Watch the Redemption Mass premiere here (with strings). For more about the Redemption Mass premiere experience, read on...
You can also hear the most recent performance of Redemption Mass (with winds) by the Chancel Choir of First Presbyterian Church, Lexington, KY under the direction of Marlon Hurst.
Twelve years is a long journey.
The first steps were in Huntsville, but eventually the path led to Lexington and Louisville, became very exciting in Dallas, and paused in Boston for a few years before revealing a beautiful mountaintop vista in Overland Park, KS (obviously a metaphor—there are no mountains in Overland Park).
Along the way I passed countless revisions, lessons, doubts, and questions, but two days with the Blue Valley Northwest High School choirs and symphonic orchestra made every challenge worthwhile and every delay worth the wait.
Truth be told, last night's performance was merely icing on a cake of many layers. From the excitement of Beth Richey-Sullivan's steadfast support for Redemption Mass to Michael Arbucci's patient tutelage in the language of strings, I learned a lot and grew as an artisan. Best of all, I met the treasure of Kansas: its students.
Music, at its core, exists primarily for one purpose: building community. It holds us together while we wade through weighty topics and gives us reason to pause and reflect when life would otherwise lead us to do anything else. In the northwest of the Blue Valley, I was able to live out this truth with 250 or so of my new, closest friends.
Just last week, a member of their community was taken from their community. Students were visibly shaken and still wrestling with circumstances no teenagers should have to face. And in their midst, there was music. Ellington and Ticheli, Copland and Brimsmead, but also Redemption Mass.
We discussed the development of the work from an innocent earworm through conversations with philosophy, history, and theology and into the turmoil and pressures of life. I shared that the final movement tells of deliverance through the sacrifice of pain, even unto death. It is a musical depiction of life throwing at us "everything and the kitchen sink". The choir groans, "Agnus Dei" (Lamb of God), pleading for relief. Just when one can take no more, our collective burdens erupt into silence, and a still, small voice speaks peace into existence. (I wonder if Ryan knew he would hold the weight of the world on his shoulders when he agreed to sing that solo.)
I've written many pieces of music, but none of them had brought me to tears until the final rehearsal of Redemption Mass in the aptly-named Church of the Resurrection. I reflected on my personal journey encapsulated in notation and compared it to the lives of these students, so recently touched by tragedy. As they cried out for healing, so did I, and I believe we found together at least a moment of redemption. The worst of life became the best of life. It was a moment I never want to forget (thus this post).
As Ms. Richey-Sullivan said, "if you take nothing else away from this experience, know that life WILL get better." I wish I could have spoken directly into each life, to hear their struggles, to encourage them, and to echo her words one-on-one, but time is a cruel master. Instead, we communed through music, and in that place we all found a little rest on our shared trek.
Twelve years is a long journey, but in this case well-worth the trip.
View the complete Redemption Mass premiere concert here. I strongly encourage you not to skip the first half. There was a lot of GREAT music made that evening!