Aaron Cain: I'm Aaron Cain for WFIU Arts. Starting Sunday night, January 22nd, at 9:00 PM, Alumni Hall on the IU campus will be the venue for a unique event with ancient roots. Compline. I recently spoke about it with the event’s Director, Professor Jeffrey Smith.
Jeffrey Smith: Compline is a very interesting development in university towns because the actual event is ancient and monastic, but the 21st century interpretation of the event draws all kinds of people, primarily young people, on a Sunday evening. It's somewhat counterintuitive because we're told that young people don't like traditional music. They don't necessarily understand what Palestrina is about, or what Gregorian chant is about. And yet in Seattle, and in New Haven, and in Rochester, New York, hundreds of undergraduates and teens show up at Compline every Sunday night at about 9:00 o'clock PM.
Aaron Cain: What is it, do you think, that's attracting them?
Jeffrey Smith: One is, I think we're interested more and more in mindfulness and in centering our often-frenetic lives. And with social media and smartphones, I think we become even more frenetic and distracted. And I think to have a moment of stillness is something which people who practice yoga or mindfulness are very aware of. The concept of Compline really is as a neutral space, because even though the actual words and music stem from the church, it's not really interpreted in these places. I mentioned it's not really seen as a church service so much as a gathering point of stillness; kind of focus. And I think that's very attractive in a scenario where we live very busy lives, where on Sunday we're thinking about everything that awaits us on Monday, where we have student stress, where we have building anxiety and depression among students that we can measure, and where society is not as good in terms of regulating what is now rest time and what is work time. I think part of it is our smartphones and our schedules have taken away the concept of office or study, or now I'm reading. And we live in a constant blur, and I think one of the attractive things about Compline as it's practiced in these other cities, and as we hope to develop it here, is that it gives just a slight window—25 minutes at the most—of stillness.
Aaron Cain: So if I am a student on the IU campus, I've never been to one of these things before. I go for the first time. Where do I go and what do I experience?
Jeffrey Smith: You go to Alumni Hall in the Memorial Union, which is a beautiful space. And it's even more beautiful by candlelight, so it's very dark. It's very quiet. You wander in. And you can come with friends, you can come in large packs, you can come with your best friend, you can come alone. And it's, in essence, an anonymous event where no one's going to be accosting you for joining something, or becoming a member of something, or participating in a way which is other than a way that you might feel comfortable. No plates passed, no sermons, no hymns, no offerings, no “Hello, my name is.” It is unassociated with any of that, and yet it is a place where people can pray, whatever that means. Musicians, whether we admit it or not, we pray to our music. And we want people to join in a performance, as it were; to participate with us when we sing. And when that happens, that's prayer. And that's better than most prayer, quite frankly. In the Jacobs School we have vast amounts of music from all genres happening 24/7, practically. What has surprised me is that there is an interest among the musicians in this genre of music which is underrepresented at our school, namely Gregorian chant and polyphony. So, in a way, the opportunity that we're offering is something new.
Aaron Cain: Jeffrey Smith, thank you so much for speaking with me about Compline.
Jeffrey Smith: A pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Aaron Cain: Choral Compline by Candlelight, directed by Jeffrey Smith, begins Sunday evening, January 22nd at 9:00 o'clock in Alumni Hall on the IU campus. More information at events.iu.edu. For WFIU Arts, I'm Aaron Cain.