By the waters of Babylon
There we sat down and wept
When we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
We hung up our harps
For there our captors
Required of us songs
And our tormentors mirth saying
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the song of the Lord
in a strange land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem
Let my right hand wither
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
If I forget you, O Jerusalem.
On Thursday, I sang my guitar song Sometimes the Dreams at the Dean’s mass. On Saturday, Shipen returned just in time for the afternoon concert and there were many new faces in the crowd. Shipen had a good tan and seemed excited and full of ideas for the new psalm cycle and a new “Chant for Deliverance” he had written.
June 30-July 5th. Christopher telephoned Stephen who explained he would need to stay in Texas for at least another month. We agreed to hold Stephen and his family in our prayers. At rehearsal we worked on Shipen’s new Chant and The Anti Psalm written by Dorian. Both seemed very powerful. We also hammered away at a Steve Reich type piece. With no air conditioning, it was very, very hot in the apartment so we resorted to damping down our hair at night and putting fans in the windows, hoping to cool the air if just a little (no air conditioning).
July 4, 1975. It was America’s Bicentennial Celebration Day. The morning stillness was quite a contrast to the fireworks of the previous nights. At 10 we drove to Trinity Church and performed our concert to a large crowd, with the Omega group dancing in front. It was very hot and we seemed to strain under its weight, the heat deadening our senses and our performance. Shipen and I quarreled afterwards over the ending and we were all hot, sweaty, crabby and feeling cramped in the bus as we drove home.
On the 6th, David Karasek and Kateri called with news of their decision to get married and inviting us to play at their wedding. After rounds of congratulations we agreed provided we could arrange two other concerts nearby as well to cover our costs.
On Thursday, July 11th, after a series of letters and phone calls, a new postulant, Diane arrived for a two-month trial visit. As her father shook hands with everyone, my first observation was that she seemed very young. At least she seemed to have an independent spirit and a lot of gumption to uproot herself and move into our community. She had agreed to test her vocation with us and try to work her way into the music as soon as possible. So now we were four in the women’s bedroom: Mary, Melody, Diane and myself.
On Friday, we met with Carla, Dorita, Kateri, David and Brian of the Omega dancers concerning our working relationship. We talked honestly and frankly about our feelings that sometimes it seemed the dancers were a distraction from the music rather than an addition. It was suggested by the Trees that maybe we should work on a new set of pieces to be created together that would be dependent on both groups doing it. It was suggested possibly we might switch roles, with Trees dancing and dancers becoming musicians. It was an open, honest discussion with a minimum of hurt feelings. We also discussed the question of whether we could grow healthy enough in the New York City environment to maintain our ministry, healing and helping others? Or did we need another environment in which to grow stronger, returning to the City to minister? Shipen questioned if we were being too ambitious in wanting to go to the country (some of us wanting it-he clearly did not at that point). I countered that maybe we were being too ambitious in staying in NYC – pointing out it might be healthier for us to live elsewhere? We talked for some time but nothing was resolved.
Saturday, July 12th. When we woke up the first thing Diane said was, “Where are all the men?” Where indeed. Welcome to the Trees. She looked truly puzzled so I tried to tell her that they were visiting friends etc., etc. but I suspected my dissatisfaction colored my explanation. We played our Saturday concert without dancers and debuted Psalm 136. It didn’t work right following Psalm 42 (too similar), but still went over well. Afterwards, Dorita, Michael Sparrow and Andy Rozecki from the Jesuit Arts Institute joined us on our drive to Boston where we had some concerts lined up. It was an enjoyable trip with Patricia and Melody cooking as we traveled as the rest of us played cards, read or watched Michael do magic tricks. We made it part way to Boston before suddenly the bus broke down and we limped into a truck stop for repairs. It seemed like it had been a long time since I had written: “here we are stranded”. Shipen reported that Athanasius had a pancake that was broken and it needed a new diaphragm – huh? Just when we thought we might get ahead, bang, the bus would break down. The Lord never cuts us any slack does He? Well, it’d be nice to at least break even! I thought. After it was repaired we drove to Hubert Jessop’s home, arriving around 1:30 a.m.
July 13th. We rose early at 7:30 and after services, met at the Channel 5 studio to do a dry run for the next day’s taping session. Around 2pm we left to go back to Hubert’s for a lunch of lasagna, rolls and salad. As we drove there Shipen noticed we were losing more and more power and that the same thing that happened last night was happening again (were there no honest mechanics!). We limped around, driving in circles, searching for a diesel gas station. After gassing up, we rushed home to snatch a bite to eat, and then suddenly Shipen decided he needed a nap. (What? There’s no time!) He would not be deterred. Anxiously, I waited gnawing on fingernails as he slept and an hour later we raced to the Paulist Center, arriving just in time to set up between services. We played to a packed crowd of 300 folks and in spite of all the rushing around, the show was well received and we were given a standing ovation and calls for an encore. Wow. 70 people filled out forms to order our record. To bed at 1 am.
The following day, we drove to a nearby place called the Bird Sanctuary where we met the film crew from Channel 5. First off, we had to wait an hour before we were allowed to hand over our instruments to the union men who then carried them to the film site. Then, one of the cameras broke down and so we sat on the hot set for a few more hours while they fixed it. Finally, we started taping at 1 and were done by 4pm, (one hour of overtime) and they taped Taka, part of Psalm 42, most of Psalm 45, Comfortless, the Chant and Jesus He Knows which we did walking together dressed in our peach colored costumes walking in toward the cameras over the hills. In the end, we had several cases of poison ivy and sunburns, were grouchy, hungry and tired and frustrated with the whole process. We drove back to NYC around 5:30 and picked up Andy and Michael at a subway stop where they had been waiting for an hour and a half (the taping ran late!). We pulled onto the Cathedral close at 2 am and unloaded the instruments, exhausted.
Tuesday morning we slept in, at least until 9:00am. Melody’s ulcer was acting up again so she stayed in bed. Mary, Patricia and I attended our dance classes and Christopher came along to do some pottery with a Poor Clare nun at the Jesuit Institute. As we fell back into our semi normal routines, it seemed David and Shipen were sleeping in far too often (late nights?) and discipline was getting lax in my opinion. During the day Dorian and David worked on the upcoming tour arrangements. Melody and I did laundry which gave us time for some heavy (but private) discussions. I really missed my job at the Cathedral gift shop. Diane played her guitar... alot.
Friday July 18th. Stephen returned from Abilene after being gone for six weeks and I was greatly relieved to have him back! I hoped finally things might return to “normal” – whatever that was! At Saturday’s concert Stephen really wanted to just watch but we urged him to join in, so he did. St. Saviors was overflowing with over 70 people. There were no Omega dancers, once again, and I thought it was an especially smooth, successful concert. With Stephen back, I thought the music sounded rich and full again.
July 20, 1975. Family Discussion Round Two (and a half). Once again, the day started nicely enough. The weather was lovely and it was a sunny, and beautifully clear summer day. We all met together at 7pm in living room for our previously arranged family discussion but David Lynch was missing. We called over to Dorita's but he responded, “nobody told me we were going to have it tonight, I thought it was called off” and refused to come. We decided to go ahead without him anyway but asked Diane to find something else to do, which she did.
The topic was “Commitment” and whether or not we should work on the January Tour or not (i.e. would there be a tour?) This had been hinted at during the last talk, but Shipen pushed even harder for a verbal commitment from everyone, saying he had felt very burdened about the Winter Tour and hadn’t been able to throw himself wholeheartedly into it because he sensed that there was a certain discontent within us all. Mary (our rock!) right off said she would definitely stay. I said I would stay at least until May 2nd as promised and then renew my commitment for another year then. Stephen said he had come to the end of his personal year’s commitment and was still undecided about whether to continue with his education or stay with the Trees. Then Christopher came out with a decision he said he had been praying and thinking about over the past month. He said that for many reasons he and Patricia had decided to leave and return to Dallas. He assured us it was nothing personal but that he felt he could not be himself and "unfold his individuality" living within our community. Also he wished to pursue a different line of music for himself. Still a bit moonstruck, of course I thought he was tactful, kind and loving in the way he shared his sad news. It would be a great loss, but we said we loved he and Patricia deeply and would support them in their decision and always pray for them. The meeting ended on that sad note.
I lay in bed that night praying, “No, don’t go, don’t leave us! I love you guys - don’t go!” But it was no good, Christopher and Patricia were leaving and I knew it. What would become of us now? Would the group hold together? More changes loomed on the horizon that none of us could have foreseen. Who would be the next to abandon ship? I drifted off to sleep hearing in my mind Christopher’s beautiful guitar chords from Comfortless…I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you, peace I bring my peace I give, this peace I leave with you. Let not your hearts be troubled, don’t let them grow afraid. My love and I abide with you, and teach you things I’ve said…
July 23, 1975 – The Omega group joined us again for rehearsal. The new set of pot gongs had arrived that Patricia’s mom had purchased for us in the Philippines (with our money). It was grand fun to explore different “tone pools” and experiment with the new textures and sounds they created, as we blended in xylophones and other bell tones.
July 24th Stephen’s Birthday Celebration. The plan to get Stephen out of the way was to have him drive across the Triborough bridge to pick up two boys from Luxembourg who would be staying with us for a few days. Unfortunately, he forgot to take any money with him, which was problematic since there is a charge to cross using that bridge. I don’t know how he worked that out but when he finally returned around 7:45, I think the last thing in the world he wanted was a birthday party! However, we led him to the seat of honor and started out with drinks (Compari for the non drinkers: Mary, Patricia, Melody and Dorian). Dinner was delicious leg of lamb and all kinds of delicious fresh vegetables from the garden. (It took 3 cleanings to polish the brass and copper table as it had been weeks since it was properly polished). All 12 of us squeezed in tightly together for the feast, which was followed by brandy and the traditional chronicle readings. Gifts were a thesaurus and a book on St. Paul. Some stayed up to listen to Firesign Theater, others struggled off to bed.
July 26th was our last Cathedral concert of the summer concert series. Quite a huge crowd was there as word of mouth had continued to swell the audience from week to week. It was a powerful, moving performance.
July 31st. After only one month, Diane announced at Chapter that she felt the Lord calling her to leave us. (Not surprising what with all the bickering and emotional upheaval in the family). No one objected and she left a few hours later on the 2:00 bus. I thought she was lovely, friendly but a bit too messy. We had agreed we’d try each other on for size but unfortunately she had come at a rough junction in our lives, so no one was surprised at her decision.
Meanwhile, over at the Cathedral, things had grown quite tense and difficult. They had trimmed their budget even more and were struggling through a rough financial spell. Then the hammer fell. We were informed we could no longer charge anything, could expect no more advances, and we would need to begin paying off our $4,800 debt, immediately. Chauncey Parker gave us a copy of a memo detailing the new “Financial Relationship of The Trees with the Cathedral.”
To: The Trees
From: Chauncey G. Parker
Re: Financial Relationship of the Trees with the Cathedral
July 31, 1975
As you know, the Cathedral has been going through an “agonizing reappraisal” of its finances and financial commitments during the past six months. A first result has been another significant reduction of staff as well as some sail-trimming in program. A second has been the approval of a budge for fiscal year 1975-6 but only for the first three months.
A third result has been intensified scrutiny on the part of both Trustees and administration of the expenses past and present to the Cathedral in an effort to rout out sleeping dogs, to leave nothing to chance which might, however inadvertently, exacerbate the Cathedral’s financial condition.
How this affects The Trees Community is that the rather informal financial relationship which has pertained in the past can no longer be indulged in the future.
(1) The Trees debt to the Cathedral is now $4,800;
(2) The Trees have been in debt to the Cathedral since the first days of its association with it;
(3) Whereas you and I had a verbal agreement that you would pay this debt down, except for $1,000 repayment on your bus loan made last February, the debt has actually been growing over the past year;
(4) You have been availing yourself freely of the IBM reproduction machine, apparently with little intention, judging from (2) above, of reimbursing the Cathedral for same;
(5) You have also been using the telephone system of the Cathedral to make long distance calls, and not reporting these to the accountant’s office, presumably in hope that they will not be traced to The Trees and in any case necessitating considerable expenditure of time and effort to identify these calls as yours;
(6) As you know, I have bent over backwards to work with you on your financial needs, to ease your burden as you have tried to find your financial feet. I feel now, however, that you are beginning to abuse the Cathedral’s generosity in assuming that its understanding and cooperation is its obligation and your due.
He went on and on with more points explaining that he was not intending to make our financial life a misery and saying he was sorry to be so hard-nosed but insisting we leave a deposit to cover future use of the IBM machine and telephone. It was quite a shock to say the least.
Underlying our situation was the fact the country was in the midst of a recession and everywhere churches were feeling the pinch so we were finding it difficult to line up many paying concerts. Despite our best efforts, we had no concerts in the City and thus no income. Even the money we had made on the Florida tour had been sent to pay back loans from the Bishop, Trinity Church and the rest had gone to the Cathedral. Furthermore, the bus needed new tires and repairs, which would eat up the rest of our dwindling funds. I had been working throughout May and June in the gift shop so we had used that money for groceries. Unfortunately, at the very end of June I’d been “let go”. Thus in July our income had slowed to a mere trickle from Saturday concerts. Hmmmm. Canon West was insisting we couldn’t work regular jobs but that the music should support us - but it wasn’t. Meanwhile, we volunteered 40 hours a week (for no pay) at the Cathedral working on their "The Spirit of 76" event helping with planning, typing, stuffing envelopes, setting up tables, etc. It was time to turn the matter over to the Lord.
With Stephen back (or because of our meeting?) somehow things began to turn around. Shipen and David no longer slept all afternoon. Our dance lessons had come to an end, allowing us to return to full afternoon rehearsals again. The mess and disarray in the men’s room was gone and it was neat as a pin in there again.
Shishonee Performing a song about Chief Joseph at the Jesuit Arts Institute
Saturday we performed at a wedding reception at Fordham in the Bronx. Then we drove four hours to St. Francis Church in New Jersey where we played for the mass and gave an evening concert for about 300 people. It was very well received and we were given a long standing ovation. Thankfully, it brought in a small bit of money. It took 5 ½ hours driving through heavy traffic so that we didn’t get back until 3:00 a.m.
David Karasek and Kateri had invited us to play at their wedding in Michigan but called to say they hadn’t been able to line up any other concerts in the area. It was decided I would go down alone and play harp and sing solo songs for the wedding instead.
Meanwhile at the final week of the Jesuit Arts Institute, Carla and Claudette taught us some new dance techniques that in turn we then used in dancing for the final liturgy. Afterwards, there was a picnic. Mary, Patricia and I found it to be a tremendous six-week experience. It helped me feel more confident and I thought it enriched our Trees performances. Re-energized, the following week we rehearsed with the Omega dancers working together on a new piece weaving music and dance together as opposed to just choreographing dance to a previously written piece.
August 7th through the 24th – time for a two week vacation. After such a strained and difficult summer together, I greatly appreciated the chance to get away from all the pressures I’d been feeling. Aside from money troubles, there was growing discontent brewing in the Trees. Though Christopher and Patricia didn’t verbalize their unhappiness until our meeting, it was apparent they were struggling with adjusting to our life style, goals and musical taste, let alone trying to figure out how to live as a married couple in our odd semi-monastic community. I worried and stressed over how we should work them out of the concerts and fill in the missing parts? It was around then that Dorian Gregg graciously agreed to step into the void and began coming to rehearsals so he could be “worked in.” Thank you Dorian!
Adding to the tension was Shipen’s growing ambivalence and discontent. He seemed unhappy and was struggling with his own commitment to the Trees. Something was pulling (or pushing) Shipen away from us – he claimed it was our unwillingness to accept his gay lifestyle and our rebellion against his authority. I thought it was New York City. Everything about it was a siren call with its hip urban lifestyle, gyms, nightlife, parties and everything else. I had hoped that Dorian joining the Trees would change things for Shipen. It hadn’t helped. Shipen was still struggling with his own demons, his own call to the monastic life we were trying to create. While Mary, Melody and I were pushing for a more structured religious order, I worried that both he and David were thinking more and more about returning to the secular world.
September and the fall tour were fast approaching and yet things were way too tense and strained. Naively I hoped our vacation time apart would set everything right again. Would that it had been that easy!
Mary, Patricia, Andy and I drove to Michigan, dropping Patricia off at her Grandmothers in Pennsylvania for a visit. As we pulled away, I couldn’t help crying since as I realized my life with Tricia had come to an end. I was really going to miss her! Mary and I drove on to Michigan to play at David Karasek’s marriage.
On August 9, 1975, David Karasek and Kateri Terns were finally married. Mary and I sang and performed “Sometimes the Dreams” on guitar and parts of other songs on harp. It was a beautiful ceremony. Then Mary left and drove back to Batavia, New York to visit her parents while I stayed in West Bloomfield to visit my family. Shipen and Dorian took the bus up to Nepals and camped out. David Lynch and Dorita stayed at Jack Walter’s place in the East Hamptons and then went on to her parents.
Intuitive as he was and sensing our distress and pain from afar, on August 9, 1975 Brother Lavrans wrote a very loving letter, offering his advice and encouragement:
August 9, 1975
My dear family,
A letter as fragrant as the robes of the daughter of the kind belied the river of tears it contained. A river unto which I am caught up and which we must with every effort ford, without the loss of a brother or sister.
One cannot sing the psalms as you do without being brought into their very torrent. They are fire and they burn whoever draws near. But they are a refining fire, as silver purified seven times. I know I can only pep talk you, throw out clichés, and maybe even preach a damn good sermon, but I don’t think that’s what you need.
I have read and re-read the news of your growing crisis and I have listened to your music and I have prayed and thought and begged for a light to give you. (More fire!).
Perhaps (perhaps I say because it is) perhaps what the group needs is an election of a superior. I do not mean to cast any doubt on you Shipen but what if the family voted for and established a superior? After prayer and guidance of the Spirit, vote, and with this corporate act, the charisma of the leader will be strengthened.
Too, I cannot help but feel you are being nudged out of the citadel of St. John. I am at this distance confused about the role and place that Father West has and why he is not more committed to you. But this is the point, neither the Cathedral nor yourselves have made any canonical commitment to each other, thus a very ambiguous relationship, I feel, has ensued. To give one open arms and then demand to pay what you owe is hardly a response for mutual service.
Is there no way for you to take a stronger bond of commitment to each other? Is it merely a friendly agreement or has it been taken in the presence of God’s minister and the Altar? And the family, each binding himself and herself at the Altar not only to each other but to the Trees, an entity outside of yourselves and to which you owe a certain obligation and responsibility of stability.
You have come to know so many other people of God, surely there must be someone to whom you can turn. If I were a prophet I’d say, “Flee from N.Y.C.!”
To have an outside income (a “job”) other than your music is a great step to keeping yourselves at a common task but I’m sure it could be compatible with your truest life desires. Your music is your work; your “job” is simply to sustain you to work at more music. I don’t think it would be difficult for you to manage both.
My brothers and sisters, my family, I am one of you, flesh of your flesh, spirit of your spirit, limb of your Tree. I have shared your river of tears with the brethren, they too respond as I. Father Timothy said, “I am real sorry. I do believe in what they are trying.”
And so I fall silent. Jesus mounts the Tree and both become one in the same piercing, in the same throbbing of life giving blood. Shall Jesus destroy His Cross?
August beckons to autumn, the Trees are even now wounded red…but they will not perish.
In steadfast hope
In many ways, Lavrans words were prophetic and totally in tune with what we needed …For whatever reason, Canon West seemed to be abandoning us, as was the Cathedral. We were floundering for lack of leadership as Shipen was drifting away from us mentally and emotionally. I too felt we should flee the city. The only constant unwavering entity was the music, which flourished even as we ebbed and flowed. Unfortunately, we were sliding steadily toward events that would rock the foundations of our small family…