts. Over fifty groups now offer a regular Office of Compline in the United States and Canada.
The version of Compline heard on this recording is the same version the Compline Choir has sung since 1956. At St. Mark’s, several additions to the 1928 Order of Compline were made by Hallock, and have been a part of the office since the 1950s: (1) at the beginning, an opening prayer or Biblical text is read, followed by an “orison,” either a sung prayer or musical composition in a contemplative style; and (2) the singing of an anthem or anthems at the end of the office, in the place where, in the Roman Catholic tradition an antiphon (anthem) to the Virgin Mary is sung.
Since July 2009, the Compline Choir has been under the direction of Jason A. Anderson who joined the choir in October 2004, singing baritone and countertenor. He authored his dissertation The life and works of Peter R. Hallock (b. 1924) in June 2007. The office of Compline remains unchanged.
In the first several centuries of the Christian church, the books of Judaism, including the psalms [Greek: psalmoi, or “songs of praise”], were interpreted in the light of the good news of Jesus Christ, and became known as the Old Testament. Recitation of the psalms became the central part of the daily offices. In the monastic tradition originating in Egypt and spreading to southern France and the British Isles, psalms were sung one after the other—sometimes all 150 in a single day. St. Benedict apportioned all the psalms among the offices so that the entire psalter was sung weekly. For Compline he appointed the same three psalms—4, 91, and 134—to be sung each and every day.
Since Compline at St. Mark’s was sung only once each week, it soon became too restrictive to sing only the three psalms appointed by Benedict; rather, the choir sang a psalm appropriate to the Sunday or particular liturgical occasion for which the service is offered. After the publication of new translations of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer (1979), Peter Hallock began to compose musical settings of all the psalms for the three-year lectionary cycle (the Ionian Psalter). He also wrote settings of the psalms for the Compline Choir.
Psalm 119 provides both the text for the orison I will meditate as well as the psalm sung as part of the Office of Compline for the recording. This psalm, the longest chapter of the Bible, consists of 22 stanzas, in which the eight verses of each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter. It is a type of psalm called a “psalm of orientation,” indicating confidence in God—a stable, happy, and blessed state. Almost every verse refers to or extols God’s word (or its synonyms such as “laws,” “commandments,” or “statutes”); for this reason 119 is often called a “Psalm of Torah”. The verses set are 33-48, which have as their common theme a desire to know and follow God’s commandments.
Another Psalm of Torah is Psalm 15; here Peter Hallock has captured the psalm’s essence into an antiphon: “The righteous shall abide upon God’s holy hill.” This psalm enumerates ten moral qualities that are necessary to those who want to have a relationship to the Divine; although not the same as the Ten Commandments, the parallel is striking. A particularly moving section is at the end, where the higher parts hold onto the last chord of “shall never be overthrown”—without being “thrown off” by the bass entrance of the final antiphon.
Psalms 29 and 103 are also psalms of orientation, as well as hymns of praise; the former has also been called a “psalm of creation” because it refers to God’s voice in many manifestations, such as breaking the cedars, or making Mount Hermon (a prominent peak in an area of Baal-worshippers) shake “like a young wild ox”. Psalm 103, by contrast, praises the God of mercy and compassion, whose kingship is extolled along with the angels, the “mighty ones who do his bidding”.
Psalms 4 and 134 are two of the three psalms appointed for Compline by St. Benedict. Peter Hallock has chosen to use the two-verse Psalm 134 as an antiphon before and after Psalm 4. “Behold now, bless the Lord” is the last in a series of pilgrim songs, or “songs of ascent,” sung thrice-yearly on journeys to the temple mount in Jerusalem. The psalm refers to the priestly worship in the temple, and was chosen for Compline because of the verse “you that stand by night in the house of the Lord”. Psalm 4, sometimes called a “psalm of re-orientation” because it contains both laments as well as declarations of faithfulness, has elements that connect it to the “Shema Israel” that was said on arising and retiring; and verse 4 (“…speak to your heart in silence upon your bed”) is not only foundational to Compline, but occurs as well in the Jewish Bedtime Shema.
Psalm 89 is the only psalm in this collection that is truly classified as a lament, or “psalm of disorientation.” However, the portions set here deal with God’s faithfulness in his covenant with David, and so are similar in tone to Psalm 4. Christians regard the verse “I will establish his line forever, and his throne as the days of heaven” as prophetic. Psalm 84, another hymn of praise, is a pilgrim psalm, even though it is outside the group of “psalms of ascents;” it expresses a deep love for the temple, and the desire to be like the small birds that nest in the cracks of the temple stones.
The recording closes with two of the final psalms in the psalter, psalms 147 and 149. These hymns of praise are both “Hallelujah” psalms because they contain the word that means “Praise YHWH,” or “Praise God!” Psalm 147 has creation-images such as the giving of food and blessing with children, while 149 is a pure song of victory—with striking images of a banquet where victors recline on their couches, with the praises of God in their throats and a “two-edged sword” [Heb. “sword of mouths”] in their hands.
About Peter R. Hallock
Peter R. Hallock (born 1924) is a mystic, countertenor, composer, organist, and liturgist inextricably linked to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle. Among his many contributions to church music are: introduction of audiences to the countertenor voice; the launch of a chant study group that became The Compline Choir; the installation of the Flentrop tracker-action organ at the cathedral; the development of the Advent and Good Friday Processions; reintroduction of liturgical dramas; composition of The Ionian Psalter; and, presentation of Seattle’s first historically informed performance of Handel’s Messiah.
Hallock does not judge himself to be a composer: “I think as naïve as it sounds—first of all I do not consider myself—I do not experience myself as a composer. That isn’t what I do. When I pick up the text, the music’s already there, I just write it down. How I do that, I don’t know.” Hallock avoids composing at the keyboard and first sketches out the overall form of a piece. He then fills in the sketch, trying to write what he imagined in his ear. Only after this does he check his work at the keyboard.
Hallock has composed more than 300 works, most of which remain in manuscript or were published but are no longer in print. The Ionian Psalter and several anthems are available through Ionian Arts, Inc.
—Jason A. Anderson
About Richard T. Proulx
Richard T. Proulx (1937-2010) composed more than 300 works, including congregational music in every form, sacred and secular choral works, song cycles, two operas, and instrumental and organ music.
From 1970 to 1980, Proulx served at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Medina, Washington, where he directed three choirs and a chamber orchestra, and established a tradition of liturgical handbell ringing. It was during his time at St. Thomas that he joined the Compline Choir. In 1980, Proulx was named organist–music director at the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Chicago.
His works for the Compline Choir (I will meditate, Nunc dimittis, and In Praise of Music)are slated for future publication by GIA Publications, Inc. Upon his death, Proulx’s manuscripts, published works, correspondence, and reference collection were transferred to St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.
—Jason A. Anderson