Rev. Cricket Cooper is Rector at St. Stephen's Parish in Pittsfield, MA. She has been a member of the MMC Board of Trustees since 2014.
Several years ago, I attended Emily Scott’s workshop on paperless music at the Episcopal diocesan convention in Vermont. The afternoon workshops were followed in the evening by a large, diocesan dinner for a few hundred people, in a ballroom of a local hotel.
In the midst of the din of food service, clattering flatware, jovial conversations and reunions, suddenly a frightened voice pierced the room, calling for a doctor. Amid the sounds of scuffling and raised voices far in a corner of the large space, most of us were instantly drawn into that horrible place of unknowing. What had happened? How serious was it? Could we help? What should we do?
Quietly standing, the cathedral’s Canon Precentor Mark Howe began to sing “Tar a Thighearna,” one of the songs we’d learned earlier. Those of us at surrounding tables quickly picked up the celtic tune, glad to have something to hold onto.
The song was an invitation for everyone in the room to support, connect, pray, and let go of our own personal anxieties about the unknown event in the room. As the music caught on across the vast space, a few hundred people remained seated and focused on the healing power of song. Within a few minutes, the sound of boots and the crackle of radio static in the hall signaled the arrival of the EMT team that had been called. As those responders raced in, you could see their stunned faces, looking around the room at so many calm people gently singing peace into the fear and uncertainty of the moment.
Without chaos and confusion, the EMTs were quickly able to center and do their work, stabilizing and then transporting an elderly member of the diocese to the hospital. Finally, the singing came to an end, and we were informed of the details of the event, and of the gratitude of the person who had fallen ill and his family for the way they had been surrounded and upheld by the sung prayers of the assembly.
Song transformed that evening from something terrifying into something deeply powerful, mystical, and beautiful.