by Melissa K. Lee
A North Cambridge resident who is the current Canon for Evangelism at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston used an experimental art form to memorialize a former classmate.
“What I wrote was something called a speech choir and it was offered in the context of a memorial service,” said the Rev. Canon Steven C. Bonsey. This piece intertwines biblical text with dramatic text.
Bonsey wrote the speech choir “The Darkness is Not Dark” for Sam Todd, his classmate at the Yale Divinity School who disappeared in 1984, shortly before graduation, he said. It was performed at a memorial service for Todd that was part of the October 2005 class reunion for YDS.
“We gathered a number of people who had been classmates and who had gone through the experience of looking for Sam,” said Bonsey. The speech choir incorporated memories and experiences of both Sam and of the people who went looking for him.
Bonsey said he started by choosing a passage that came to mind and then asking the people involved to send him memories they had. He worked on the project over the course of a summer. The final product contained texts from Ezekiel 34:11-16, Psalm 139:1-12, Luke 15:3-9, and Romans 8:31-39.
To complete the piece, he combined some poetry and a hymn that he had written into the speech choir anthem that was a meditation on what was lost and what was found in the search for Sam. “One thing I like about the speech choir is that it’s a collaborative effort. The group gives ideas about how it’s best presented,” Bonsey said.
North Cambridge resident Rev. Steven C. Bonsey stands in front of Boston's Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Before his assignment to the cathedral, Bonsey was a chaplain at Tufts University.
Alewife Photo by Melissa K. Lee
The choir of eight performed unseen from a balcony in the back of Marquand Chapel on the YDS campus. Part of their chant included, “On a New Year’s Eve he stepped out for air. / Two by two we looked for him. / We looked for him out on the streets. / We followed him into the dark. / We looked for him among the lost. / We found so many lost.”
“The service also included hymns and prayers, with one of the family members speaking,” Bonsey said. The organizers of the memorial service remembered that Bonsey had written speech choirs in school and asked if he would write one for the service.
Sam had disappeared from a New Year’s Eve party in New York after going outside for a break, he said.
“We wondered if he disappeared on purpose, to go join the poorest of the poor,” said Bonsey. Among his many qualities was his passion for justice for the poor, he said.