For one week in January, the National Cathedral in Washington, DC removed the thousands of chairs normally in the cathedral’s nave and hosted a number of events, including two nights of free choral concerts. Attendees were able to listen to the music while standing, sitting, or roaming through the emptiness of the cathedral. R&E was at the cathedral on January 15 for a concert called “The Spirit in Flight,” performed by Cathedra. Watch excerpts, including our interview with the National Cathedral’s director of music, Michael McCarthy. Interview by Missy Daniel. Edited by Fred Yi and Missy Daniel. Video by Murray Pinczuk, Lauren Talley, and Fred Yi.
MICHAEL MCCARTHY (Director of Music, Washington National Cathedral): I think the music and the space become one. I think that's the really key thing. And the music that we write—that we've been singing tonight and will sing later on tonight—lends itself to this space, lends itself to the architecture and has a spaciousness about it. Taking the chairs out gives us even more space. So it's just something which is…it's a union of both architecture and music.
I think the emptiness brings people to their core. There's nothing else but the floor and the ceiling, and there's…and it's just a freedom to be. And I think that's people with faith or without faith, there's just something very something very telling about, I don't know "desolate" space, but just a sense of openness and a sense of peace which lives in this building.
The building sings but it's also singing at rest, singing at peace.