My family and I have been living in Nova Scotia, Canada, for almost twenty years. We currently reside in Dartmouth, which is now actually part of the Halifax Regional Municipality. From the back of our house we can see the Atlantic Ocean, cargo ships moving slowly and the Halifax Shipyard. I travel across the Macdonald Bridge to the City of Halifax almost every day and every day the ocean seems slightly different, even when it’s still and looks like glass it’s never truly calm. The water is deep, dark and commands respect! Sea Dreams is a work that reflects my relationship to the ocean and my thoughts about a journey of faith, a journey full of questions, fears, longings, hopes, dreams and the gifts of disappointment. One has to be open, in the words of the Buddhist meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, to be open means ” giving up your demand …. learning to trust in the fact that you do not need to secure your ground, learning to trust is your fundamental richness.” Much of my inspiration comes from T.S Eliot’s The Dry Salvages from ‘The Four Quartets.’ The central image is water and sea. Eliot suggests that If we just accept the idea of drifting on the ocean, we will end up broken upon the rocks. The water becomes a metaphor for life and how humans behave. One has to trust that the buoy or bell which seems to ring in the distance, can often be closer than we think. The prayer to the virgin Mary in the poem is there to help guide the metaphorical sailors to their harbours of safety.
I have scored Sea Dreams for two mixed choirs and two flutes. Each choir represents a ship on the water, they pass in the night but are deeply connected as they are on the same sea, both looking to the stars, a beacon of light or a bell for direction and safety. Each ship has a seagull following it, these gulls represent the passage of time, angels, flowing thoughts, emptiness, ghosts, hope and the Holy Spirit.
In the first movement, Pray for those who are in ships, there is a supplication to the Virgin Mary, an old Roman Catholic custom to ask Mary to pray for all those who are in ships and for all those who have anything to do with life on the sea. There is a special request for her to pray for women who have seen their husbands or sons going out to sea and never returning.
The second movement, Alma Redemptoris is a Catholic hymn from the 11th century and is thought to have been authored by Hermannus Contractus. This hymn was mentioned in the Prioress’s Tale, one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is usually sung in Latin, Sweet Mother of the Redeemer, the passage to the heavens, the gate of the spirits of the dead, and the star of the sea, aid the falling. I was inspired by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s beautiful setting of it, a motet I have sung or conducted many times throughout my life and have incorporated the spirit of this 16th century masterpiece in this movement.
The third movement, Perpetual Angelus, harkens back to 11th century Italy, where Franciscan monks rang the Angelus bell and said three Hail Mary’s during night prayers, known as the Angelus prayer, a prayer to Mary in commemoration of the Incarnation of God in Christ. In Eliot’s poem the bell is rung for all humanity adrift at sea, for those who died without anyone to mark their passing and those still here who must certainly let go of any idea of conquering the sea!
There are times in the piece where there is a letting go, the music behind the music, whispered sounds and chords that almost melt into themselves, one ceases to hear the text, almost sound for the sake of sound, a dream like state which is a reminder that we can live with the sea but will never master it. Getting into a boat or on a ship is a kind of leap of faith, we can only pray and trust that the journey will be successful.
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