Stars – Eriks Esenvalds
Alone in the night
On a dark hill
With pines around me
Spicy and still,
And a heaven full of stars
Over my head
White and topaz
And misty red;
Myriads with beating
Hearts of fire
Cannot vex or tire;
Up the dome of heaven
Like a great hill
I watch them marching
Stately and still.
And I know that I
Am honored to be
Of so much majesty.
This week’s recording is one very near and dear to my heart, not only because I think it is the quintessential recording and interpretation of this piece, but because I was lucky enough to be a part of the recording. (Maybe those two things are related…)
In my junior year at Baylor, the choir was asked to go to Paris, France and record Maurice Durufle’s Requiem in his home church, using the organ he wrote it on. We recorded every evening, usually from 10pm-2am, because (as members of FPC know too well) downtown churches get a lot of noise pollution during the daytime. We stayed in a Hostel, ate croissants, walked the Seine every day, and made some of the best music of my lifetime.
When I look back at that trip, the whole thing, top to bottom, I can’t help thinking about what an absolute honor it was to be a part of it. For years, I’ve felt the last stanza of Teasdale’s poem sums up my feelings of it well.
Yet, as I write down these tales about my super fun trip, I find myself wondering whether I miss the point of Teasdale’s final stanza by using it to describe this experience. After all, she is not describing a trip to Disney World or New York or London. There is no glamour, no glory, not even a soul to share the moment with. We don’t even know where she is – just that she’s somewhere that she can look up.
I think we sometimes treat our praise like goods in an economy. If we keep the supply low and don’t hand out praise very frequently, it has a higher demand and value due to its scarcity. Now, I don’t think we all want to be Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay – so stringent with our praise that the smallest crumb of it is gold – but I do think we want it to matter when we speak well of something. Thus, we reserve our adoration for things that we feel truly deserve it, or reflect well on us by uplifting them.
To be quite honest, I’ve fallen victim to this type of thinking and acting as recently as the last two paragraphs. I was perfectly comfortable with, proud really, to tell you about this moment of great honor and majesty in my life because it meets my many prerequisites for something to be proud of. However, I don’t know if I would be quite as comfortable telling you about the majesty in the cup of coffee I am having as I write this. I certainly am not honored to be drinking it. Were I not writing a column about the majesty in everything, would I have even seen the majesty in this cup of coffee on a nice fall day? It would have been pleasant and nice, but not an honor.
Even in that last paragraph, my backup “thing to see majesty in” is coffee, which fits into the aesthetic of myself that I want to present to the world. The praise I give is something that I feel reflects on me. I’ll humble myself by saying I made it in a Keurig…
I think the lesson to be taken from Teasdale’s poem is that majesty does not exist only in the exceptional and exclusive experiences, but in the plain, repetitive parts of life as well. The stars come out every night. The poem does not describe an exceptional night with more meteors than have been seen before that breaks all records with its wonder and beauty.
It is a regular night like any other, and yet Sara sees “Myriads with beating Hearts of fire.” The majesty of God is everywhere – the beautiful and the plain, the exciting and the mundane. The more we work to find these majesties and voice the glory we see in them, the more we help others see the glories around them as well.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church