Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What is religious, anyway?

EJG and I have been working with a small group of students on an incredibly difficult piece of music. John Rutter's Mass of the Children is a modern composition that calls for an eight part choir, soprano and baritone soloists, plus a children's choir. It happens that IMG's voice teacher is the director of the Orange Park Chorale, and they had begun practicing this piece when their children's group backed out. Could EJG arrange for a group of kids to do this? Before he looked at the music, he said yes.

A five week sprint of rehearsals ensued, with Saturday being the only possible time because of prior commitments to Oliver, the musical, A Chorus Line, for musical theater class, and Nutcracker rehearsals (not to mention the 2 choirs that EJG already coordinates after school). Through the pounding of notes and a crash course in score-reading, those kiddos have pretty well learned this, even with the dissonant harmonies in this arrangement of the traditional liturgy.

Yesterday as we prepped the gang at school before we headed off to join the adults, we were particularly worried about a section in the Benedictus. It involves a play on time signatures, a hemiola, where the rhythm switches from 2 over 3 to 3 over 2 again and again. Previewing the section and giving the young performers some reminders, EJG casually asked if anyone in the group was religious, because we'll need all the help we can get with this section. Most raised their hands in a show of support for the lord, except for one. A boy in the choir, known to pretend "save" kids on the playground, and the son of a minister at the Baptist church, asked what is "religious." So we, the Jewish directors of the public school's secular choir explained "religious" to the son of a Baptist minister, and then proceeded to lead the group in a modern interpretation of an ancient Christian mass.

Joined with the OP Chorale, soloists, organ and percussion, this modern masterpiece transformed some notes on a page to nothing short of heaven on Earth. The innocent voices of children asking, "Little lamb, who made thee?" set alternately with the soaring adult voices singing "Agnus Dei, Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi" Lamb of god, who takes away the sins of the world, allows the listener to forget the sins of the world, if only for a moment. As they rehearsed the piece in a language I don't speak, at a church I don't attend, celebrating the mass of a faith I do not practice, the music provided me a religious experience. All was harmonious and any discords were resolved and celebrated. Maybe that's what religious means.


MJ said...

Chills, the last line gave me chills.

Bonus points for the correct use of the word hemiola.

Cora Spondence said...

Paragraph three, last sentence---ohhhh, that's a fabulous semantic cha-cha right there. Step on! Wish I had written it!
Great piece on how we earthlings create beauty.

LJ said...

Um...major 7th's, C# Dorian. Music might be the best religion.