Once a convenience store, Oak Park, Illinois' Open Door Theater, 902 South Ridgeland Avenue, hosts the Church of Beethoven on the third Sunday of every month. With no dogma or building fund campaign, this Church offers a spiritual experience in whatever way you are open to experiencing the sublime. If your experience is simply an hour of peace in a frantic week, the Church has served its purpose.
The original Church of Beethoven was founded in Albuquerque by Oak Park native and classical cellist Felix Wurman in an abandoned gas station on historic Route 66. Several branches have sprung up around the U.S. The branches all follow Albuquerque’s order of service: about 20 minutes of live classical music followed by short poetry readings and two minutes of silence. Another 20 minutes of live classical music concludes the service. Brunch at a nearby restaurant is an optional extension of the experience.
When I attended, the Lyrebird Ensemble played harp and flute. One of their numbers dates back to the 1700s. It was composed for the French Court and is the first known composition for harp and flute. The stage setting was for the Open Door Theater’s current performance: a loading dock with a back drop of Lady Liberty and the American flag. Hearing music likely enjoyed by Marie Antoinette took me back to the time when elaborately dressed royalty stepped through intricate dances and courtiers made bold advances to maidens behind curtains. The stage setting foreshadowed immigrants sailing to freedom.
Two local poets read poems, but not in the dramatic voice of Serious Poets at pretentious poetry readings. It was more like a friend sharing a poem written at a kitchen table or under a shady tree with a glass of lemonade.
After two minutes of silence with the lights dimmed, the Lyrebird Ensemble continued with a more contemporary sonata by Andy Scott that has Eastern European folk elements and “Woofin’ the Cat Suite” by Cameron Wilson that hints of Scotland and Prince Edward Island.
I left the Church feeling that we will always have wars and revolutions; we will always have music, always have love, and – thanks to the beautifully pregnant flutist – we embrace enough hope to welcome a new generation.