Well, boys and girls, it is Saturday morning and we are about to enter the Princeton University Chapel, passing beneath the stone dedicated by Lee Hastings Bristol in 1969, incised into which is the inscription "Come into his presence with singing".
Unfortunately, this year's Comencement was rather a disappointment.
The prelude music was nondescript. After a short brass fanfare, the Mendelssohn "Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream" was presented on the organ. The organ is one of those unfortunate British assemblages which posesses no consonants and as a result drones incessantly. To prove that point, the audience continued to converse through the entire work, at times totally eclipsing the music, and stopping only when the Handbell Choir began to play and their percussive sound said "Hey you. Shut up. I am playing music..."
The Procession was made to the "Crown Imperial March" by William Walton. It was played on the organ, the booming, turgid bass of which totally obscured the rhythm. I was seated on the center aisle, and I could tell that these gifted students simply could not find a beat with which to march down the aisle. So it degenerated into a shamble rather than a march. Warren Martin, where are you when we need you?
The hymns were sung with gusto, and Ken Cowan's playing of them was the best thing on the program.
The Anthem of the Graduating Class, written by Nathan Jones (MM '09) is a fresh setting of the familiar Mosaic Blessing, which has character and expression.
Ken Cowan has revitalised the Anthem of Dedication with his colorful and expressive new registrations. Bravo. Joe Miller's conducting was a severe disappointment, as he seemed to gloss over the music to the extent of not properly preparing entrances or allowing the choir to breathe. I heard him conduct Westminster Choir last summer in Charleston, and I thought his conducting then to be sensitive and musical.
Now, we all know that the AOD is rather emotional and borders on being just the tiniest bit tawdry, but it is part of our musical heritage, is typical of the literature of its period, and should be treated with RESPECT!
Gerre Hancock's improvised introduction to the familiar Holstian hymntune Thaxted left me wondering if he was away on another planet, and his "accompaniment" of the singing had me wondering if I was in another galaxy...or at least wishing I was...
The Retiring Procession was accompanied by the lugubrious strains of the "Great Gate of Kiev" by the organ and the brass. Now that was OK, until the graduated Seniors reached the rear of the Nave, where the Chapel Choir was seated in the Gallery. They have taken it upon themselves to send the Graduates packing with cheers and yelling and applause more akin to a sporting event than an academic convocation.
And there is not a thing wrong with that. I think it is great. What was jarring was the dichotomy of that occurring in the back of the bus while the musicians up front continued droning away, oblivious to the fact that they were no longer a part of what was taking place.
This needs to be remedied with a new work... Stay tuned to this station for developments...
I did not stay for the Postlude, improvised by Dr. Hancock, lest I find myself lost in another universe...
My final thoughts will be posted in a few days. Until then, au revoir, y'all...
-- Olivia Margaret