Yesterday I was late leaving the house. As I pride myself on organisation and punctuality, this was a rare event. Part of the reason lies in a change in my morning listening habits from Radio4 and the horrors of ‘Today’ to whatever is on Radio3 when I wake up. Yesterday, shortly after 7.45am, this piece of music caused me to stand stock still in the kitchen - Lux arumque, by Eric Whitacre.
Yesterday wasn’t the first time I’d heard this piece: that was three carol services ago. I remember it distinctly as I was sitting in the sanctuary, next to the choir, with the rector. If memory serves, in terms of readings this anthem sat between the ‘Wise men go to the manger’ and ‘St John unfolds the great mystery of the incarnation’. My reaction was similar: although I was sitting, I did not move a muscle until the end, nor for sometime after. Once the service had ended, all anyone could talk about was ‘Lux’.
I have since found out something about this piece. It is not, as you might think, based on a medieval Latin text. Whiteacre apparently came across a very simple poem by Edward Esch and asked the American poet, Charles Anthony Silverstri, to translate it into Latin. As a medievalist this appeals, especially as the trend tends to be to translate the Latin into various vernaculars. Latin is a good language to sing in and it’s the music of plain chant and polyphony, both made to be sung in beautiful spaces. You can see both the poem and the translation on the link above the cut.
Sometimes a piece of music ambushes you so completely that all you can think about is immersing yourself in it. I’m not talking the annoying tune that you can’t shake out of your brain, but an all encompassing bubble of sound, which literally rings in your ears. In my case, this happens both with orchestral music and also choral music. I should also stress that the vocal works that affect me so are, in the main, sacred works.
St Augustine is often paraphrased as saying ‘(s)he who sings prays twice’ (according to the Latin on this blog, not quite what he said) and perhaps this is why I let the music ambush me and make me late: I pray best with music. When I open my heart and mind to sound like Lux Arumque, or some of the anthems and songs I have linked to below, I open my heart and mind to God. It may be human voices that produce the music, but the bubble that surrounds and protects is the divine.
Some links for you to immerse yourself in.
Bairstow, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Faure, Cantique de Jean Racine
Tallis, Spem in alium
Mathias, As truly as God is our father (a setting of Julian of Norwich)
I can’t find a decent recording of Sheppard’s Media vita, so you will have to make do with this advert instead. I can highly recommend the recording.