A Year Ago… EACC fire remembered

Euclid Avenue Congregational Church Euclid Avenue Congregational Church fire Ruins of Euclid Avenue Congregational Church

It was a year ago today in the early hours of the morning that fire destroyed Euclid Avenue Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, which was my church home (and employer) for twenty-seven years. The fire began during a freak thunder and lightning storm late the night before. I’d had Rosie out for her last walk of the night, and I remember wanting her to finish her business because it was starting to thunder. I’d also had a series of annoying spam calls on my cell phone, so I had turned it off before I went to bed at midnight. Had I not done that, I would have been among the first (perhaps the first?) to get the call about the fire, since I live in close proximity to the place and occasionally would receive calls from the Cleveland Clinic security about issues at the church. As it was, I did not know anything until early the next morning.

This all took place the Wednesday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. There was a meeting of church leaders and staff in the morning on Wednesday, and by the end of the day the church found a temporary home thanks to the congregation of the former First United Methodist Church, who had recently vacated the church to merge with the former Epworth Euclid United Methodist Church. It was quite a miracle—a spacious facility with a large pipe organ, grand piano, hymnals in the pews. The EACC congregation is still meeting there a year later as they determine their future as a church.

The impact to me personally was considerable, since the church’s organ was lost, as was the choir’s music library and much of my own personal organ music library. I received a very generous insurance settlement, and I have replaced a lot of the music; I also received several very generous gifts of organ music from professional colleagues. Almost every week, however, I still discover something else that is gone. And money alone can’t replace the personal nostalgia that I had for some of the music, with its accumulation of forty years of markings, fingerings, and teachers’ markings. Some of the music was falling apart; other things had never been played.

There have been, of course, many challenges since then, and I salute those church leaders who have worked so tirelessly over the past year. The year was not without conflict, but the EACC congregation continues to be the resilient body it has been for over 160 years.

There have been many changes in the past year: Rev. Terri Young, the Interim Pastor at the time of the fire, has moved on to a new situation; the church has called Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins as its permanent pastor; and I have retired from the church as its Director of Music, with the intention of not playing every Sunday.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t still think about the old church, and the magnificent Karl Wilhelm organ, which can never be replaced at any price. It was a unique instrument in a specific environment. One of the wonders of being an organist is that one’s instrument is integral to the architecture in which it is installed. Sometimes that equation works; other times it’s out of kilter. The Wilhelm was a perfect fit.

As Isaac Watts’ hymn said, “time, like an ever-rolling stream,” keeps on going. We survive; things change; things get better or worse. All the tears in the world won’t bring back the past. Optimism for the future is what sustains us.

There will be a service of remembrance at the site, 9606 Euclid Avenue, tonight, March 23, 2011, at 6:00 PM.

Our God, hour help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
– Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

“The Social Network” – Better than I thought it would be

The Social Network

I had resisted watching the movie The Social Network for no particularly good reason, other than why would I want to watch a fictionalized (and, presumably, sensationalized) version of the creation of Facebook. But last night I did finally watch the DVD of the movie, and I confess that I found it riveting. Whether or not any of it is true is irrelevant, because it was a good story well told. Jesse Eisenberg caught that socially inept quality that a lot of computer geeks have. (The character reminded me in his argumentatively brilliant way of a brilliant person I used to work with, where whatever you said would be met with some challenge.) I can see why he was nominated for an Oscar. It will be interesting to follow his career and see if his acting range is greater than a 20-something computer guy.

Tomás Luis de Victoria: The Tallis Scholars’s celebration of 400 years

The Victoria Collection

As its contribution to the 400th anniversary of the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria’s birth (1548-1611), The Tallis Scholars are making available a compilation at a bargain price of three of the Scholars’ discs of music by Victoria. This collection includes Victoria’s three most important works, the Requiem, the Lamentations and the Tenebrae Responsories. The recordings are on the Scholars’ own Gimell label. Through the Gimell site you can get it either as a specially-priced 3-CD set or as a download in either mp3 or (for $1 more) uncompressed FLAC files.

As usual with the Tallis Scholars, the performances are intense, with perfect blend and impeccable musicianship, and the sound of the recordings (I’ve been listening to the FLAC versions converted to AIFF format.) is clear and full. Listening to these great works, by these great performers, is almost a religious experience in itself. I highly recommend this music and especially these performances.

The International Music Score Library Project

An article in today’s New York time by music critic Daniel J. Wakin about the International Music Score Project library (also known as the Petrucci Library), draws attention to this vast digital library of music scores and parts that are in the public domain. That is, these editions of published music are no longer protected by copyright and can be freely downloaded, reproduced and used for whatever purpose.

I have used the IMSLP quite often in the past year, especially after the Euclid Avenue Congregational Church fire, when much of my personal organ music was destroyed. There were many things that I had originally purchased that in subsequent decades have now become public domain, including works by Bach, Franck, Reger, Guilmant, and many others. Among other things that church choirs use all the time are the G. Schirmer scores of standard choral works: Messiah, Elijah, Brahms’ Requiem, etc. Debussy’s works are now all in public domain (in the same Durand editions that you can pay through the nose for), as are many of the works of Sibelius and Mahler. Most of the operas by Puccini are there, as are the operas of Verdi and Wagner, often in multiple editions.

The NYTimes article points out that the public domain scores are old and don’t have the benefit of modern scholarship that might be available in new editions. But often new editions don’t provide great value (or at least not as great a value as their editors might have us believe.). While the music of Johann Sebastian Bach has had much valuable scholarship since the Bach Gesellschaft Edition was published in the 1800s, there is not a lot of recent work on Guilmant or Reger. Sometimes I just want to look at a score and then later decide to purchase it. There is value added by having a professionally printed and bound score. Some of the scores in the IMSLP are available commercially through such publishers as Dover and Kalmus.

Whether you’re a poor student, interested amateur or professional musician needing a quick look at at a standard repertoire work, the IMSLP is an invaluable resource.

About John Adams’s “Nixon in China”

The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross pointed out this blog post by Daniel Stephen Johnson about the recent Metropolitan Opera production of John Adams’s Nixon in China. There has been a lot written in the last few weeks about the 1987 opera, but this one is the best I’ve read. I recommend it without reservation:

http://www.danielstephenjohnson.com/2011/02/adams-behemoth.html

P.S. Check out the advertisement for the T-shirt in the upper right corner of the page. It’s how I feel sometimes.