AGNUS DEI for bass clarinet (or tenor saxophone), percussion, organ, string orchestra, SATB choir and audience. (A rewriting of the last movement of Four Rituals for Percussion Quintet, Choir and Audience). Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Agnus Dei was originally the fourth movement of a multi-percussion work called Three Rituals for Percussion Quintet, Choir and Audience commissioned by the ensemble NEXUS. It is a piece I literally dreamt in its entirety one night and it took just a few hours the following morning to write on paper all its essential material. In this sense Agnus Dei is perhaps the least ‘laboured’ of all my works to date. I knew from the outset that, because of its conceptual and non-timbre-specific sound, this work would have a life in a variety of orchestrations and for a variety of occasions. When Wayne Strongman, my long-time friend and colleague, asked me for a work for the inauguration of the wonderful new organ at Rosedale United Church in Toronto during the autumn of 2005, I decided that an appropriately orchestrated version of Agnus Dei—one that would utilize most of the human-artistic resources already solicited for that particular event—would be ideal for the occasion, so I set out to create this new version.

Agnus Dei is a musical ground that runs from beginning to end with various layers of orchestration added on top of each other as the work progresses—a favourite device of mine, which I have used on a number of occasions in my work in the past. The strictly repetitive, New-Age-like character of the music and the audience’s involvement in the music’s unfolding in a prescribed manner, are more recognizable as elements of a ritual rather than a work of concert music. The music’s hypnotic or ‘tuning’ effect on the audience as a whole and the various types or levels of participation that are available to the listeners (and some of the performers) suggest a spirituality that is not only inwardly but also communal, which is the kind of spirituality I am personally devoted to. In such a work the personal and communal experience far outweighs the compositional accomplishment of the individual creator and this balance—like with any ritual, or even folk and pop musics—allows the participants to be and feel central to the activities about them, as opposed to being and feeling passive witnesses to some creative genius at work.

Increasingly, this is the type of music and musical function that I am attracted to and feel spiritually and humanly redeemed in being associated with. Of course, being a composer of concert music, I am also involved with the more conventional activity of composition for the concert stage and other media but it is during those rare moments, when human beings get closer to one another and to their Maker through music, that I feel that my calling is being answered perhaps a bit less imperfectly. Even such a modest performance on my part is full of spiritual delights. The present version of Agnus Dei is dedicated to my dear friend Wayne Strongman, while the larger work (or ritual) is dedicated to the Agnus Dei Himself: the Lamb of God, who has shed His blood for the redemption for all of us and who, with this blood, has purchased for humanity the opportunity of the past 2000 years, the Piscean Eon.

Premiere performance: October 16, 2005, 7:30 PM. Jeff Reilly, bass clarinet; Wayne Strongman, organ; Mark Duggan, solo percussion; The Rosedale Soloists and Choir, and students from the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto under the direction of David Passmore. Benefit concert for the dedication of the refurbished 1913 Casavant Frčres organ. Rosedale United Church, Toronto.

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