During the last weekend of October, I was privileged to be a part of an extraordinary event at Laity Lodge. Ordinary Saints is a collaborative project featuring the work of Bruce Herman (painter), Malcolm Guite (poet), and JAC Redford (composer). They turned their collective attention toward a series of ordinary faces—“people in our immediate circles who are often overlooked”—and responded through their respective mediums.
Bruce created the masterful and moving portraits. Both Malcolm and JAC spent time with the finished paintings and responded—Malcolm with his remarkable poetry and JAC with his lyrical melodies. JAC originally scored the music for chamber orchestra, but the museum and performance space at Laity Lodge is not quite large enough to accommodate the paintings, a chamber orchestra, and an audience. For these logistical reasons, it was decided that he would rearrange the music for clarinet, cello, soprano, and piano.
Steven Purcell, the director of Laity Lodge since 2006, learned about me through my work with River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. After he and I spoke on the phone, I was intrigued both by Laity Lodge and the Ordinary Saints project, and was excited when he invited me to be a part of the chamber ensemble.
The entire weekend was memorable from start to finish. Laity Lodge is located about three hours west of Austin. I was given driving directions for the latter part of the trip since cell reception is lost about 20 minutes before arriving at the Lodge. One of the last instructions was to “turn left into the river.” Yeah, right. Then I got to that point in the drive and, yes, it was necessary to turn left into the river, at 8 p.m., in the pitch black dark, in a very remote location when the river was higher than usual because of recent flooding. (In fact, the retreat scheduled for the previous weekend had been cancelled for that reason.) I took a deep breath and drove my little Fiat 500L into the river, fully expecting to float away. Instead, I was treated to an unforgettable experience driving the last couple of miles up to the Lodge. If I hadn’t realized it before, at that point, I knew I was most definitely in for something special.
Upon my arrival, Steven met me at my car and took me into the dining hall, where I met fellow musicians Steuart Pincombe and his lovely wife, Michelle. Spending time with them was the best possible way to begin my time there. After dinner, we gathered outside by a roaring fire and continued to get to know one another. These are extraordinary people and I look forward to many more interactions with them.
Over the next three days, we enjoyed early morning times for shared reflection, productive rehearsals with all the musicians, interesting and inspiring presentations by Bruce, Malcolm, and JAC, and shared delicious meals and meaningful conversation. I enjoyed exploring the beautiful grounds between events and went for a fantastic run beside the Frio River. I found the environment in and around Laity Lodge to be so peaceful I fantasized about staying there forever!
On Saturday evening, the premiere performance of Ordinary Saints took place in the Cody Center for the Arts surrounded by Bruce’s paintings with Malcom reading his poems between the movements of JAC’s music, which was written to correspond with each portrait. It was a pleasure to perform with the other musicians—Bethany Ring, soprano, Steuart Pincombe, cello, and Amber Salladin, piano. It was a magical evening!
What a wonderful weekend of inspiration, fellowship, and learning. We are already brainstorming about future performances at Laity Lodge and I can’t wait to return!
The ordinary saints, the ones we know,
Our too-familiar family and friends,
When shall we see them? Who can truly show
Whilst still rough-hewn, the God who shapes our ends?
Who will unveil the presence, glimpse the gold
That is and always was our common ground,
Stretch out a finger, feel, along the fold
To find the flaw, to touch and search that wound
From which the light we never noticed fell
Into our lives? Remember how we turned
To look at them, and they looked back?
That full-eyed love unselved us, and we turned around,
Unready for the wrench and reach of grace.
But one day we will see them face to face.