Sunday, December 14, 2014


Today is the third Sunday in Advent. In the Episcopal & Roman Catholic traditions a pink candle is lit on the Advent wreath. The running gag is that Mary was expecting a girl!

Listening to a Purcell anthem at a Chanticleer concert on a Saturday night in March a few years ago, brought back a flood of memories… about Louis Botto, the nominal founder of Chanticleer— particularly during the several years I knew him before the founding of Chanticleer— and was an example of what could have happened to my father at the Hershey Convention Center when Dad suffered cardiac arrest as soon as he had finished giving a speech in 1977.

Louis and I had been two of the soloists for “Rejoice in the Lord Alway” with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys on the third Sunday of Advent that same year, 1977. “How could I possibly remember with such specificity?” you ask. I’ll soon explain.

Louis was the alto soloist, and I, the tenor. Rob DeWitt was Baritone, I believe. Boyd Jarrell was new to the choir then; so I don’t think he was the baritone soloist. In any case, I’m absolutely certain about Louis and me.

Stanley Rodgers was the relatively new Dean of Grace Cathedral. His teenage son, Malcolm, was a member of the choir, and his wife, Helen, was sitting in the congregation. Dean Rodgers had just delivered one of his better sermons (part of which dealt with speculation about advances in military technology, which seemed to foreshadow President Reagan’s “Star Wars” policy, and how Dean Rodgers feared that our false reliance on technology would actually make us more vulnerable to risky adventures). That day Dean Rodgers was also the Celebrant, which was unusual – to do both in the same service. He was sitting in the large center chair directly behind the high altar in the crossing.

At the offertory we sang Henry Purcell’s “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.” We didn’t have a string ensemble; but we did use alternating organ and harpsichord. John Renke was at the organ, and John Fenstermaker, at the harpsichord, and from there, he directed the full choir. The piece is a long one with an extended bell tone introduction, repeated sections of soloists, ritornelli, chorus, and back and forth. Somewhere in the middle of the piece, Dean Rodgers slumped over in his chair. From our soloists’ vantage point we could observe, but we kept on singing. The head verger, Charles Agnew, walked over to see what was the matter. Soon he was joined by a doctor. We continued to sing. Then four men from the congregation came and carried Dean Rodgers away in his large wooden chair, and still we kept on singing.

Afterwards, the service itself continued as usual. As we were coming back to the Cathedral for rehearsal before Evensong, we heard the carillon begin to toll and toll – indicating that Dean Stanley Rodgers had, indeed, died as we had sung “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.”…...It was many years before we would sing it again.
Some time later we had a new Dean with a whole new set of problems and major controversies. The organ conservator— with a wry and wicked sense of humor— quipped: “Isn’t it about time we brought back that Purcell piece.”

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