Duke Chapel in Christmas Dress

I darkened the doorstep of the Duke Chapel today expectant to see greenery, poinsettias, and bows. Sure enough, I saw greenery, poinsettias, and bows.

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A peek into the nave from the narthex revealed masses of poinsettias near the front (chancel).

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A panoramic view of the nave: Duke Chapel is a “cross-shaped church” with a long isle down the middle and perpendicular sections near the front that are called transepts. In this photo, the nativity is on the back wall of the left transept and is framed in pine garland.

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My favorite ‘ornament’ was the Advent wreath. For those unfamiliar with the Advent wreath (suspended from the ceiling in this picture), it is comprised of five candles. Four of the candles (often purplish in color) are lit one each week leading up to Christmas. The white candle in the middle is the Christ Candle, which is usually lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

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The circular evergreen upon which the candles rest represents the eternity of God.

Also on display in the Duke Chapel until December 30th is a collection of nine paintings by Robyn Sand Anderson that explores the visual interpretation of scared choral music.

Arts & Health

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso

Throughout the Duke Medical Center in Durham, NC, artwork hangs on walls and in showcases overseen by Duke Arts & Health. One recent display in the Duke Clinics merges visual art with performance art and caught my eye.

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A trumpet lamp, a 12-button student accordion, a clarinet lamp, a toy piano, and an Oscar Schmidt autoharp on display in the Duke Clinics in Durham, NC. (I’ve walked by this display case dozens and dozens of times over the years and have never noticed it was even there. It was the clarinet lamp that drew me toward this latest exhibit. I played the woodwind from fourth grade through my first year of college, and will occasionally toot a rusty rendition of Karl L. King’s “Robinson’s Grand Entry” or John Philip Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea” when the mood strikes.)

A few weeks later, I passed by the display again and noticed it had grown to include harmonicas, sheet music, and a German hunting horn. Intriguing!

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A Hohner “Super Chromonica” chromatic harmonica on display at Duke Medical Center (Durham, NC).

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A German Hunting Horn on display in the Duke Clinics showcase. (Durham, NC)

But that’s not all. A few weeks later still, I passed by and the display had changed again! This time it included several string instruments, not the least of which was a colorful ukulele.

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A couple of guitars, a violin/fiddle, and a ukulele are charming additions to a revolving display of musical instruments in the Duke Clinics (Durham, NC).

In addition to such visual arts displays, the Duke Arts & Health department hosts lunchtime concerts on the Trent Semans Plaza, as well as music throughout the medical units, in waiting areas, and at bedsides. (Much of this music is thanks to professional musicians in residence and volunteer Duke student musicians.)

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A musician plays the accordion in a busy thoroughfare near the cafeteria. — Duke University Hospital; Durham, NC

The exhibits and the concerts are free to the public. The enjoyment they bring is priceless.

A Secret Chord

Martin Luther, both a theologian and a musician in 16th century Germany, is quoted as saying, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”

Indeed, music seems to forge a pathway straight to the soul. It can be inspiring, convicting, soothing, and just plain entertaining. It can also be destructive in intention and form—eliciting unlovely images or promoting angry, hostile thinking. In short, music is powerful and influential—and in the “right hands,” it promotes peace, love, joy and hope.

For one hour every week, one of my friends shares the good gift of music with others on a beautiful Steinway & Sons grand piano located in the atrium of the 5-story Duke Cancer Center in Durham, North Carolina.

As she expertly plays such scores as Harold Arlen’s classic “Over The Rainbow, ” Leonard Cohen’s pop standard “Hallelujah,” and Claude Debussy’s “Claire de lune,” the notes rise up from the bottom floor where the Steinway resides and touch the ears of those visiting the Center for various reasons.

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Some people pause to peer over the railing, others stop to sit for a spell, while still others continue on to their appointments. Each person has a story to which the music can speak. On the occasions that I have heard the “grand Steinway grand,” the chord that it struck for me is this: in the midst of sickness, sorrow, and uncertainty that threaten to break the body and shatter the soul, God gives great presents.


Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. — James 1:17

The One Where “I just lost myself in the movement”

Their music is heard ’round the world. They have performed hundreds of concerts on five continents. “Musical sophistication” and “warm, unified sound” have been used to describe their talents, and they have received high praise from the likes of The New York Times, Toronto Globe and Mail, and La Sicilia (Italy). They are the Ciompi Quartet.

The Ciompi Quartet is a Duke University mainstay. It was founded in 1965 by Giorgio Ciompi, a renowned Italian violinist and a professor at Duke. He has since passed away, and the current members include two violinists (Eric Pritchard and Hsiao-mei Ku), a violist (Jonathan Bagg), and a cellist (Fred Raimi), all of whom are professors at Duke.

On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Ciompi Quartet performed a free, noonday concert at Duke Chapel as part of their Lunchtime Classics series. Tuesday’s concert consisted of all four movements of German composer Johannes Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3 in B-Flat Major, Op. 67. It was composed in 1875.

A brief introduction before the performance revealed that Brahms was a perfectionist. With a capital P. Brahms destroyed many of his works and left others unpublished. We are left with only three string quartets, (in addition to his ‘scores’ of works in other musical genres).

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The Ciompi Quartet of Duke University performing Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3 in B-Flat Major, Op.67 at Duke Chapel. October 8, 2013

Somewhere between Vivace and Poco allegretto con variazioni, as I sat in the vaulted nave of the gothic-style Duke Chapel, I was struck by how fortunate I am to work on a university campus where cultural experiences and natural beauty (think Duke Gardens) are the norm. I suppose one could say that for a brief moment, I just lost myself in the movement.

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The Ciompi Quartet of Duke University receiving applause for their Lunchtime Classics performance on October 8, 2013.