Song of Mary, Song of Simeon
February 6, 2018
'The Family Christmas Carol Singalong Concert' is one of the 'events of the season' in West Point Grey. It brings together all the St. Helen's regulars, visiting choirs and their fans, with friends from the all over the neighbourhood. We usually start planning it the previous summer. It was during that phase that our Music Director, Dr. Kevin Zakresky asked me if I would consider composing a piece especially for the 2017 concert.
I gave it a bit of thought and realized that my 'Magnificat' (Song of Mary) would fit perfectly. I had started composing it just after Thanksgiving in 2016 but had put it down uncompleted. When I dug the unfinished score out of my hard drive I realized it would be an excellent solo opportunity for one St. Helen's most exciting performers, 17 year old Alison Powell. Almost every year, Ali and I sing something at the Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday (often Paul McCartney's 'Blackbird'). Although dance is her main focus, she is wonderful singer of amazing natural gifts.
With Kevin's encouragement I finished the score in time to start choral rehearsals at the end of October. It brings together two things that are rarely combined in the same piece but are lifelong passions for me: choral music and fingerstyle guitar playing.
I'm really excited by how the piece has turned out! With Kevin's incredible leadership, Ali and the choir - with Eileen Padgett on piano - gave it an amazing performance at the Dec 17 concert. The energy and excitement of that night definitely shine through on the video below.
As every choral musician knows, no 'Magnificat' is complete without a matching 'Nunc Dimittis' (Song of Simeon), also from the Gospel of Luke. When I heard Ali sing 'The Song Of Mary' I knew I had to write the matching 'Song of Simeon' for Dale Throness, our bass section leader in the choir.
I've known Dale since my undergrad days at the UBC School of Music in the 80's and always loved his voice. Dale is now Dr. Dale Throness, a member of the voice faculty in our old alma mater, and a wonderful soloist, highly experienced. It's fantastic to have him as a member of our choir! I completed 'Simeon' in time for him to sing it with the choir on The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in The Temple this past Sunday (February 4) since that is the day on which the gospel passage containing the song of Simeon is read in worship.
The mood of 'The Song of Simeon' is quite different from 'The Song of Mary.' Mary is thought to have been in her early teens so her song is youthful and exuberant. Although the Gospel doesn't specifically say it, Simeon is usually seen as being older. His song has a tremendous gravitas, maturity, and depth so I built the accompaniment around another St. Helen's 'star performer' - our beautiful Steinway grand piano. Again I'm excited by the result and moved by Dale's performance.
These two songs from the Gospel of Luke have so much to say to us even now, 2000 years after they were written. Especially now, as the year turns from Christmas - the season of the birth - toward Easter, these two prophetic voices have so much hope and inspiration to offer us in the struggles and difficulties of these times. I reflected on that hope in my sermon last Sunday. I'd love it if you would give a listen!