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.
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.
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