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Fervor Abounds In 'Stations Of the Cross'

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Fervor abounds in 'Stations of the Cross'



What do you hope for from a concert? Do you hope for a profound intellectual experience, with the radiant architecture of music made manifest? Or do you hope for a profound emotional experience, with the full breadth and depth of human feeling laid bare?

If the latter is the case, consider the following: When St. Andrew's Episcopal Church mounts its production of Marcel Dupre’s organ masterpiece, “The Stations of the Cross,” each year for Good Friday, “people come up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes,” says St. Andrew’s organist and choirmaster Dr. Thomas Strode. “The music is tremendously moving every year, and this year should be even better than last year.”

All this will occur on Good Friday at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free and open to the public, although contributions are welcome to help defray the costs of the production.

“Production” is surely the operative word here because, in addition to Strode’s performance of Dupre’s music on the 33-rank Reuter pipe organ, there will be two actors reciting poetry upon which the music is based and three dancers interpreting the the music. This is not simply some slightly late attempt to present a multi-media event. This is a genuine effort to intensify the experience of the crucifixion for those in attendance.

While it has been a tradition at St. Andrew’s for 15 years to do "The Stations of the Cross,” the actual tradition of following the stations of the cross as a type of pilgrimage-meditation on Good Friday became popular in the 10th and 11th centuries.

St. Andrew’s version of the tradition grew out of recitations, of Paul Claudel’s text accompanied by Dupre’s musical meditations on those texts done in Paris in the earlier part of this century. Originally, Dupre’s contributions were improvised, but as their annual performances became increasingly popular, he was persuaded to write down his music so that it might be played by other organists

One of the first people to perform the work at St. Andrew’s was Ann Arbor’s dean of organists, Marilyn Mason. She sometimes presented the work with dancers and sometimes with a slide presentation of works of art related to the subject. Strode has performed the work exclusively with dancers for the past several years and he says he finds the results “much more lively.

“Of course, it’s not really modern dance per se,” says Strode. “It’s more interpretive dance. For example, last year they used a ladder instead of a cross. And this year, they’ll probably use a ladder instead of a cross. But the symbolism is so well known that we’re not worried about being misunderstood.”

This year, as last year, the dancers will be Harriet Payne, chair of the Dance Division of Eastern Michigan University, and her colleagues Bill Kopulos and James Wheatley.

Claudel’s poetry was translated by one of the cantors on the staff of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. One of the speakers will be Nancy Heusel, I whose most recent appearance was in the one-woman show “Julian” at St. Andrew’s, where she is also director of Christian education. Heusel is also the head of the drama department at Greenhills School. The other speaker is Thomas Franks, an Ann Arbor Civic Theater veteran who is on the faculty of Eastern Michigan.

'The Stations of the Cross' will be performed Friday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 306 N. Division St. Admission is free. Call 663-0518 for more information.