Listened to the family-and-friends-only CD that the Suspicious Cheese Lords made (back when I was in the group), Incipit, on the way in this morning. It’s a schizoid disc, half devoted to a bunch of new music members of the group wrote for a theater production of Romeo and Juliet that we recorded but which was never used, half to new and old lamentations. The centerpiece and title piece of the album is Thomas Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah, which was the musical work the group was originally formed to perform and which is still in my head. A fascinatingly complex work, with intricate five voice polyphony and loads of double meanings. The text, Jeremiah’s lament for the fall of Jerusalem, can be read as Tallis’s lament for the suppression and demise of Catholicism, his tradition of faith, in England.
We performed this piece many times, but almost always during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, as part of Tenebrae and Holy Friday services. Here the Lamentations would take on additional meaning in the Christian context of lamenting the sinfulness of man and the attendant sacrifice of Christ. But despite all the lamenting, these were always happy times. The group would perform two or three times during the week, steep itself in the religious tradition, and get to be part of some truly moving observances of faith. And spend a lot of time together as friends.
The Lamentations have a double meaning for me as well, since I first sang them with the Virginia Glee Club under John Liepold in his first season. Favorite memories of performing the piece: a morning performance on a spring break trip after a night in New Orleans at a private school with an, um, impaired group (during the course of the fifteen minute work, we sank a full minor third under pitch); and performing it with seven or eight good friends in resonant stairwells and arcades in academic buildings and on the Lawn.
So this piece with its deep message of despair came to be a familiar friend and a comfort to me over the years. There is, I think, something to be said for the liturgical emphasis during Lent of recognizing grief as a key part of the church year, and as a necessary precursor to the joy of Easter.