Friday, December 12, 2008

Carol of the Bells

Lift up your head, ye mighty gates! Behold the King of Glory waits

It makes for a long Tuesday night, but I have come to love my handbell choir rehearsals. As I drive down Lindell and the Basilica dome appears on the horizon, I have this wonderful feeling of coming home. I've spent so many evenings there this fall, I feel like the building and I belong to each other a little. I've memorized which mosaics are in which transepts. I know how to navigate the balcony stairwells and enter the security code for the basement choir rooms. I practice music alongside the ornate reliquaries that display the very bones of Sts. Vincent and Louis, the STL's favorite patrons. I have a personalized hanger reserving my own choir robe. Most fun of all, I get to pass under velvet ropes and use the "Clergy and choirs only" entrance.

Really, I should just admit that I love sneaking around behind the scenes of anything. Like so many habits of mine, it started with my parents. Since my toddler days Dad and Mom were part of the "Baptism Team" at our parish, gaining access to sacristy cabinets so we could help set out chrism, white bibs, and candles for the priests. Baptism days meant extra time being well-behaved in our Sunday best, but I enjoyed being in the know about the church's storage system and which homily points each priest favored. (Fr. Pollard always reflected on our adoption as God's children, while Fr. Haley cautioned new parents not to slip on the sanctuary steps.)

I still love being part of the liturgical stage crew, whether as a lector or extraordinary minister of the eucharist (person with the chalice.) You could even say that my job choice reflects my desire for restricted area access. At WM, I got paid to open the student centers and then grab what was needed from the restricted AV equipment room. Hey, I even got class credit by defying barriers, making a year-long internship out of going past the velvet ropes in Colonial Williamsburg.

So, is it any surprise that I get a kick out of being behind the scenes at what is arguably this city's most splendid church? It's always a little thrilling to lift up the velvet ropes blocking off the sanctuary area and inform the ushers that it's ok, I'm with the choir.

The cathedral Christmas concert was the perfect adrenaline rush to cap off my return to the world of gloves, mallets, and table damps. Hours of rehearsal in the church with choirs and orchestra might seem like good preparation, but nothing could really get me fully ready to walk out before a capacity crowd and start chiming with all my might.

By the time we finished Of the Father's Love Begotten, nervousness had turned to pure energy. With the exception of an interminable, multi-movement Gloria, the concert's two hours flew by. Making music to praise God in such a wonder-inspiring place never gets old for me. Surely even the stern seraphim on the dome were smiling behind their six wings. I definitely spied some grins on the faces front-row senior citizens when we launched into Joy to the World. (Now with added soprano "hieroglyphics!" as the choir director calls them.)

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