Saint Thomas More Chapel at Yale launched the Center for Music and Liturgy on June 29, 2015, with an Inaugural Concert and Gala at Carnegie Hall that featured an international ensemble of over 600 performers in a stunning presentation of new and traditional sacred music. The concert featured the world debut of Mass of the Divine Shepherd by the composer in residence. We are grateful to all who joined in this celebration.
Mass of the Divine Shepherd - notes from the composer
by Julian Darius Revie
Mass of the Divine Shepherd is a one-hour musical exploration of the figure of the Good Shepherd, unfolding as melodic dialogue between adult chorus with orchestra and antiphonal children’s chorus with handbells. Between these two stands the audience, a silent but indispensable third voice, called to active participation in the mysteries of that Shepherd who at once enfolds all in a universal and eternal embrace, and yet lays down his life for each, as if for each alone.
This Mass is written in memory of my dear friend Dennis Stanton Avery, who passed away in 2012. Dennis was instrumental in my coming to study at Cambridge University, his alma mater. After his death, I was asked by the University to write a piece for a memorial service held there in his honor. I recognized from the start that within that piece – a setting of the 23rd Psalm for tenor with organ accompaniment – lay the seeds of something greater; Mass of the Divine Shepherd is the fulfillment of this artistic vision. The Mass remains centered around this tenor solo, now accompanied by full symphony orchestra and, for the Carnegie Hall première, 600 handbells. The sweeping, arc-like structure of the Mass reaches its pinnacle at the end of this solo with its supreme statement of faith: I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The Mass begins with simple, chant-like melodies, sung first by the children and answered by the men of the chorus, before blossoming into a highly canonic interplay, as though these melodies had sprung to new life, echoing through every corner of the hall. Just as sheep trust their shepherd as they come to know his voice, so this Mass seeks to build a trust relationship with the audience by opening with naturally flowing, singable melodies. As the interplay between children, adults, orchestra, and handbells develops, these melodies lead us, as though by the hand, as we embark into musically richer, more textured territory.
After the childlike innocence of the opening movements, the adults lead a proclamation of the Credo, driven and riveted with rhythmic intensity. In this movement, the orchestra recapitulates fragments of sacred music, from the chants of the first Christians to the hymns of our day, generating a cacophonous sonic whirlwind embodying a full two thousand years of music all written specifically for one Person, overlaid by a soaring statement of the Resurrection. Relentlessly the men repeat I Believe in God, hundreds of times in this movement – and finally the children enter, superimposed upon the adults’ closing life everlasting, singing only four words: I Believe in God – once, slowly, decisively. This leads directly into the children’s response to the Creed, which is not sung at all, but played entirely with their angelic handbells, high in the balconies, bathing the audience in a gentle wash of soft, pure tones.
Then the tenor soloist begins: The Lord is My Shepherd, as the children’s bells continue through much of this movement. With the final word of the Psalm – forever – the movement does not really end, but rather, overlapping with the next, elevates us into the Sanctus, the chorus of Holy, Holy, Holy which we sing on earth as mere reflection of the eternal song of praise in heaven that has been from the dawn of time and will be for all eternity. In the quietest moment of the Mass, the children enter pianississimo, singing a most delicate Hosanna which repeats and echoes through the hall, reminiscent of the supplications of the opening movement.
The final movements, the Lord’s Prayer and Lamb of God, fix our gaze upon the eternal, through a brooding, extended solo cello line, the rich yet gentle voice of a solo mezzo-soprano, and chant-like melodies sung by the men. Following the close of the Lord’s Prayer, marked in the musical score as “expansive, resplendent,” we return, in the Lamb of God, to the purity and vulnerability of children’s voices. As each part sings the same melody, but in different, slow rhythms, the children in six parts lead the adults in twelve into intricate canon. This movement represents unity, in its fixed adherence to a single, simple melody; yet by simultaneously representing all rhythmic possibilities, it looks upward, outward, embracing the universal and the eternal. Indeed, it is through this model of paradox that we hope to enter into the very mystery of the Divine Shepherd: the eternal, omnipotent God become man; the Lord of all who leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness to lay down His life for the one; the Shepherd and the Lamb once slain who lives forever.
By choosing for his papal pectoral cross the image of the Good Shepherd, Pope Francis reminds us of the centrality for our day of Christ the Savior who, through his tender mercy, reaches out to all without exclusion. As we look forward to 2016 as the Holy Year of Mercy, it is my prayer that Mass of the Divine Shepherd may draw us all into a deeper trust and confidence in our Divine Shepherd, who is Love, who is Life, who is Word, whose sheep know his voice. For as St. Gregory Nazianzen wrote, “The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it upon the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.”
Mass of the Divine Shepherd – theological reflections
by V. J. Tarantino
The image of the Shepherd is foundational within the Judeo-Christian tradition, originating in Scripture and depicted in the earliest Christian art. Julian Darius Revie’s Mass of the Divine Shepherd renews in modern idiom the beauty of this ancient devotion.
Marie-Dominique Chenu, a council father of Vatican II, postulated artistic works as theological “sources.” Mass of the Divine Shepherd stands as a deeply contemplative, intuitively theological composition, with an artistic objective of spanning and uniting a global musical culture in worship. Both the product and the process of this work invite analogy to the Eastern Christian tradition of icon writing, in which artistic creation is itself conditioned and ensouled by prayer, such that the art becomes a locus of the presence of the divine.
Tonight, we gather in the name of the Shepherd, and so are we assured of his presence among us. Necessary to any encounter is dialogue; in Mass of the Divine Shepherd, repetition, imitation and canon are no mere device, but engender a colloquy among children, adults, and orchestra, each in a unified persona. Moreover, Revie casts the audience not as passive spectator, but as a critical, unnotated voice, a receptive co-creativity essential to the performed work.
The score as written makes use of expressive affective notations, drawing out the distinctive spirituality of the piece; the musicians must take to heart such dispositional cues as “reverently joyful,” or “awakening in radiant glory.” These notations presume a vibrant interconnection throughout the hall – an unspoken, contemplative dynamic between performer, audience, and the art itself.
Mass of the Divine Shepherd displays a Bonaventurian architecture; three groupings of three-movement sets naturally elide one to the next, recalling the nine choirs of angels ordering the celestial hierarchies. A unique choreography of the singers evokes this symbolism dramatically; the audience will experience itself immersed in sound, compassed in harmonies, as the hall becomes literally domed with angelic sonority, cascading gently over the people. In this way, the Children of God movement explores the possibilities inherent in a single, sustained C major chord, falling pristine like a blanket of snow from above, yet lightly disturbed by repeated C minor sonorities emanating in dialogical counterpoint from the mezzo-soprano soloist on stage.
In the I Believe movement, a musical climax of the piece, the men begin by droning “I believe in God” after the manner of the rhythmic monotone priestly prayer of petition associated in early Judaism with the end of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As this chant, more entreating than avowing, perdures, the orchestra enters with an historical compendium of sacred music – from ancient Hebrew plainchant which Jesus himself likely sang, passing through all of the ages of the Church up to today – rising and swirling, layered and overlapped. From there, the words of the articles of faith are themselves scrambled, thrown to the wind, as if to denote the ultimate failure of propositional truth unless animated by the Holy Spirit with the substantially supernatural theological virtue of faith, and assimilated to the heart as love – for St. Paul writes, if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. As the Holy Spirit, represented in 32th note quintuplets, comes to the fore, the conclusion of the Creed is overlaid with an echo of the men’s priestly credo – now in the voices of the children, no longer as petition but as spirit-filled affirmation.
Mass of the Divine Shepherd culminates in the Lamb of God, in which Revie draws upon the full resources of his art to “break apart time” and “expand sonority into an infinite realm,” to express through celestial, ethereal ambience the mystic image of the Lamb focal to the Book of Revelation, bringing time and eternity into relationship. The final “grant us peace” is reserved to the children – to the pure of heart, who shall see God. The final word “peace,” sung by a child soloist, represents musically the voice of the Shepherd who is also the Lamb, meek and gentle of heart, a tiny whispering sound against the encroaching silence. In the end, the incarnate voice of the Shepherd, of the Lord of the Universe, is the delicate treble of a tali – meaning, in the Aramaic of Jesus’ time, both lamb and boy.