>> write // voices utopia chamber choir: prayerful places: liner notes
As the pace of living in this world quickens, should we not ask ourselves if we are accelerating to the point where we will be incapable of slowing down? The evidence appears everywhere: we always seem to find ourselves too busy with work or study, we exceed posted speed limits when we drive from place to place, and our hunger for accessible information frustrates us when we find that we are unable to check our email. Yet, even with all of the technology available to us in the form of cellular phones, limitless internet access, and portable media players, our yearning to connect with one another seems ever more present.
We are intrigued by the stories of the stars of popular culture and some of us even wish for them to fall or fail. We have a fascination with "reality" television probably because we are insufficiently entertained in our own lives. We are disappointed with our politicians and their inability to make this world a better place for us to live in. Our equilibrium is disturbed as we try to navigate the fine line between keeping fit and consuming junk food. Praise for taking our time to attend to the important details in life and living seems not to be celebrated. As young people, we seek solutions to problems, we search for answers to questions, and we wish for hope and true happiness in this undoubtedly complicated world.
Yet, within what appears to be a bleak future is the presence of stillness, calm, and peace. It is there, it has always been there, and it will always be there. We need only to glimpse, to stop, and to stay awhile. As we continually try to achieve triumph through technological advances and worldly consumption we lose the wisdom that is inherent in things earthy, in natural beauty, and in the goodness of God. We must, instead, regain the meaning of being human, of humility, and of humus - our connection to the Earth. Prayerful Places seeks to remind us that beauty in this world does indeed exist, if only we take the time to look.
The songs in this set were deliberately chosen for their tempi as well as for their texts. It is our way of intentionally slowing down, of carefully considering the nuances that occur between the notes, and that exist in our collective sound, all of which is expressed through our united voices. It is our way of contributing some healing and peace to this ailing world in the best way we know how: through singing together.
We begin with an exploration of the traditional music of our Roman Catholic heritage: Gregorian chant. The beauty and simplicity of the Latin language sung as a unison line makes for an excellent exercise and study for the development of choral technique. However, a deeper layer of meaning is present: the chant draws us nearer to God when we celebrate together in unison in the present while retaining the inheritance of the past in this timeless prayer-music.
The modern setting of Lux Aeterna signifies in song the presence of perpetual and eternal light. Our faith calls on us to shine in the presence of darkness. At the same time, we recall to mind our fragility and the fact that we ought not to take for granted the gift of life.
We travel next to Estonia to explore two of our favourite songs by the celebrated Catholic composer Urmas Sisask. Kiitkem Südamest Mariat and Heliseb Väljadel are from the twelve song cycle honouring the Holy Virgin Mary. The ever present meditation of the words "Ave Maria" underlying the Estonian text seeks to revere the mother of the miracle child held within her womb. Miracles happen every day in our world, the question is: can we see them?
Beautiful River [Shall We Gather At The River], a hymn written by the Baptist Reverend Robert Lowry, inspires us to feel the refreshing and cleansing power of water. The image of the rite of baptism taking place in a pristine river "… where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God" reveals our rebirth in Christ following this wondrous event. As beings composed primarily of water, reconnecting to this particular source of life requires us to be responsible stewards of our environment.
William Blake wrote a poem called the Auguries of Innocence from which Vancouver composer Larry Nickel drew inspiration to write In a Grain of Sand. The words "to see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour" reveals a paradox that only a poem can accurately portray. The last stanza of his poem reveals the hopefulness contained in God's light "to those poor souls who dwell in night." The complexity of the poetry evident in the first stanza is resolved by the simplicity of the notion in the last stanza that we need to avail ourselves of the warmth and radiance of the love of God in order to live.
John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields has been set many times to music, but none seem more haunting and more visceral than Eleanor Daley's composition. McCrae wrote this poem on a scrap of paper during a short period of ceased bombing after witnessing the death of a fellow officer. He was a Canadian physician serving his fellow soldiers in the Belgian fields of World War I. There can be no winners in war as the loss of human life will always blight any victory march. And yet the beauty present in the creation of art in the form of this poem created during a time of horror allows us to imagine the creative possibilities that could be found in the permanence of peace.
For the Beauty of the Earth simply exemplifies the magnificence of the physical world in which we live. The text, originally written by Folliott Pierpoint as a communion hymn, perhaps best explaims our concept of seeking to honour the sacred spaces that exist in the here and now: "For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night, hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light!"
I Wish You Well, My Friend reminds us of our human need to connect with other people. Even when apparently disconnected by distance, shared memories and experiences can develop a bond that is difficult to break.
We end this disc with a selection arranged by Larry Nickel called Where He Leads Me. As we journey and explore prayerfully from place to place, we should never forget the duty and responsibility we have to remain faithful through life's trials and tribulations. "I can hear my Saviour calling, 'Take thy cross and follow Me.'"
We are called the Voices Utopia Chamber Choir. As we strive and search for an ideal together as singers, we seek to apply this idealism as we live our lives. As we celebrate five years of choral music making at St Thomas More Collegiate, the music we have presented here is a culmination of our collective experience, knowledge, hard work, and effort. We hope you enjoy Prayerful Places.
Chris Trinidad, conductor