at the door. You cannot fly there
like a bird. You must stop, look deeper,
still deeper, until nothing deflects the soul
from the deepmost part."
- Shores of Silence, Karol Wojtyła
As we celebrate All Saints' Day this week at Christ Church, I thought the above quote was quite appropriate. We remember those gone before us into eternal life in many ways this Sunday. We remember them in prayers, scripture, reflection, and in music. Rising out of inner silence, our memories and prayers are given form and meaning through our corporate reflection. Our music celebrates the Communion of Saints in a powerful way from our processional hymn, For all the saints, to our recessional hymn, Ye watchers and ye holy ones. Of course, I sing a song of the saints of God is included as our sequence hymn. We remember these songs from our childhood, and they fill the silence of memory with visions of joy in the hereafter.
Our Cathedral Choir will offer Malcolm Archer's Pie Jesu from his Requiem as the anthem this week. Archer (b. 1952) is a famous English musician, and a renowned composer. His Pie Jesu is a fitting imploration to a "faithful Jesus" to grant eternal rest to those who have died. The melody starts with a simple motif that rises in intensity and tessitura as the work progresses. Finally, the entire choir cries out in unison to Christ before the piece subsides with an angelic final phrase symbolizing the longed-for rest and peace.
Three guest musicians will join us this week, Enen Yu, Gosia Leska, and Guo-Sheng Huang. Consequently, two of my own works for string trio will be presented Sunday. My Prelude on "Requiem aeternam" and Prelude on "In paradisum" are both literally drawn from the Gregorian Chants of the Reqiuem Mass, the Mass for the Dead. The first piece draws on the Introit theme of the Requiem Mass, and sets it in a modal, Medieval mood. From the silence of the heart rises an ancient theme, "Grant them rest eternal . . . Let light perpetual shine upon them." The second prelude, played during Communion, has the "In paradisum" as its theme. This venerable chant is traditionally part of the final commendation and "farewell" moments of the funeral liturgy. However, its text speaks of angels leading the soul into paradise where, with the poor man, Lazarus, eternal rest may be found. The text continues on to reference angelic choirs welcoming the soul into heaven. This in symbolized in my setting for string trio in the texture of the piece and in its form. The piece finishes a major third higher than it began, and also goes from the key signature of one flat (F Major) to three sharps (A Major). The progression from one to three represents the soul's journey from the world to God, the Trinity, in a higher realm. You will literally hear the same music at the end as at the beginning, just raised, elevated, if you will.
Finally, the postlude will feature the Prelude, Fugue, and Chaconne by Buxtehude (1637-1707). A friend and mentor of J. S. Bach, Buxtehude was a composer of great esteem and prominence in his day. In fact, even today most consider him only second to Bach among Baroque composers. This particular piece has a typical prelude and fugue structure, but ends in a very surprising way - with a dance! The Chaconne, a dance/variation form, comes as a surprise at the very end of this piece. As our thoughts, prayers, and hymns rise from the silence of eternity this week, what could be better to conclude it than a dance?
We think of the silence of our innermost selves in the quote than began this article. I would propose that the answer to this silence is a song. Namely, the songs of our lives and the lives of those we celebrate on Sunday. We celebrate the Communion of Saints, and one could think of them as an orchestra producing resounding music that forms the backdrop for our own lives and faith. I hope Sunday's music will help you reflect on this special day in a meaningful way. If you listen for the voice of God in silence, perhaps you might hear a song?