13 December 2005

A perfect day in New York

At the Metropolitan Museum

From the top of Rockefeller CenterFrank Turk is right. Christmas season is the ideal time to visit New York. Today couldn't have been better. It was crisp but still and sunny. There's a fresh layer of snow, and much of it (especially in Central Park) is still bright white. Everywhere you go, it seems, traditional Christmas carols are playing. Surprisingly, we didn't hear a lot of cheesy contemporary "holiday" music today. In that regard, at least, New York City seems to be in rebellion against the zeitgeist.

I'd chronicle what we did on Monday, because it was all great—but I hate reading people's travelogues, so I'm not going to write one. The hands-down highlight of our day, however, was the concert we came to see: a Christmas program with Christopher Parkening and Jubilant Sykes, in the Medieval Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The hall is about the size of a small-college basketball arena, but the acoustics are much better. The ambience was perfect, in fact, for highlighting the full range of rich overtones in Jubilant's voice, as well as for hearing the lingering tones of Christopher's quietest guitar notes. The concert was totally unplugged; no amplification at all, except for a microphone that Chris was supposed to use for comments between pieces. He stopped using it about halfway through, and (even though he has a slight case of laryngitis) you could actually understand him better without the sound system.

The room was arranged with a half-circle of 400 or more chairs, every one full. The worst seats in the house were still close enough to make clear eye contact with the performers. The centerpiece of the room is a massive baroque Christmas-tree creche scene with elaborate Neapolitan ceramic figurines, impressive by any measure, even though that sort of thing is not really my cup of tea.

The music was wonderful from start to finish. I'd write a thorough account of every piece, but Sharon (who comments here and wrote three terrific pages of program notes that were handed out at the concert) is probably the only reader who is really interested in that much detail. It truly was all totally superb, both technically and aesthetically.

Jubilant sings with such expression that there's an element of evangelistic preaching in his songs. I'm not a particularly sentimental person, but Jubilant's singing never fails to move me deeply. He conveys power and emotion whether he is singing at full volume or in a barely-audible whisper. And when he sings softly, he does it with more clarity and precise intonation than anyone I have ever heard. (In an acoustic like the Medieval Hall, it's almost other-worldly.) He did a rendition of "I Wonder as I Wander" that made the gospel as clear and poignant as you'll ever hear it sung.

The highlights of the concert for me included a song by Jubilant called "Boi Bumbá," an Afro-Brazilian song, which Jubilant said depicted an argument between the Magi "about who had the best samba." I don't know what that means, and the song didn't make it any clearer for me, because it was in an unfamiliar language (Portuguese, I suppose). But it was both beautiful and fun. The syllables were so fast and complex, I don't know how a non-Charismatic like Jubilant pulled it off. The whole audience's appreciation was obvious.

Another highlight was a piece Christopher played called "Koyunbaba" ("The Shepherd") by a modern composer named Carlo Domeniconi. He's an Italian who lived for a while in Istanbul, so the piece had a Turkish-Italian flavor, if you can picture that. It's written for a guitar tuned in the tones of a c-sharp minor chord (except for the first string, which is tuned as normal). I can't imagine what difficulties that introduces for the performer, but on top of that, the notes and fingerings are lightning-fast. Chris played it with apparent effortlessness. It was a delightful sound, not like you normally hear from a guitar and obviously not completely Western. I loved it.

The concert included several traditional Christmas carols, including "Silent Night," which was an unprogrammed addition to the concert. The traditional carols and a handful of spirituals in particular seemed to have been chosen with the express purpose of honoring Christ, and that was the clear theme that ran like a thread through the whole concert. Jubilant sang the closing number, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" (a Calvinistic spiritual, if you really think about it) with such passionate conviction that at least one Baptist in the audience felt like shouting amen at the end instead of merely applauding.

A little foretaste of heaven in New York City.

Phil's signature


candy said...

A postal worker actually said Merry Christmas to me today. What rebellion!

The concert seemed like such a beautifully composed evening. I am jealous. I enjoy Christopher Parkening and had no idea he was a Christian. I will have to look up Jubilant. You are very descriptive. Thanks. Did you tell Adrian you wanted to shout amen?

MSC said...

Phil - I am amazed that a man of such singular analytical and cognitive vigor would have such an eye and ear for aesthetic sublimities. You are truly a Rennaisance kind of fellow.

How did you ever manage to compose such a remarkable architectonic juxtaposition of form and beauty in that magnificient self portrait of subtly repetitive visages and still iconspicuously promote the Pryomaniac icon at the same time?

You are a new kind of hero - brains of both brawn and beauty.

William Dicks said...


You are truly blessed to have such concerts over in the U.S. Here in South Africa, they are vitually non-existent. And if there was anything like what you witnessed, it would definitely not to bring glory to Christ.

In fact, I can't even find Christopher Parkening's music in South Africa. I tried from many music stores, but I keep on heading down dead-end streets.

Getting it from the U.S. is quite ridiculous as then I pay 50%+ on shipping. So, I will patiently wait until his music is available here.

The way you described your experience there makes me almost see the hall and of course, experience jealousy!

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Oh, the fond memories of hearing Parkening and Sykes at Grace Community Church. Now that's really a foretaste of heaven!

FX Turk said...

I'm lookin' for the bootleg DVD. Did you hold the camera steady?

Dave Davis said...

As Jubilant sings:

Great Isssss thyyy faaaithhhhfuulllnessss.

MOOoorning by mooorninnnnng.

NEw merciesss Iiiii seeeee.

Thooouu changeth not......Thy compassions they fail not.

much enjoyed

Cindy Swanson said...

Pity...I would have loved reading the travelogue!

I've been to NYC a few times, but it was always rushed...and we always stayed in New Jersey. (Except for when I was a little missionary kid and we stayed in Manhattan in a large old building owned by the Sudan Interior Mission.)

Some day I want to take a leisurely visit and stay smack in the middle of the city. (Someday when I have a lot of money?!?)

Sharon said...

Thanks, Phil, for your "concert review." I asked Christopher to save some of the programs so my mother could see my name in print! (I guess it's a Mother Thing--I wouldn't know, never having been one.)

For more information about Christopher Parkening (including reading his online Christian testimony), hop on over to www.parkening.com. I'd make a direct link, but I've long forgotten HTML codes.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

Castusfumus said...

at least one Baptist in the audience felt like shouting amen at the end instead of merely applauding.

This Baptist has a bone in the throat with all that clappin' goin' on. I'm not a fundamentalist by any means; but whatever happened to the Baptist understanding of reverence?
One who sings is presenting his/her offering, can't he/she do it without all that worldly recognition? How about a holy awe?

Sometime silence is deafening...

Scribe said...

Christopher Parkening inspired me as a young man to study classical guitar, and reading his testimony was moving and thrilling. I am grateful for the church where he heard the true gospel. Thanks for the great post.

Tony Kummer said...

Doesn't misfortune follow you when you travel? I'll watch the news for the answer.

Give me a heads-up before you fly over Indiana.

GL said...

Interesting. I was at the Met last Saturday evening and heard some marvelous medieval music on the Met Christmas CD that was playing by the huge Christmas tree. I bought the CD.

Did you see the Van Gogh drawing exhibit? They presented it well, (speaking as the cretin that I am) and the biographical panels on the wall were essential to my understanding of what was going on in Van Gogh's growth as an artist.

I heard amazing music at the Redeemer Open Forum on Wednesday night, and then almost all of it again at the Redeemer Presbyterian Chuch's Lessons & Carols. It was also my first time to hear the wondrous Tim Keller preach.

New York at Christmastime is indeed superb.

Forgiven Sinner said...

When people feel they need applause when they finish a drama, skit, or musical, then they need to stop doing it and get into the WORD. We that are on stage should have an imaginary wall between us and the audience and any applauding should be done to the Holy ONE, not the performers. Believe me.....we have a few in our Church that if you told them you were going to do away with the singers in the forefront of the stage and told them to get in the choir with everyone else, they would get mad and pout about it!!!!

Adrian Warnock said...

Adrian is reading Candy.... We will make a good charismatic out of you yet phil!!!

(sorry, have been trying not to goad you on this subject for a while as I detected your need for a break- enjoy, I susepect that the issue will remain unresolved in the new year......we can perhaps get a resolution by say the end of January that MacArthurites and Mahaneytes will both be happy with!)

pilgrim said...

Send them up to Western Canada!

I've enjoyed Christopher Parkening's playing for many years.
He's one of the best--his CD's get a regular listening on my CD player.

I first heard Jubilant on the Grace Community Church CD--and wow!

I'd love to hear them together.

John Kettner said...

What a wonderful discription of NYC and the concert.

Thank you for sharing that special event.