I just got word that Ryan Turner, director of Emmanuel Music, will lead the first performance of my new motet Two Arms of the Harbor as part of the 10 AM Sunday Eucharist at Emmanuel Church, Boston this coming May 1. This is a brief SATB setting of a text by Thomas Merton, a journal entry that describes a dream:
“I dreamt I was lost in a great city and was walking “toward the center” without quite knowing where I was going. Suddenly I came to a dead end, but on a height, looking at a great bay, an arm of the harbor. I saw a whole section of the city spread out before me on hills covered with light snow, and realized that, though I had far to go, I knew where I was: because in this city there are two arms of the harbor and they help you to find your way, as you are always encountering them.”
(Thank you to the Thomas Merton Legacy Trust for permission to set this text.) This comes from the 1966 volume Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, one of a series of books offering selections from the journals that Merton kept during his time as a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. (More recently the journals were issued in a complete version; this text comes from the fourth volume of seven, Dancing in the Water of Life.) I find the text deeply consoling, and I have dedicated the piece to the memory of the late Craig Smith, who founded Emmanuel Music some 40 years ago, leading its performances of the Bach cantata cycle for decades.
Emmanuel Music is an extraordinary group, and in this, the sixth piece I have written for them since 1994, I know they will meet all the challenges I have recklessly set for them, and do so with grace and beauty of sound. I do like hearing my music done at Emmanuel, not just because the choir is superb. It is a place where I can bring all my “concert music” skills to bear, unlike the communities where I have generally worked as a church musician myself, where amateur choirs and an almost exclusive emphasis on congregational singing mean my composing is usually in the quasi-pop idiom that predominates in Catholic church music today. Not only is the choir great at Emmanuel, but the worshipping assembly has “ears to hear” as scripture puts it: trained to listen intently by years of hearing the Bach cantatas and similarly nourishing offerings, I know they will hear my piece with attention and sympathy. There are other nice aspects to church performance – only a few people will know I am even there, at least until the coffee hour afterwards; there is no applause, no awkward bowing, no reviewers. Applause, bows and sometimes even reviews are nice, but it is healthy to forego them once in a while. Read more about Emmanuel here, here, and here. A Merton blog I like here. Photo at left: Thomas Merton.