Part 1 of the Evening: Lecture from James Mathew Wilson, PhD
Professor Wilson is Associate Professor of Religion and Literature in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. He has published dozens of articles and eight books on art, culture, and politics. Rod Dreher – our friend at Martin Saints – reviewed The Hanging God, Professor Wilson’s most recent book of poetry, and said:
“To read The Hanging God is to experience the ordinary world transformed by sly artfulness into a place filled with mystery and meaning. James Matthew Wilson is a poet who works like a priest, rendering the elements of quotidian life — its sublime gifts and severe mercies alike — into bearers of sacramental grace. Wilson sees deeper than we do; and in these poems, with lucidity both stark and humane, he reveals profundity hidden beneath everydayness.”
Part 2: Performances by our Martin Saints Choirs
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Text: Robert Robinson, Music: traditional American melody
This traditional hymn is both a song of profound religious feeling and an impressive feat of verbal dexterity. The “stream/fount” imagery in the first stanza and the “chain/fetter” imagery in the third stanza both exemplify how complex, beautifully-written, and spiritually-rich this poem is. The tune works very well with the poem; the soaring melody in the sixth and seventh line of each stanza is an excellent complement to the words in all three verses.
“Stabat Mater” * Text: Traditional, Music: Zoltán Kodály, Composed: ~1898
This setting of the traditional “Stabat Mater” prayer, by famous Hungarian musician Zoltán Kodály, is notable for its combination of restraint and intensity. At the beginning of each stanza, the male voices are pushed quite high and the choir’s notes are tightly packed together, creating a striking musical image of Mary’s anguish. Even though each stanza consists of only four short phrases, each phrase has a distinct character. This draws attention to the mysterious and multi-faceted sorrow Mary must have had at the foot of the cross. This piece gets much expressive mileage out of minimal materials.
“I See His Blood Upon the Rose” * Text: Joseph Mary Plunkett, Music: Michael Bedford, Composed: 2006
Very few recordings of this 2006 piece are available, but it deserves to be widely performed. The text magnificently and succinctly describes a state of mystical awareness in which one sees Christ in everything. The music paints these words with wonderfully varied tone-colors (for example, the music on “eyes” and “snows” in the first stanza), and draws special attention to the narrative thrust of the poem. Through the music, one realizes that it is not just a list of images but a poem which hurtles toward a destination.
“Breath of Heaven” Chris Eaton/Amy Grant, arr. Roger Emerson, Composed: 1992
The words of this piece, which could not be included because of copyright restrictions, return to the theme of Mary and her experience that we explored in “Stabat Mater.” This one is about Mary’s pregnancy. It is notable for its sheer sonic beauty, simplicity, and exciting ensemble singing.
“Ave Maria” * Text: traditional Angelus prayer, Music: Franz Biebl, Composed: 1985
This piece is like a musical icon. Icons are painted in such a way that they “look” at the viewer. The piece is intended as a contemplative prayer and a sonic evocation of the heart of Mary that draws the listener in. This is indicated by the fact that the composer asks for three repeats of the Hail Mary prayer. In normal musical circumstances, this is too much repetition, and many choirs eliminate the second and third repeat to streamline the performance. However, if the piece is treated more as a prayer that involves both the performers and the audience, and not just as a performance, the repeats make a lot more sense. The wide-open sonic spaces, surging melodies, and lush harmonies of this piece have a remarkable capacity to draw the listener into Mary’s presence.
“For the Beauty of the Earth” Text: F.S. Pierpont, Music: John Rutter
This is a musical recasting of the famous “For the Beauty of the Earth” hymn that appears in many, hymnals. The new music does an excellent job of evoking the wide-eyed wonder that the text describes – note the long, flowing musical lines in the first stanza. Each verse features a different arrangement of the choir voices, adding an admirable variety and drive to the text. It was heavily requested by the students from Martin Saints’ very first month of school in 2017.
*Denotes songs sung by Advanced Choir, an extracurricular ensemble.
Conductor: Sean Wood
Accompanist: Mark Odorizzi