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Vespers, in general, is an evening service of worship. Ideally, it would take place beginning when the sun is low in the sky and conclude when it is dark outside. Usually, it is a service of reassurance and comfort.
Add the lively rhythms and enriched harmonies and progressions of jazz and vespers become a service of reassurance and comfort bolstered by gratitude and joy.
On this occasion, the music was provided by the John Brown "Little" Big Band: John Brown, bass and leader, Daniel Stark, Andy Paolantonio, and Shaquim Muldrow, saxophones, Andy Kleindienst and Evan Ringel, trombones, Jay Meachum and James Armstrong, trumpets, Joel Holloway, piano, Kevin van Sant, guitar, and Charles Pinckney - drums. Slightly trimmed down from a standard big band, the "Little" Big Band nonetheless delivered a chapel-filling, toe-tapping, hand-clappng, and joyous sound.
Vocalists Tamisha Waden and Liz Jackson filled the empty spaces with pure, sweet soprano sonority.
The service began with the band and vocalists' rendition of Brown's fine composition, "Every Day is a Day of Thanksgiving," as the Introit. It set the mood of thanksgiving on this week before the American Thanksgiving holiday.
The Reverend Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of Duke Chapel, gave a greeting and welcome to the gathered ones.
The first song in the order of service was "Glory, Glory, Glory," with music by Brown. Most of the music in the service was created by Brown and members of his "Little" Big Band, inspired by similar services in which they have previously participated.
After the opening prayer and a reading from Psalm 150, the second song, "Because of Who You Are," a beautiful ballad, was sung persuasively by Waden and Jackson. It started softly and built to a joyful affirmation of faith.
The New Testament reading was from I Corinthians 5, wherein Paul admonishes the young believers to "give thanks in all circumstances."
The third song was "I Feel Like Praising Him," after which the dynamic Rev. Joshua Lazard gave the homily, entitled "A Thanksgiving Exhortation." He drew from Paul's words an entreaty to give thanks in all circumstances for God's grace is at work in all circumstances. After the conclusion of his powerful message, "Amazing Grace" arose quietly at first, and then powerfully as all joined in.
Three separate "prayer stations" were made available to those who chose to use them: prayers for healing with anointing oil, prayers of blessing, and an opportunity to light a prayer candle. As this was taking place, the band played a medley of spirituals, with some of the musicians taking solo rides. For me the trombone's mellow tone floating across that gorgeous sanctuary attracted my attention and provided a special experience. Other soloists, I am sure, held special meaning to others gathered there on this occasion. Music has a way of seeking out and finding the needs of those who hear it.
The Lord's Prayer, recited in unison, led to the fourth song and the benediction. A jazz coda continued the theme of acknowledging grace and giving thanks. Brown's lovely and rousing song, "Thank You Lord for All You've Done for Me," expressed the feelings of most. Those leaving the Chapel this evening, did so with a lighter step and a song of joy instead of a burden riding on the shoulders – at least for a while – at least for as long as the song lasts....