The very first time someone paid me to write a piece of music was back during my graduate school days. Fr. John Kamas, a priest on the staff of St. Paschal Baylon Church, the parish in which I grew up, asked me to write a piece to be performed at a Holy Thursday service, and made it a commission by offering a modest fee. I don’t think the piece was very good, although I later put some bits of it into my Five Meditations for orchestra, and subsequently into the Sacred Songs and Meditations that will be done at the National Cathedral next month. However, the performance was an memorable experience – not because of the quality of the composing, but because while the piece was being played, a montage of detail shots of Dali’s painting “The Sacrament of The Last Supper” was projected on large screens at the back of the sanctuary. Bro. Gary LaVerdiere of the parish staff prepared the visuals. It is rare enough for visual and musical elements to work well together outside of an opera house, but here they not only complemented each other, but served the liturgy and the assembly at prayer.
John Kamas and Gary LaVerdiere are members of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, the religious order that staffed St. Paschal’s. The same order also staffs St. Jean de Baptiste, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. While a student in New York in the 80’s, I occasionally substituted as organist at St. Jean’s. When John Kamas was serving a term as pastor of St. Jean’s, he again commissioned me, this time to write a motet to be sung at a service celebrating the 100th anniversary of the presence of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in the United States. For that occasion I set the Marian prayer, Salve Regina. This short motet was my first entirely new work to be completed since the death of my father in 1999. Since my father prayed the Salve Regina as part of the daily rosary he led at St. Paschal Baylon church, it seemed appropriate to also designate the piece as a memorial to him.
My Salve Regina will be performed at the installation service to be held at St. Jean’s next Monday, June 24th, 7:00 pm, as John Kamas begins a second appointment as pastor. Kyler Brown will direct St. Jean’s choir.
Here is the Latin text of the piece, and the traditional English version:
Salve Regina, mater misericordiæ,vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Hevæ. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. Et lesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.