When I matriculated at Duke Med in 1968, Duke Chapel immediately became central to my life when I joined the Duke Chapel Choir, and when I started making eyes at a certain alto across the chancel and she (Stella) started making eyes at me. Our relationship was deepened by the inspired musical direction of the great J. Benjamin Smith, choir director through our Duke years - he introduced us and the whole Duke choir to the outstanding religious choral masterpieces with colossal talent and the passion of total commitment, performed in one of the world's greatest cathedral spaces.
Everybody thought Ben was nuts when he wanted to change the annual Duke Chapel Messiah performance (about 2 hours) to include the entire original Handelian composition (about 3 1/2 hours), until we did it for the first time and subsequently had to open dress rehearsals to the public because the overwhelming public demand crashed the regular performance schedule.
Ben Smith honored me by hiring me as a paid Chapel Choir tenor soloist and I have had many professional gigs since graduation, but the most intense concert performance I've ever had in my life was in Duke Chapel many years ago during the first ever Duke Chapel choir reunion, when Ben conducted what turned out (to my knowledge) to be his last concert, a cut Messiah in Duke Chapel. Dying of AIDS, he fell off the podium during the overture just before the most famous tenor solos "Comfort ye" and "Every valley shall be exhalted". He had again honored me by assigning me these solos, which went well (I think - are there any recordings of this concert out there? I would treasure such always). I recall hugging his sweat-soaked body on the Duke Chapel steps after the concert, knowing I would never see him again.
My wife Stella Jones, VMD, is the Rev. Dr. Barney Jones' daughter. He was Duke Chaplain for a few years and classes-always-over-subscribed Professor of Religion for many; and his wife Marjorie was Duke Chapel Hostess for twenty years. Her eternal post was the old hostess desk now sitting in the Chapel narthex. Barney would sometimes famously teach his classes on his back after handball game overexertion.
Stella and I made many long-lasting friendships through Duke Chapel. I have only scratched the surface, but I have already been too long. Our marriage (we were married in Duke Chapel Oct. 3, 1976, by the Rev. James T. Cleland, with Ben Smith at the Aeolian) will always remain for me the ever-enduring, ever-vital monument Duke Chapel is in my life.
THANK YOU for your invitation to share my Duke Chapel story. Duke Chapel will be closed briefly for maintenance many times, now and in the future, but these closures will ensure the Chapel's physical and spiritual immortality.