The Art of Creation

10.11.18 | Cathedral Arts | by Mark Babcock

The Art of Creation

    The Cathedral’s 25th Anniversary Steering Committee Chair, Jolene Phelps, presented the idea of a commissioned choral/organ composition early on in the planning process. I was immediately intrigued and energized by the idea. Given the Cathedral’s historic embrace of the arts, this seemed like a highly appropriate undertaking. What better way to celebrate the artistic personality of the building, the Cathedral Choir, the sacred space maintained for Choral Evensong, the world-class organ, and the treasured beautiful singing than to dedicate a new piece of music for such an occasion?

    After the academic year ended, I began to think about texts and musical ideas that might be included in the composition. I also set some parameters for the composition: 1. The Casavant organ must be featured, 2. It should be a four-part composition both for artistic and practical reasons, 3. It’s mood and style should reflect the joyous nature of the occasion while honoring the Anglican choral/organ tradition, 4. It should have lasting qualities and be useable for the future, 5. The text should reflect this faith community, and 6. It would be in a neo-romantic style in terms of harmonies (added note chords, dissonances, chromatics, key relationships, and the use of quartal/quintal ideas) and structure.

    I eventually settled on Psalm 100 from the Book of Common Prayer:

    Be joyful in the Lord all ye lands,
    Serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
    Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He that has made us and we are his.
    We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
    Enter His gates with Thanksgiving, go into His courts with praise.
    Give thanks to Him and call upon His name.
    For the Lord is gracious; His mercy is everlasting and His faithfulness endures from age to age.

    The themes of joy, song, thanksgiving, and faithfulness in this Psalm spoke to me as being authentically St. Paul’s past and present. This Psalm proclaims the long arc of God’s grace and faithfulness which seemed relevant to a momentous anniversary. It also uses action verbs that encourages current responses from us to God’s goodness over time. It is a Psalm that reflects and calls simultaneously. It is an important Psalm to consider as we ask “What does it mean to be a Cathedral?”

    Musically, the varied themes of the Psalm also inspired varied musical motives, rhythms, textures, and harmonies. The opening melodic motive is two ascending fourths followed by a descending half-step. This marked motive and the festive organ introduction/interludes provide artistic unity for the entire work. The warm, comforting words “Know that the Lord Himself is God” and “For the Lord is gracious” inspired harmonic richness and a related legato, homorhythmic texture.

    I composed this for you. The Cathedral Church of St. Paul has been a place of solace and refuge for me. I have experienced the grace, beauty, love, joy, peace, and hope of the Gospel in these walls and through inspiring worship. I was honored to create a piece of music expressing joy and thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness and for your’s. As a music theorist, organist, choral director, and faithful Episcopalian, all of my passions came together to create this piece. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.