December 1, 2012 | Back to: Columns

Composing a link to the past

After trombonist Jeff Reynolds retired from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and moved to Nevada County four years ago, he thought he was done performing.

He was wrong.

What Reynolds did not foresee was that soon after he would listen to Seattle’s St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral’s Compline Choir on the Internet and become compelled to devote his time to making his own compline choirs at Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City.

“I thought I would fold up my tent and live my declining years in this beautiful city,” Reynolds said. “I was trying to figure out what to do to use this knowledge I have. Then I heard this compline choir and it struck me to the core.”

Compline (pronounced kom-plin) is part of a 1,600-year-old type of prayer service that involves chanted prayer or sung choir.

“It’s a steep learning curve to learn how chant works,” Reynolds said. “Chant is so basic it is hard to describe.”

It is actually the seventh and final such service of a day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours, deriving its name from the Latin word “completorium,” which more or less means the last service, Reynolds said.

Many Christian denominations have history of Compline services, Reynolds said, including Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran.

“We’re dealing with something that goes back millennia,” Reynolds said. “Even non-religious people find the value of this.”

When Grass Valley resident Galia Penwarden attends, it allows her to embrace a meditative state similar to Thai Chi, she said.

“It’s like going to spiritual gym,” Penwarden said.

The setting helps.

While Reynolds developed an amalgam of those various denominations for his Compline, he opted to keep with many of the roots of the historic tradition, such as performing in robes in the dark with only candles. Almost the entire service is chanted or sung by the choir.

Penwarden’s first Compline experience was during the summer, as the sunset bathed surreal light through Trinity’s stain-glassed windows.

“It was so beautiful,” she said. “It’s a serene old-world setting for me. It is like taking a time out and entering another dimension of yourself.”

Reynolds oversees three choirs: the Trinity Compline Choir, a mix of men and women that is a departure from the traditional all-male compline; the all-women Voces Angelorum (voices of angels); and the male quartet Renaissance Man choir.

All three practice as much as twice a month, in addition to the multiple performances. In all, Reynolds estimates that he volunteers as many as 20 hours a week to the task.

“It’s been interesting to find people willing to put the time into this,” Reynolds said. “But I’m glad I found something I can contribute. Volunteerism is a lot more important to me right now.”

Reynolds’ choirs are garnering more followers, he said, but they are always hoping for more attendees to bask in the choir’s voices.

“It’s a valuable thing for people,” Penwarden said. “I’m glad Jeff and his gang are offering this for people.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

Christopher Rosacker
crosacker@theunion.com

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The Union Updated Nov 4, 2014 06:49PM Published Dec 3, 2012 07:38AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.