Easter in a pandemic

Mavis Staples: “Isolated and afraid / Open up this is a raid / I wanna get it through to you / You’re not alone.”

Pandemic interview with Pope Francis: “It’s not easy to be confined to your house. What comes to my mind is a verse from the Aeneid in the midst of defeat: the counsel is not to give up, but save yourself for better times, for in those times remembering what has happened will help us. Take care of yourselves for a future that will come. And remembering in that future what has happened will do you good.”

Letter from Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington: “Rather than triumph, resurrection brings quiet amazement that life can indeed be lived after something precious is lost. The grace and mercy of Christ meet us in the crucible of real life, where real things happen, not all of them easy. These are the times that resurrection faith is for.”

Chris Martin, covering Shelter from the Storm at home:

An essay from T.M. Shine, writer and grocery worker: ” I can’t fathom what each person might be going through — a roofless home, a sister with respiratory problems hibernating in the basement. So, we make our exchange in goods, and then we reinforce each other to keep going. There is something quietly precious about that and I believe all the mutual appreciation and admiration is certainly part of the cure.”

A homily from Thomas Baker, publisher of Commonweal: “But maybe even in solitude, separated from so much that we are used to, we can be given new life. We can ask God to help us experience the constant promise that love works, and to remind us that even in our pain, we have already been redeemed, and nothing can destroy us.”

Our friend Carrie and our neighbor down the block, last week playing a distanced The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns:

The chanting stupendous

Just to capture it: One of the more peaceful moments I’ve felt recently was at church on Easter. The choice sang Victimae Paschali, which I don’t think I’d ever heard before. Or maybe I had heard the song, and it hadn’t sunk in.

When the chant music blip happened in the ’90s, I was far too young and stress-free to appreciate it. This time around, I certainly had the stress and — I guess — the age. A factor, too, might have noticing a line of the song’s translation, “Death and life have contended in the combat stupendous.” What a line! Easter from its wildest perspective. The original Latin is okay — “Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando” — but doesn’t measure up.

The last factor that crossed my mind was the mix of voices. After listening to some YouTube renditions, the old-style all-male chant is fine and must be especially stunning before dawn — monk hours. The all-women version has equal power, bright and dawn-like. But for midday on Easter, together they burst like noon sun. It’s worth listening to both below and imagining.

The men:

The women:

Celebrating Easter outside and at table

This blog has so much catch-up to do, not the least of which are shots from a beautiful Easter Sunday last weekend. Saw the Strahotas and Coxes at church, had time to eat some Easter candy and bread around the house, and went to the cousins’ house for a big family gathering.

The song running through my head all the hours after church was the closing hymn, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. The song sticks in your head because it uses the tune of Ode to Joy (the first bars of which were one of the few successes of my Groupon piano lessons). But the song does so especially on warm and sunlit Easters because it’s an outdoor song.

The tree on the parking, just after getting out of church at 11.

First bursts alongside the neighbor’s driveway out front.

Continue reading Celebrating Easter outside and at table

Easter Morning music

Via the dotCommonweal blog this morning, I ran across a video of Karl Richter leading an orchestra through the Gloria section of Bach’s “Mass in B minor.” I didn’t know who Karl Richter was. I had never heard the music before. I couldn’t hope to identify B minor in a line-up of scales.

But the video was intriguing for its timing. From 1969, the scene was on a bridge between classic and modern. The constrained mood and washed colors dated the images, but the richness of sounds and the very nature of the motion — music first, no movie — brought currency.

Googling some, I found the bridge nature was alive and controversial even at the time of the taping. Richter’s Web bios generally skimped, but concert review after concert review in the Times archives put his work amid much debate. The originalist fight around Bach had begun, aiming to play his music as it was first heard. Smaller ensembles and heirloom instruments were in. Richter’s bigger, more dramatic styling was a misreading, the critics increasingly believed — and as Richter refused to change in the face of their challenge, a willful misreading.

Time and surging musical diversity have since lessened that warfare. Voice of San Diego, one of the country’s great Web-onlys right now, has a piece just this month on the different Bach approaches but uses a dual interview to put them in balance and make them friendly even.

When this video footage came out in 2006, the Post‘s Tim Page hit a similar point. (Google News Archives, I love you.) “… after all,” wrote Page in his lede about the late Richter, “it is rarely necessary to take sides against a conductor who has been silent for a quarter-century.” Working his way through the various Richter releases occurring then, Page got to “Mass in B minor” last. But he found valedictory inside it:

With the exception of the most metaphysical passages, Richter favors steady tempos, which were once considered somewhat faster than normal and now seem almost leisurely. Nevertheless, throughout the music, there is a coiled sense of dramatic impetus that is almost Verdian in its intensity. Bach almost certainly never intended the entire Mass to be sung in a single performance, yet Richter infuses his rendition with a welling and irresistible sense of continuum.

“He saw and he believed!” was the title of the post that led me into the video today, with debate falling to a welling, irresistible sense.

Three good Easter pieces from this morning

As I’ve said before on this blog, it’s easy for a newspaper to write a holiday story. It’s hard to write a holiday story no one else can write.

A quick run through the homepages of the top 25 papers shows as much this morning. More than anything else, you have your talk-with-local-ministers stories, your wires from the Vatican, your scared-of-the-Easter-Bunny galleries, your wires from the Holy Land, your egg-prep stories, your egg-hunt-finds-corpse stories, and your local event lists. The automated groupings in Google News results show the same.

But three unique Easter pieces stood out in today’s mix.

1. The Chicago Tribune, which does holidays better than most, writes about Edgebrook Lutheran Church and a man named Jim Deichman. He struggled for years with mental illness, but the church welcomed him.

And Deichman — a square-jawed, white-haired 62-year-old who came to church every Sunday in a rumpled dark suit — did his best to reach back. He volunteered to work as an usher, helped with the rummage sale and read Scripture during services.

But on Jan. 31, a firefighter found Deichman standing in an alcove, as smoke filled the sanctuary. His hair and clothing were disheveled; his face was contorted in fury. Suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and raging against enemies that only he could see, he had allegedly set a blaze that would leave the church in ruins.

2. A columnist at New Hampshire’s Keene Sentinel, circulation of about 14,000, tells the story of a town policeman’s early Easter morning in 1955. The officer catches a speeder, and that’s all that happens. The resonance is indirect but, in an Easter fashion, oddly understandable.

3. West Virginia’s Sunday Gazette-Mail modestly turns over today’s lead editorial to quotes about Easter and spring. As you read, you see how the compilation can connect with not just Christians of all stripes but all readers. Among others, lines from Matthew 28, Song of Solomon, Virgil, Tennyson, Milton, Rilke, Browning, E.B. White, T.S. Eliot, Millay, Dorothy Parker, Emerson, and Twain make the list. Hard to choose a favorite.


Happy Easter to everyone celebrating. I began it by fumbling the family’s traditional Easter greeting but things got better from there. Cold and windy day — good luck, cherry blossoms — but no snow like there was overnight Friday. Terrific homily at church about the transitory power of human witness to the Resurrection, then Easter dinner sent me home with beef, bread, fruit, apple cobbler, and chocolate ice cream-covered angel food cake. In other news, three days later and this strip is still making me laugh.