I walked through the doors of the Princeton University Chapel for the first time on a sticky, sweaty September afternoon nearly four years ago and squeezed into the second-to-last pew alongside my classmates. We squinted toward the sanctuary, trying to make out the ranks of professors as they took their seats for Opening Exercises. Sunlight streamed in through stained-glass windows. Drums rolled. The cavernous space reverberated with energy, music, color, and splendor.
The crowd suddenly grew silent. A conductor raised her arms, and the choir began to sing. Complex harmonies mingled with the colored light and echoed off the cool sandstone walls. I felt strangely buoyant, as if carried upward on an ascending scale. My heart soared.
It took me a year to work up the courage to audition for the choir. We’d rehearse in the evenings under the soft light of hanging lamps, but I feared disturbing the heavy silence of the space. At night, the Chapel feels like a slumbering beast, snoring softly through the organ pipes, ready to roar to life if provoked. The stained glass turns black. The sandstone loses its luster. The vaulted ceiling soaks up our voices like a sponge.
In the morning, the light grows stronger. The radiance returns. One does not need to be religious to experience the Chapel’s spirituality. Here, silence has sound and music has color. Here, winters are warm and summers are cool. Here, I sing in the place I once strained to see.
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