HEIRMOS for oboe d' amore, SATB choir, violin, cello, harp and percussion (vibraphone and bass drum). 1994. Commissioned by Soundstreams Canada with a grant from the Canada Council. Liturgical texts in Byzantine Greek. 25 minutes. Score, parts and tape available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.




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Excerpt from the premiere performance,
Encounter Series, April 4, 1995, Grace Church-on-the-hill, Toronto.

Lawrence Cherney, oboe d' amore
The Encounters Ensemble
The Elmer Iseler Singers
Elmer Iseler, conductor.
CBC Broadcast recording.


On September 1994 Maria, my four-year old daughter, and I visited Greece and traveled around the mainland for five weeks. On each of the five Sundays that we were there we took short day trips to various monasteries where we attended the early morning Mass and then spent some time talking to the monks and nuns or otherwise absorbing the heightened mental and spiritual milieu of these special environments. Some of the monasteries (like Metamorphosis and Varlaam at Meteora and Panagia Chryssopodaritissa, the 'Gold-footed Virgin', in Achaia) resembled more eagles' nests than human dwellings, suspended as they were on top of huge granite rocks, stern and uninviting as much as they were difficult to get to, a living testimony of the material sacrifices of monastic life. Yet the interiors were quite the opposite: Byzantine frescos animated by the flickering light of dozens of candles and the ambiguous half-light of dawn, promised spiritual rewards in exchange for these material deprivations. During Mass (or Leitourgia as it is called in the Orthodox Church) I could not help notice that the singing of the cantors was less than ideal from the musical point of view. Most monks and nuns were musically untrained and endowed with inadequate voices. However, the result was far less annoying than one might expect and under the circumstances, I might even venture saying that the quality of the singing was in fact immaterial to the appreciation of the ritual. Even when the meaning of the texts is discounted - a not so unreasonable proposition, considering that the Greek Orthodox Church literature is written in Hellenistic Greek which has not been in everyday usage for at least fifteen centuries - what one is left with is the context, the primary component of the ritual. Three aspects of that context drew my attention in particular: (1) the resonant space into which the sounds of the Mass acquired a life of their own, (2) the treatment of time as an eternal here and now without any sense of organic evolution or goal orientation and (3) our own preparation before the Mass which required abstinence from eating certain foods before the ritual and a particular kind of mental preparation which established Mass as the most important aspect of our weekly cycle. That, combined with the incense, the candlelight and the richly decorated interior of the church, contributed to a total which was greater than the sum of its parts, a genuine synesthetic experience. In Heirmos I sought to musically reproduce this experience, aware as I was that it was particular to a specific time and place and it could not be easily transplanted. Some aspects of it (the philosophical approach to time and the way ambient space affects timbre, for instance) have made me aware of unexplored potential in my own work and alternative ways of thinking about musical continuity. Other aspects (how does a listener become personally involved in a musical ritual) have heightened my awareness of a significant social role which music is called to play today. This role transcends the music's own aesthetic unfoldment in time, although it is by no means divorced from it. By responding to this challenge music becomes a means to an end, a catalyst for a new individual and social unfoldment with far reaching consequences. "In patience ye possess thy soul" said Edgar Cayce, the twentieth century American prophet, describing a universal plan for human redemption according to which Patience is the only means to spiritually experiencing the dimensions of Time and Space. Heirmos is designed to encourage Patience as a means of spiritually experiencing music.

Premiere performance: by the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Soundstreams Ensemble under the direction of Elmer Iseler at an Encounters concert featuring the work of Hatzis and guest composer John Tavener. April 4, 1995, Grace Church-on-the-hill, Toronto.

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