Seven

I am preparing a choral piece, new to me and to the choir I’m working with for a few months, and as so often happens, my free-associating mind began with a question that led me to a host of unexpected places. Jonathan Dove’s 1995 work, Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars is as mysterious and gorgeous as the night sky. The music alone is enough for me, but I had to ponder the text. Seven stars? The question asked, and I was abruptly dropping down Alice’s rabbit hole, going past all kinds of strange sights associated with the number seven.

It began innocently enough with a quick search of the Pleiades, the seven stars that represent messengers of God in the second chapter of the Bible’s Book of Revelations, and the inspiration for part of Dove’s text. Suddenly my brain was careening past Joseph’s seven years of famine and seven years of plenty, the seven joys of Mary and the seven last words of Jesus, baseball’s seventh inning stretch, marriage’s seven year itch, and the seven colors of the rainbow (remember Roy G. Biv?). Seven days of creation, and seven musical pitches in western music – do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti. But wait, there are also seven pitches in the scales of Indian classical music: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni SA. Seven chakras in Hinduism’s Vedic texts to guide our bodies’ spiritual, physical and emotional health. Seven years to regenerate every cell in the human body. Seven deadly sins, seven gifts of the spirit.

I was feeling quite dizzy at this point.

Alice’s rabbit hole seemed to end, and I found myself where I had begun. The seven stars known as Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, and Dove’s beautiful piece:

But then I slipped just a bit further, remembering that the one group of stars nearly everyone can identify is the Big Dipper, outlined – do I need to say it? – by seven stars, including Polaris, the North Star.  Follow the Drinking Gourd, a spiritual which gave coded directions to escaping slaves, pointed the way north with its advice to follow that dipper/gourd to freedom. That is the power of seven.

Apparently my trip down this rabbit hole wasn’t quite finished yet. I came upon an a cappella group that is new to me called Naturally 7, and they too demonstrate the power of seven, with their voices creating an orchestra of sounds, and a message in this particular song that still needs to be heard about tearing down walls and finding another kind of freedom.

Seven, a prime number which represents the unity of 1 and the diversity of 7, indivisible by anything else. Seven lamps on the menorah, our weeks made complete by seven sunrises and sunsets, seven stars to guide us on our way.

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If you’re interested, the choir of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland will be singing Dove’s piece during their 10:30 am service on February 2.

This

Sometimes a small word says a lot. Love. Help. Sorry. Less serious, but equally useful in their economy, are those words which each generation creates or re-purposes.  From my childhood, words like neat! and psych! Or more recently, dis, and currently, woke

This.

I started seeing it on Facebook I think. A four letter word that expresses a wide-armed embrace of all that is wonderful about a specific moment. Someone would write “This,” coupled with a photo, video or story of some kind that encapsulated a significant facet of human life. I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of popular culture, so perhaps this has already reverted to its normal usage – but it’s a word which says exactly what I want to say when I think about a choral piece I was introduced to last summer.

Take a listen to Jonathan Dove’s setting of Matthew 25:  Come, you who are blest   (this link will take you to a video that was posted on Facebook by the choir’s conductor)

The music was commissioned by a choir I was singing with last summer on their U.K. tour, and the recording of us was made by a fellow traveler seated in the nave of Bristol Cathedral. We went on to sing the piece at Westminster Abbey the following week, with the composer in attendance. Hard to know which part of that scenario was the most exciting – the music? the setting? the wall of sound this particular choir could create? having the piece’s British composer listening to what was almost certainly a U.K. premiere of his piece? But one word sums up what I felt when I was singing it, and what I feel even now when I hear the recording:

This.

I hope you take the time to notice your own “this” moments.

PS – Dove’s piece will be sung this Sunday at Church of the Epiphany, a place which lives more fully into the music’s text than any other church I’ve experienced:

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

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