Reflections on Art and Life
I went to King College in Bristol, Tennessee to witness the premiere of my Song of the Seraphim. Dr. Pat Flannagan and the Chamber Choir performed the piece in a very moving and spirited way. After the concert I was able to chat with a few members of the choir. They told me how much they have enjoyed performing the piece and for couple of them it was their most favorite choral work they have ever sung (!). [Well, to be fair, these young students have not lived long enough to become familiar with some fantastic choral masterpieces that are out there, but the compliment is appreciated just the same.]
I cannot tell you how exciting it is to meet performers who are emotionally invested in my music. It is very humbling and rewarding. When I write music, before I think about my audience, I always think about the performers first. In a sense, I write my music for them, for their personal enjoyment and enrichment. When the music resonates with them and they are fully engaged in the performance, the audience is there to merely witness the spark.
Song of the Seraphim is a fruit of my meditation on the overwhelming majesty and sovereignty of God. I’m afraid that our contemporary culture is too eager to condense and define everything in three or four simple points. Our popular theology often does the same. When I look at a starry sky at night I can’t help but feel small and humbled by the very concept of God ruling the entire Universe. Somehow the box I tend to make for Him becomes too small and awed silence seems the only appropriate response.
The words to the “Song of the Seraphim” come from the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation where Apostle John describes the heavenly creatures called the seraphim. Their only continuous and restless duty is to circle around the throne of God singing over and over again: ”Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come”. I thought about what it must be like for them to have their entire lives, the very reason for their existence devoted to this one purpose. This is how the piece was born.
I didn’t consciously choose the minimalist style but I think it was a natural extension of the subject. Minimalism is characterized by repetition, simplicity and almost trance-like feel. My piece exhibits all three. I wanted to portray the mystery and “other-worldliness” of the subject. That’s why I chose wave-like repetitions of the chant theme, whispers combined with singing, and the bouncy succession of staccato notes annotated in the score with “softly as falling snow” which someone lovingly called “snowflake effect”.
©2007 Dosia McKay
*Image from the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a 14th-century illuminated manuscript.