Roughly twenty-seven years ago today, I filed into the pink and gray Art Deco chapel at the center of high school and sang a piece of Renaissance choral music with a bunch of teenagers by candlelight for Maundy Thursday service. I, a born heathen, had never heard of Maundy Thursday before. In fact, the first time our creepy mustachioed Chaplain mentioned it, I could have sworn he said “Monday Thursday,” which sounded like a nice work schedule or maybe a Bond girl.
“No,” he said. “MAWN-DEE. MAAAAUUUWWWNNN-DEE. I’d like the chamber choir to sing for MAWN-Dee Thursday.”
“Come again?” asked one of my fellow heathens, behind me in the bass department.
“Everything that man says sounds creepy,” said one of the altos.
“Definitely like something he shouldn’t be doing,” said another.
The choir director stepped in, explained the occasion. We loved the choir director. He was magical. He made us sound like something so much grander than ourselves.
Satisfied that we understood what he expected, the chaplain waddled out, and we set to work on the music. It was a beautiful, moody piece. All minor keyed with frills of polyphony, biblical text that we few Latin students were more than happy to translate. “Sweet nails. This is the part where we sing about sweet nails,” I said, and looked around to see if anyone else thought that was weird other than me.
We sang that Thursday, that Mawn-dee Thursday, to a mostly empty house. The chaplain lit the candles, even though it wasn’t that late, still early enough in spring that light filtered in through the stained glass. We, the sixteen members of the chamber choir filed in through the cool, wet April evening, the flames flickering out of the ends of martial black iron candelabras, the muddy footprints across the nave tracked in from the greening chapel lawn, the earthy smell of wet wool, the high faux-Gothic vault of the roof above above us, and willingly time-traveled.
Most of us were theatre kids, fresh off a run of black box Shakespeare, acting for the benefit of the few actual believers huddled on the front row of the chapel for the rare non-compulsory service. We sounded amazing, like heralds from a forgotten world. I closed my eyes at the richest harmonies and tried to ride them back a few centuries to see what the world might have felt like when it still ran on mystery and terror and cold, dark nights. I envisioned myself as all sorts of characters, usually at odds with my circumstance, at risk of being swallowed whole by events much larger than I. And I remember, specifically, imagining our small, pious audience the survivors of plague, just now stepping out into a world slowing greening back to life with the spring.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I might have the slightest inkling what that might feel like in real life.
Picture today was taking at The Cloisters, back in late summer 2018, during that Catholic Church in Fashion show, just before I drank a comically oversized glass of B+ Rose on one of my favorite terraces in the world with one of my favorite people in history.
As of this writing, 354,972 people have recovered from COVID-19.