A reflective, contemplative 30-minute service of hymns, anthems and chant sung by Stanford and local choral ensembles in the tranquil candlelit ambiance of Memorial Church. All are welcome. Sundays, 9:00 – 9:30 pm (during the academic year with the exception of university holidays and academic breaks ) in Memorial Church.
Fall Quarter 2014
Sunday Evening Compline at Memorial Church
Sunday nights invariably find me doing the same thing: closing my books at the Green Library on the Stanford campus, and taking my weary butt over to the darkness of Memorial Church (Mem Chu) to hear the achingly beautiful, seemingly disembodied voices from the choir loft on high. Lit only by the candles on the altar and a distant light in the choir loft, Mem Chu becomes ever more a sanctuary when the first voices pierce the darkness at the 9:00 PM weekly Compline service.The Stanford web site defines this experience as a “reflective 30-minute service of hymns and chant sung in the tranquil candlelit ambiance of Memorial Church.” Every week during the academic year, a different vocal group performs the Compline service. Recent performers include choirs from Trinity Lutheran, Christ Church in Portola Valley, Palo Alto High School, as well as the Threshold Singers, Early Music Singers, and various Stanford student choirs. The approach to the material ranges from rich medieval polyphonic harmonies to spare solo voices.
The name Compline refers to a particular canonical hour for prayer. Canonical hours (also called offices) refer to the eight times during the day when monks stop to pray. Dating back to at least 525 CE, and well established by the ninth century, the canonical day begins with Vespers at sunset, following by Compline at bedtime and continues at intervals throughout the night and into the following day. As Reverend Joanne Sanders explains, the word “Compline” relates to the word “complete.” The Compline service expresses our gratitude for living through another day. These good night prayers recognize that our day is complete and guide us into our sleeping hours.
Talking with Reverend Sanders, she emphasized “the experience of Compline transcends whatever your practical belief may be in the Divine. Going beyond any particular faith, there’s the sense of being rooted in an ancient tradition that is just so compelling. It draws us to a center which is why this practice still feels relevant.” Coming to Stanford in 2000, Reverend Sanders immediately knew that she had to reproduce some of the majesty of the Compline service for which St. Mark’s in Seattle is rightfully famous. Starting with just a few Stanford choirs several times a year, the program has expanded to a weekly offering throughout the academic year.
There are three more Compline services before the program stops for the summer and restarts in October. Free and open to the community, the Compline experience at Stanford is worth exploring.
(Source: Star Silver Creek)
St. Benedict’s Rule touches Silicon Valley and beyond
With the church plunged into darkness save for the lit candles on the altar, seemingly disembodied voices waft down from the choir loft for a half hour. People linger in the darkness afterwards, enjoying the hush silence and letting the music reverberate internally.
Compline (pronounced with a soft i, rhymes with “calm pin”), this ancient tradition has enjoyed a renaissance over the past half century, before coming to Stanford in 2003.
Compline. When I first spoke to her a year ago, she told me that she was trying to replicate a phenomena started by Peter Hallock at St. Mark’s in Seattle in 1954. The Seattle Compline became wildly popular and garnered world renown during the 1960’s – a popularity that has not waned. Walking into Memorial Church when she first started at Stanford in 2002, Sanders immediately knew that Compline should be happening in this sacred space.
Compline is one of the eight canonical hours set forth by St. Benedict in the sixth century. Canonical hours – also called canonical offices – are the fixed cycle of prayer throughout the day. Just as Muslims have a fixed ritual of praying five times a day, Benedict organized Christian prayer for monks into eight hours or offices, with elaborate instructions on when and what to pray.
Compline at St. Mark’s. Grabbing the bus on a cold, wet Seattle night, my son and I arrived at St. Mark’s early. The official seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, St. Mark’s is a small boxy cathedral with water stains dripping from the windows. This did not deter the hundreds who piled into the church after us, filling the pews, sprawling on the steps to the altar, sitting along the sides of the nave with backs against the walls. It seemed inconceivable that anyone would venture out on a cold and clammy night, but just like they do every Sunday evening, approximately 600 to 700 people packed the church. These were not evangelical holy rollers waiting for some preacher to give them the word of God. Nobody passed himself off as some kind of religious social worker or offered salvation to the heavily studded and pierced kids. What was happening was more subtle, more quiet, transcending notions of a particular faith.
In the Bleak Midwinter and Biebl’s familiar Ave Maria, both of which are relatively new, having been written in the 1900’s. Within these limits, this experience was recognizable as a Compline services hundreds of years ago. Indeed, some of the music – such as the Nunc Dimittis Tertii Toni – dates to 1590.
Compline at Stanford is very different. Reverend Sanders originally asked Stanford professor William Mahrt to organize a choir to sing Compline. However, since those first days, the Stanford Compline evolved into one sung by a rotating cycle of eight local choirs, including groups from Trinity Lutheran in Palo Alto, the Stanford Ensemble, Christ Church Portola Valley, All Saints Episcopal and others. Reverend Sanders is keenly aware of how this opens the magic of Memorial Church up to the community – and speaks passionately about the importance of having young people – such as the group of Palo Alto High School – experience singing or appreciating Compline and the respite it provides from the world.
Compline is open to all. It can be anything from anything from a peaceful end to your weekend – or like it is in Seattle, a hot date with coffee afterward. With plenty of parking on the oval at the end of Palm Drive on Sunday nights, campus is surprisingly accessible.
(Source: Star Silver Creek)