On Wednesday night, the choir at the First United Methodist Church will deliver a rare treat: the chance to experience unbroken musical ground.
The choir and an Appalachian consort comprised of Fort Lewis College professors, church musicians and community members will tackle “The Song Everlasting,” a new cantata by Joseph M. Martin. For those of us with less musical knowledge, the term refers simply to a piece of music composed to be sung rather than played instrumentally.
Martin, whose major works include 32 choral cantatas, as well as “Song of Wisdom,” a choral tone poem based on the best-selling children’s book Old Turtle, is known for imaginative compositions that surprise and inspire audiences from Carnegie Hall to worship services throughout the country. This piece is divided into three suites of anthems, called “Ministry,” “Humility” and “Victory,” and uses narration and song to portray the life of Jesus Christ. With Easter nearing, this sacred work offers meditation for the faithful and musical inspiration for arts enthusiasts. However, what makes this event all the more intriguing is that this piece is less than a year old.
“The cantata was first published in late 2011 ... this work has barely been available for six months and is considered ‘new,’” said Joshua Mietz, co-director of choirs at the Methodist Church. As Mietz says, the term “new music” can sometimes alienate those accustomed to sacred pieces dating back hundreds of years. However, “The Song Everlasting,” far from being avant garde, offers an accessible experience to listeners of all ages and tastes. Inspired by early American folk songs and hymns, the piece has what Mietz calls “a rustic, Copland-esque feel.” The perfect accompaniment to the tradition-steeped Durango Bach Festival that wrapped last Saturday, this evening of music offers audiences a new chapter in sacred song.
The sharing of variant musical forms is nothing new to Mietz. In addition to directing choirs, he serves as instructor of clarinet at FLC and instructor of clarinet and saxophone at San Juan College in New Mexico. Those attending this choral concert will sense a special spark in the air, because presentation of new works is something of a calling, even a mission, for Mietz, despite the inherent challenges.
“New music, to me, feels like what I imagine astronauts and explorers feel,” he said.“Scary, but at the same time exciting ... to be visiting untraversed territory. It is a great feeling to know that we are giving the audience something they have not heard before.”
Perhaps to ease listeners into this experimental mindset, the concert is free.
This Easter cantata breathes a sigh of relief into the mid-Lenten liturgical scene, which often errs on the somber side. It’s music that serves as both comfort food for the soul and a fresh challenge to one’s sensibilities.
Chelsea Terris is a freelance writer and social media specialist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.