All great music is a gift and thus an instrument of God.
~ Wynton Marsalis
"The theme of the Mass is that everyone has a place in the house of God," Marsalis said during a recent interview with the Boston Globe. "We're the most integrated nation ever, at least in the modern world that we know about. For our music to be, we have an identity but that identity is already universal. I try to find the core values that are so fundamental that they transcend ethnic identity. That doesn't mean I run from it. I embrace African-American culture and I love it and embrace it, but it is a part of a human identity. So, I'm always trying to make a larger human statement."
|Damien Sneed, conductor|
of the Abyssinian Mass.
In watching Saturday evening's demanding performance online in the comfort of my living room, I became riveted by Abyssinian's libretto, its celebratory joy and its profound message. The choir was full of spirit. The orchestra clearly was enjoying itself. And, the spirited sermonizing from the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, brought much charisma to the presentation. There was a whole lot of feeling in that show.
"The choir brings the fire and the choir brings the truth to the Abyssinian Mass," Sneed told NPR. "The choir brings the spirit, it's like the haaaaaa, the breadth of God."
Amen, amen, amen. O Father we go forth in Thy Holy Name.
|Wynton Marsalis solos|
during the Abyssinian Mass.
The work originally had its premiere in 2008 as a commission in honor of the 200th anniversary of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church. It made its European debut in 2012 at London's Barbican Theatre.
Some additional observations Burnett shared in his NPR story about Marsalis and the 17 movements that comprise the Abyssinian Mass:
"(It) digs deeply into what Marsalis would call 'the soil' of the black church: its shouts, its dirges, its spirituals, it hymns of praise. With this work, he celebrates the seminal influence the church has had on the music of black Americans, and the continuing pull it exerts on his own artistic and spiritual life.
"Marsalis used the joyful stylings of the African-American gospel tradition to deliver a musical message of universal humanity. He says he tried to put it all in there: God and Allah exultation and the blues, Saturday night and Sunday morning."
Glory to God in the Highest! Glory to God in the Highest!
After the tour's final show Sunday night in Boston's Symphony Hall, Marsalis took a moment to reflect on many positive things that stood out, which he chronicled on his Facebook page.
"When Chris Crenshaw started to sing the Benediction tonight, the choir began co-signing him, 'Come On Deacon, Preach brother! Make it plain.' He sang these words with a powerful clarity:
"Lord, from you all things. Though we are many in life and death, we are truly one. Just the calling of your Holy name releases us to perceive the oneness in all, of all. You have given us, through your word, the divine thought. And the divine thought IS the divine manifestation IS holy action."
For Marsalis, "that is the power of prayer in whatever religion, or none at all."
After the two-and-one-half hour online performance concluded Saturday evening, I realized I didn't want it to end. Listening to Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration attentively, it brought out a lot of emotions and moods. It was very joyful and uplifting. It gave me pause to reflect upon what a blessing it was to be part of such a glorious experience and full-circle journey.
You can watch the entire Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration via: http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live/.
Photographs courtesy of artsneworleans.org, NPR.org, kplu.org