Schola Cantorum celebrates 25 years of compline music
It’s just before 9 p.m. on a cold Sunday night. People enter the candlelit sanctuary of Christ Church on East Avenue for a special prayer service called compline.
As more people gather in the church, the silence seems to intensify. Until it’s broken by a single male singer. A choir of ethereal voices then joins in.
This is the sound of Schola Cantorum. The ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists who specialize in medieval and Renaissance music is now in its 25th year.
The group is composed of mainly Eastman School of Music students and is led by director Stephen Kennedy. He created Schola in 1997 with the purpose of performing these liturgical prayers.
“Compline is the last of the canonical hours,” Kennedy said. “So it's the final one, prayers before bedtime, basically. And it's the idea that the monks would get together, or the nuns in the convents, and they would chant the cycle of the Psalms of David.
"And so this was the last service of the evening. And so we just chose to do it on Sunday nights. So it's kind of the close of the old week, beginning of the new week.”
While Schola Cantorum began as an a cappella choir, it now includes instrumentalists. Kennedy’s decision to include instruments is tied to the Renaissance tradition of colla parte, or “with the part.” In this approach, the singers are joined by musicians who play lute instruments called theorbos, cornetti, which predate the modern trumpet, and sackbuts — the precursor to the trombone.
“That gentle trombone sound marries with the voice in such a wonderful, blending, kind of transparent way,” Kennedy said. “So you hear both instrument and voice at the same time.”
Regular attendee Dan McBride says he gets a sense of peace and feels God’s presence when he comes to compline.
“And I think the thing is that compline is taken from the Latin, it means ‘complete,’” Dan McBride said. “So this completes your day, this is a way you look back and reflect on the day and the joys and sorrows and blessings and, you know, whatever happened during the day, you bring it to God at the end of the day in compline.”
For McBride’s daughter Erin, who now lives in Australia, compline is a powerful signifier of home and family in Rochester.
“The time just to be meditative and reflective and prayerful, and I think it's just, yeah, a beautiful place to come and stop and center yourself, and remember what's truly important in life.”
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