An Eclectic Mass

Program Notes

Music is a universal language, influenced by a variety of styles, cultures, and religions. Singing in a variety of temples and churches, I have drawn comparisons between the Jewish and Christian liturgies. Each segment of this eclectic mass, performed in the order of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass, highlights these similarities through the stylistic differences.

In the Friday night Shabbat liturgy, it is a tradition to greet friends after the long work week, wishing peace unto one another (the direct translation of Shalom Aleychem), a custom normally occurring in the middle of a mass, however is treated in this mass as an opening hymn. The Spheres segues into an ethereal setting of the Kyrie text. The opening has a fade-in/fade-out effect to give a sense of floating in space. This culminates in a large crescendo moment with a buildup of a chord cluster, climaxing at the appearance of the chorale motives first heard very slowly in the opening.

The composer of the Gloria from Missa Kenya explains that “much of the music and gestures owe their existence to East African choral traditions, fusing together Kenyan musical styles with references to late 20th century American ‘classical’ music – creating a ‘synthesis’ of sorts between the two cultures.” With use of two large drums and a tenor solo, this piece definitely exemplifies the glorification of G-d. The piece also exhibits a call and response theme between the soloist and chorus, typical of Kenyan tradition, also adapted in some American music.

The pinnacle of the mass is the Creed, the affirmation of one’s faith. This Hebrew text and familiar tune, often sung as a solo, Ani Ma’amin, directly translated as “I Believe” is known as the creed of Judaism. The text comes from Maimonides, however the slow, solemn march like tune in this piece was sung by Jews as they marched to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Both creeds mention the belief in the coming of the Messiah, and despite having to wait, we remain true to believing in his coming. The service continues with a celebratory setting of the text How Can I Keep From Singing? Based on a Quaker hymn dating back to the 1800’s, it proves how faith and courage prevail, despite some hardships one may face.

The closing piece, in place of the text of the Agnus Dei movement, once again draws similarities with liturgy, as the text from Shalom Rav and the line from the Agnus “dona nobis pacem” both translates to “grant us peace”. This song is commonly performed as a solo accompanied by guitar, a tradition known as songleading in various Jewish youth movements. The piano is often added as an improvisatory instrument, bringing a more modern feel to the music.