Change Font Size:   A A A

Aug 16, 2013 | Rita Powell

Brothers Bring Taizé to Lakota


[Diolog Magazine] This past Memorial Day weekend, a group of Brothers from the Taizé community in France joined young leaders from every reservation in South Dakota and non-native young adults to create a gathering to celebrate the possibilities of reconciliation. (épineridge)  The friendship between the Brothers of Taizé and the young people in South Dakota inspired a group of teenagers to compose a Lakota Sanctus in the style of Taizé.


The Taizé community, www.Taizé.fr, is an ecumenical monastic community of Brothers from around the world who live together as a sign of communion in a small village in France. They are perhaps best known in the U.S. for their music: short repetitive chants that create a meditative feeling. Their music and mission of living out reconciliation of all peoples with each other and God (Sound familiar?  See BCP Cathechism!) are intertwined. The life of the Taizé community centers around daily prayers that began in the Benedictine tradition in French. In the 1970s, larger and larger groups of young people began to visit the community, wishing to be a part of this life together. Soon, it became clear that the long, complex liturgies in French made many of the visitors into spectators. So the Brothers began to imagine a kind of music that could be in the languages of the people they welcomed, and could be short enough to learn quickly. The style of Taizé chant was born. It has become a worldwide phenomenon, and today, you can find Taizé chants in the hymnals of many mainstream Christian denominations. 


Thunderhead Camp in the sacred Black Hills of western South Dakota is a place where the trees whisper and native and non-native teenagers spend time together. There are few (if any) other places in South Dakota where these two cultures interact in a good or sustained way. Each year, we manage and work through the inevitable conflicts that emerge as young people from very different worlds share meals, prayers and social space. The camp prays the offices of Morning Prayer and Compline, blended seamlessly into the Taizé style of prayer by singing parts of the Office like the Venite or Jubilate, the Nunc Dimittis or the Magnificat. The silence in the middle of the prayer, the gentle lighting, and the songs have become a beloved part of the camp pilgrimage for the young people here in South Dakota. (ébooher)


Last summer, with the help of a friend (an organist-choirmaster trained in facilitating group composition), a small group of students—native and non-native—joined together to compose a piece of Taizé-style music. They chose the Sanctus as the piece they wished to compose, using the Merbecke setting found in the Lakota hymnal as a starting point. 


The word wakan is a powerful one in Lakota. It conveys the Hebrew sense of the Holy as a force or presence that is vast, mysterious and even somewhat dangerous. Yet the word “wa” is the umbilical cord that connects us to our mother. Contained in the word that expresses the inaccessible grandeur of God is the assertion that we are intimately connected to that mystery, the source of our being. 


As the young people lived their week together, each day was a step toward creating the simple piece of music. A picnic at the icy cold, crystal clear Roughlock Falls, a silent meditation that allowed the voices of the pines to come through in ripples of sound, and singing Lakota hymns in chapel all became part of the sonic landscape. 


The three-part wakan that the group created, after trial and error, and review by the whole camp community, contains this story. It was a privilege and a gift to sing this piece at the meeting on Pine Ridge. It was a way to honor the landscape and theology of the place, and is a tiny fruit of the reconciliation being tentatively lived out here. 


Powell is assistant rector for congregational development at Trinity Church, Boston. 


Photo: Luce Tremblay-Gaudette