While in D.C., we went to the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday afternoon. I hadn't been there since singing with my choir from St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, NH, at the bishop's invitation, on New Hampshire Day at least ten years ago -- and a memorable experience that was!
This time we arrived at about 3:30 p.m., before the 4:00 service of Evensong. And just as happens in the Montreal cathedral where I now sing, the choir of Men and Trebles (boys, in this case) was finishing their rehearsal as we walked up the long aisle of the nave.
While my friends looked around, I went up into the side chapel where the choir members were putting on their white surplices and waiting until it was time to begin the processional. I went up to one friendly-looking fellow and asked some questions about their schedule, and very soon we were deep into a happy conversation about lifelong choir singing, liturgical repertoire, Benjamin Britten, and the differences and similarities between the musical life of our two cathedrals.
Then I saw my friends starting to come up the chancel steps into the choir loft and realized we were going to be able to sit in the stalls: a treat that sometimes happens in big cathedrals. As it turned out, I ended up right next to the choir, facing the conductor, and across from the organ, so I could hear the performance and watch the director almost as if I were singing myself. Some of the young boys had absolutely beautiful, clear voices, and the men were professional and supportive, singing the tenor and bass parts. It was extremely interesting to watch and listen to another top-flight choir in action -- and, if I can be permitted a little bit of self-praise, it made me realize how very good our choir and our director really are.
There was netting above us throughout the space; we learned that this was a precautionary measureto catch any loose mortar, as restoration work proceeds on the damage caused by the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck the Washington area on August 23, 2011. The cathedral sustained quite a bit of damage but has been declared structurally sound.
After the service, which filled me with happiness and peace after a very busy weekend (that's what can happen when you aren't performing!) I visited some of the other side chapels, and took some photographs of favorite windows. Aren't they gorgeous?
All the windows in the cathedral are modern, and they are just as beautiful to me as the stained glass of Chartres or Notre Dame. The cathedral "is a privately-owned and operated non-profit organization that receives no federal or national church funding," and while it is staffed by Episcopal Church clergy and follows Episcopal/Anglican liturgical tradition, it is ecumenical in spirit. They try hard to make everyone feel welcome, and the architecture, carvings, windows, ironwork, art, and gardens -- many of which commemorate history and people from our own times -- are all well worth seeing.
Earlier that same day, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, there had been a Blessing of the Animals. In this press photo, Rev. Baylor blesses a pet mouse:
The vision statement of the cathedral is this:
The National Cathedral will be a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, renewal in the churches, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in our world.