Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Folk Mass

I didn’t know why this lovely CD was given the title it was, but for someone like me who grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition and has vague memories of folk masses in the late 1960s, it seemed an unfortunate choice. What comes to my mind is teenagers with long, stringy hair playing guitars and leading songs that were easy to sing but didn’t exactly reflect liturgical music at its best. “Folk Mass” is not a mass (every word comes from the Hebrew scriptures), it features violin rather than guitar and is blessed with the beautiful voices of Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God), who commissioned it.
I checked the press information to see if Grammy award-winning composer and violinist Mark O’Connor had an explanation. He not only explains the title, but the impetus for this moving recording: “After the terrorist attacks of September 11th I, like many others, was searching for answers in order to heal the psychological wounds. And for a very rare moment in my own personal history, my efforts at communicating through instrumental music did not seem to be quite enough. I realized I needed to reread the books of the Old Testament again. Thirty days later, after completing the entire task, I wanted to compose the choral work. After another additional month of analyzing other religious texts, I was ready to put the music to some of these healing words.”
From reading about the Israelites struggle to come out of bondage, of how they learned to trust in God and others, he saw a lesson for coping with the pain of our attacks. “I wanted the music to embody this,” he said. “This mass is for people, just everyday people, regular folk, because it is who we all were on the days following September 11th. I named my mass ‘Folk Mass’ because it is a mass for the folk.”
And it has American roots, with the sounds of Appalachia and traditional spirituals accompanying these ancient words, taking us from the calling of Abraham, the choosing of the Israelites to be a people holy to God and giving them the land of Canaan, through battle and strife, into recompense and ending in the glory of affirmation. I feel a sense of peace at last, and a promise for eternal peace. I listen to this CD prayerfully.
Mr. O’Connor mentioned his hopes for “Folk Mass:” “Like the Old Testament, which lays claim to anyone who embraces its message, I wanted the music to reflect this overlying transcendence of culture and time.”
It does indeed, Mr. O’Connor. Thank you for sharing it.

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