My favorite time to play my harp during Sunday morning church service is at Communion. At our church, members are invited to come up and gather in a circle around the altar after our visiting priest (we don’t have a permanent rector) elevates the Host, breaks it and begins to distribute it to each in turn, saying: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”
At this point I gradually, softly begin to play my wire harp, from imperceptable softness to a gradual increase in volume. Husband George will frequently accompany on the pipe organ a few feet away, on a soft 8′ Flute stop, which shimmers on that antique instrument like a Celeste.
Frequently I leave the levers (if it’s the Argent Fox double strung harp) set to the last position they were in for the last hymn we sang and play the Communion music in that key. The harp is tuned to Eb but if the last hymn was in F or D, that’s what I’ll use here. Partly it’s because of how quickly the service is moving along and I don’t want to be changing levers at that point and partly it’s because I want to be involved with the act of Communion itself and focusing on the rite, which I’ll soon be partaking in as an Episcopalian and a Christian believer.
The melody that I play at that very special point is frequently one that suggests itself to me. I have found over time that it is best to settle, listen to the words of the service, watch as the Eucharist unfolds and then wait as the Holy Spirit informs me as to the melody to play. I have found quite often I don’t know until I begin playing what it will sound like, and sometimes the melody that emerges from my harp can be a number of things: surprising, interesting, peaceful, meditative, a few twists and turns here and there in the melisma that go to unexpected places and then settle quite comfortably on what we think of as “home”… musicians would refer to this as the tonic note.
It’s often times during the most curious melodic developments that the Eucharistic Minister will bring me the common cup of wine. I’ve learned to let go at that point, let the silence settle, take the element and pray and then amazingly, when I return to my harp, the melody picks up where it was, with its modal suspensions and arpeggiated borrowings from classical orchestral pedal harp technique… and then quickly, neatly turns to a resolution. At this moment the last member of the congregation is in process of returning to their seat in the pews.
All of this is quite remarkable to me, as I’ve thought of noting these melodies down but they seem ephemeral and slip away. They seem to exist only in the sacredness of the moment. And this is why I love being a church musician.
Soli Deo Gloria.