Until my friend Anne from Oahu raved about her Sunday service experience at the Dome Church in Utrecht, I never thought of attending church there. For one, I already go to the weekly Saturday afternoon free concerts in the church, after shopping for bread and cheese at the market. Sunday mornings are reserved for my triple workouts at my sports club: weight-lifting, aerobics, and yoga.
Out of curiosity I decided to attend this 10:30 am service today.
Unlike the audience at the Saturday 3:30 pm concerts, the members of the congregation actually noticed that I was a newbie. They acknowledged me as I found my seat. A gentleman in the next pew was quick to gesture to go to page four of the 10-page handout.
The dome tower is the tallest building in Utrecht. It’s considered the center of the city. Yet it is not attached to the church as one would expect. If a church is shaped like a cross, the top of it is missing. The dome church is probably the most important church of Utrecht, and it’s a must-see if you’re visiting. I have attended packed concerts of Mozart’s Requiem and music on period instruments over the years. The free Saturday afternoon concerts range from solo organ to choir to music ensembles.
What I found unique about the one-and-half-hour service today is the quality and quantity of music. There was more music than text. In fact, whenever it was possible to have music, there was singing. And I felt liberated sight-singing to my heart’s content.
There was antiphonal music, making creative use of space. While most songs were unison, there were occasions where we altered between tutte and the choir; tutte, men only, women only; tutte, north rows, south rows, choir. Thus the spacing of the music was felt and heard.
There was good variety in the music, too, not just major or minor keys but also changing time signatures, use of accidentals in shifting tonality, and multiple meters within a song. In other words, it’s not your usual single key in a single time signature with predictable quarter note beats.
While I missed the prelude, I was overjoyed to hear the organ improvisation during the communion. Here’s a short clip towards the end.
It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand most of the spoken Dutch. I could pronounce the words, read the music, and sing with everyone else. The organist played a magnificent postlude at the end of the service. It was worth not leaving the church just to drown in this grand sound.
After queuing to exit the church, I walked up to the ouderling and smiled, “Bart, do you remember me?” It’s nice to recognize faces after being away for five years.