Dear Et Lux Ensemble:
Congratulations on getting thrown into the deep waters of last nights rehearsal and not drowning. I purposely brought the strings and organ in early (relatively speaking to our overall progress) and put you in your actual performing space so you could get your 'musical sea legs' on this one. Allow me just a couple of minutes to elaborate.
Vocalists, I know you are still not over the initial hill of "getting the notes" inside of you, and I am not the least bit surprised, although I was a bit eager for you to have progressed further than where we have arrived up to this point in time. But this is a tall order. Don't be discouraged or alarmed.
My particular style of composing these choral/orchestral polyphonic textures, (and a great deal of my compositional output over the course of my career) puts great demands on the vocalists, and in particular, the gyroscope of their harmonic balance -- independent of instrumental support. As one of my vocalists reminded me last night, 'you give us no cues'. The truth is, the cues are all there in the harmonic structure itself, but I am not allowing you the extravagance of a (doubling) instrument as a crutch to help you walk. You, my dear singers, will have to walk on your own! Yes, it is a challenge, but well worth it in the final performance. It does require a certain resolute and discipline to learning the score on your own, I will admit. But the most beautiful choral essence of your voices must and will arrive in its own space to shine in the beauty of its own nakedness, unclothed in the timbres of strings or pipes.
I must at this point laud and thank Mr. Viola, who has spent decades of hours learning this work, as he (and his vocal teacher with whom he has rehearsed over the last month) realized the nature and difficulty of it from the get go. Some others of you have had the opportunity of more time to do so, some haven't. It is all the more a challenge in your situations. Thank you for trying your best!
This music is nothing like most other choral works in that it requires you to sing your part "a cappella" while at the same time finding yourself enveloped within a sphere of orchestral sound, which in itself, offers its own unique beauty through its entirely independent musical thoughts and ideas. The marriage of the two bodies of musicians (choralists and instrumentalists) results in something incredible to me, and I hope, to all who hear this music.
As a composer, in particular a composer of sacred music in the Roman Catholic tradition, I raise the importance of the choral element to a level that is not only equal in strength to the instrumental element, but rides above it like a skilled surfer on a great wave. Even the best often go under. The feat of this music is in watching (hearing) the two bodies collaborate and coexist in that moment when the wave (instrumental body) is most powerful and the surfer (vocal body) successfully rides it in to the shore. Each in themself contain an indespensable element that when the wave emerges from the sea and surfer is fit and willing to take the dare, the aural spectacle becomes an incredible experience for both the athelete and the observer. A third entity emerges, one that is entirely spiritual, invisible and ethereal and obviously detectable, but only in the artful and skillful dance of the music.
Choralists and instrumentalists rarely if ever, share the common force of melodic form (at least not at the same time) in this work; instrument and voice do not double any particular melodic line. You each have your own melody and rhythm in each and every part, purposely at odds (or more positively expressed, in contrast) with each other in these regards, so that where the surf board touches the water, a miraculous exhibition of the independent harmonic sphere becomes refulgent. (In this work, the term 'refulgent' is particularly apropos, as it means 'filled with light'.)
In my compositions, vocalists are not an addendum to the instrumental parts. And instruments are not just there to support the vocal line. Everyone is on their own, and at the same time, much more dependent upon the other. If this can help your thinking, it is almost like a weave of solos, all happening at once, giving and taking, cautiously stepping and progressing, like some kind of grand dance.
As vocalists, you have an extra responsibility, to carry and deliver the power of the message, most pointedly, the words. I will recount what I hear often from some, from those in our congregation here, and in various forums where musicians lurk. "Why not English?" There are numerous reasons to that question. For one, in the Latin, the words simply become timeless and universal, rising above geographic, cultural and novel influence and political correctness. Secondly, the structure of Latin allows for the easy reversal of subject and verb, for dividing meanings into simple short phrases, and it is a speaking-friendly language. It simply sounds beautiful in music. English, in my opinion as a professional vocal composer, is heavy, cumbersome and of course, guttural. I have composed a lot of music in English. It's not pretty for choral music. Thirdly, look at the reams of choral music from other great composers. Even Bach, a staunch Lutheran, whose music was mostly in his native tongue (and guttural), thought to announce one of his greatest works in Latin, his B Minor Mass. This makes it all the more challenging for the vocalists. Thanks for your extra effort!
So this is why I send you (vocalists) CD discs, require and offer myself to you for extra rehearsals, and even one-on-one sessions. I know the demand I have placed on you. I am asking that you "know" the music to your core.
Thank you for your time and effort. The little I can offer in financial remuneration will never repay you for the time you have taken to learn this piece, and for what you will unfold on Good Friday April 6 in the unveiling of Et Lux In Tenebris to the world. I hope and pray you also share in the wealth of that experience and that it will be with you and change you forever.
Most Sincerely Yours in JMJ,
Composer, Organist and Choirmaster
(and father of Et Lux In Tenebris)
(the emphasis is mine)