Refracted Light: "Advent" by Stan Curtis
I have always been fascinated by the intersection of different art forms and the new creation that results when two or more are juxtaposed and set in conversation. The power of art forms to express that which is unsayable is one we are all well aware. When such forms are intermingled with each other through the creativity of God's people, these artistic "windows" of God's divine transcendence, God's immanence - God's holiness - become transformative icons for us and our faith journey. Such artistic icons have been central to shaping my faith.
So, you can imagine my excitement when about five years ago, Stan told me of his plans to write different pieces inspired on our beautiful stained glass windows. Such a marvelous idea! I was excited to see and hear the results.
Stan's album Refracted Light, is forthcoming and includes his pieces based on the windows of Saint George's. ou will want to get a copy when its released!
Over the past year, I've had the pleasure of working with Stan on three of his pieces based on our windows. We have performed them in recital and last June spent several days (and nights!) recording them in our newly renovated nave.
This week Stan Curtis and myself, along with soprano Tia Wortham, are in San Antonio to present Stan's composition "Advent" at the International Trumpet Guild Conference. This beautiful work by Stan for trumpet, soprano, and piano won a composition award and the honor of having it presented on one of the conference's New Works recitals on Thursday morning, May 31st. So we take a little of St. George's to San Antonio this week to share with the world. Congratulations and thank you, Stan!
In 2012, I began to compose Advent, which, despite its name, is the piece I wrote to go with St. George’s Crucifixion Window. I was greatly moved by a poem of the same name by the American Poet Laureate Donald Hall. My intention was to provide a “Trinity” of variations for each of the three stanzas (three flexible interpretations based on the concepts of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). Each stanza, therefore, has a set of three variations, making a total of nine iterations of the melody first sung at the beginning by the soprano.
Regarding the text, “rood” in the first stanza is a cross; “Tenebrae” in the second stanza refers to a Christian religious service celebrated during Holy Week marked by the gradual extinguishing of candles; “Horror vacui” in the third stanza literally means “fear of empty space” and usually describes artwork which fills the entire space with visual detail.
The original version of this extended aria featured an extremely unsettling phase-shifting mixed-meter melody between trumpet and piano with soprano singing in the rests, in an effort to imitate the artistic meaning of “horror vacui”, but an alternative, lyric, ending proved more effective in the long run.
(text by Donald Hall)
When I see the cradle rocking
What is it that I see?
I see a rood on the hilltop
When I hear the cattle lowing
What is it that they say?
They say that shadows feasted
When I know that the grave is empty,
Absence eviscerates me,
And I dwell in a cavernous, constant
“Advent” from The Back Chamber by Donald Hall. Copyright ©2011 by Donald Hall.
sed by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.