Sunday, April 22, 2007

The "Jewish" Mass

Only in America:-

Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based choir, has commissioned a new Mass, “And on Earth, Peace,” whose very conception raises these and other questions about music and religion. Joseph Jennings, the music director of Chanticleer, a 12-man a cappella chorus, asked five composers each to set one of the five standard sections of the Roman Catholic Mass: Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, Gloria and Agnus Dei.

...The resulting work, with the five sections connected by plainchant and motets, retains a bit of Latin but also incorporates Jewish texts, Sufi lyrics, a solemn Gaelic song and a section of Greek Orthodox liturgy.

...Equally resolute about not compromising her beliefs was the Israeli-born composer Shulamit Ran. When Mr. Jennings asked her to contribute, she said she could do so only if she were free to compose “from a Jewish perspective.” Mr. Jennings encouraged her along those lines, but there was a problem: By the time Ms. Ran had agreed to participate, four of the five sections had been claimed by other composers. The only one left — the one nobody else wanted — was the Credo, the central article of the Catholic faith. Among other declarations, it states: “I believe in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

The project of finding universal themes among religions might more easily be applied to a section like the Agnus Dei, which asks the lamb of God (Christ) for mercy and peace. “We had more than one taker for the Agnus Dei,” Mr. Jennings said. “But I told Shulamit that the Credo can be a movement about belief. The idea of believing in one God is not foreign to Judaism.”

Though uneasy about the task at first, Ms. Ran agreed to do it. “I also felt very honored,” she said, “because the Credo is the heart and soul of the Mass.”

In place of the Latin text, Ms. Ran used lines from Maimonides’ 13 principles of the Jewish faith, specifically “Ani Ma’amin,” Hebrew for “I believe.”

“But I wanted to go beyond a declaration of principles,” Ms. Ran said. “I wanted to delve into the meaning of faith, to ask myself: ‘What does it mean to say, I believe in God? And what are the challenges of faith in the face of extreme adversity?’ ”

To that end, she included texts related to the Holocaust and to 9/11 along with Hebrew prayers like “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear, O Israel”), a central prayer of the Jewish liturgy.

...For Ms. Ran, Chanticleer’s distinctive blend served as an assurance that the five-composer Mass would have a unity regardless of the structure or style of each composition. As of this writing, the composers had not heard their own work alongside the other sections. “But I have faith,” Ms. Ran said, “that if we all imagined writing for the same 12 magnificent voices and are thinking about the same issues of belief, and writing honestly, it will come together.”

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