for Unison Chorus and Piano (or Harp)
By Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk


Eleven minutes long, the MASS OF THE RESURRECTION is in eight movements:

I. Lord, Have Mercy
II. Holy and Mighty
III. Glory Download the Soundfile
IV. I Believe Download the Soundfile
V.Holy and Blessed
VI. Memorial Acclamation Download the Soundfile
VII. Amen
VIII. Lamb of God

The Mass of the Resurrection was completed in 2001, though some movements had been written in 1987. There is a reason for its shamelessly accessible style. Neither of the church communities who expressed an interest in having me write something for them (St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in San Francisco, and St. Gregory's Catholic Church in San Mateo) had any real knowledge of what genuine contemporary music is, so when they asked for something new I knew that to give them a work of real modern music would be unacceptable, probably a shock to them, and could easily be imagined under the circumstances to lead to my eventual termination, for seeming uncooperative or difficult, or whatever accusation would eventually be thrown at me.

However, and especially in the case of St. Gregory's, a minority of the participants had a genuineness to their naive enthusiasm that made me realize that if I failed to write something for them, they would take my reluctance amiss, and perhaps be disinclined in the future from ever wanting to work with a living composer in their midst. I therefore decided that though the piece I would write for them would, because of the stylistic restrictions imposed by the group's inexperience and lack of knowledge of music, not to mention their lack of skill, be musically insignificant, nevertheless, the act of composing it, and the group's involvement in preparing it - a process that included singing some of the movements in public for months, and culminated in a CD - could work to establish a precedent within their community. Perhaps, I thought, some future composer in a better world would have an opportunity to do something worthwhile, if I establish some kind of precendent for it (and if the people don't manifest their usual amnesia about such things).

And so I wrote the piece. Due to the indifference of the reception of its first movements by the St. Aiden's community, its composition spanned seventeen years. In fact it was received with indifference by most of its later advocates as well, but a handful among them put together a letter to the Monsignor trying to recommend the piece, and to get the appearance of support from the rest. The Monsignor did worse than ignore the letter: he treated my effort as though it had perforce to have the meaning for me that since I had written it, it must mean a lot to me, and therefore he acted as though he really shouldn't encorage the egotistical feelings about it that he assumed I had. He had no clue and did not care that I wrote the piece reluctantly in a style I didn't prefer, and that I considered its composition a great compromise of my integrity as an artist.
He seemed to assume that anybody writing a piece of music must be egotistical about it, certainly he acted as though his role consisted of damping my imagined tendency toward cliches of egotistical behavior, perhaps of the self-absorbed composer type. Only with the greatest caution would the Monsignor permit any of the piece to be given at Mass. "Down, boy," was clearly his policy toward me about this project, which I had had to convince myself was all right to do. I had, to say it discreetly, compromised my integrity in a major way for the Catholic Church, and the only problem it had about that was that enjoying such a compromise might go to my head. Well, I do say I enjoyed it, but it didn't go to my head. I don't recall that the work was ever performed in its entirety and in its proper celebrative context.

What the whole experience taught me is something that I already knew but which I now can say I have put to the test of experience, namely that it doesn't matter how far I bend over backwards to accomodate the limitations of my audience, they will always ask for further concessions (this is I believe one of the things Jesus meant when he said "There will be poor always"), and that it does not matter how cordially and accomodatingly I behave, I will be treated as if I am difficult and egotistical. For there really can't be a piece imagined that accomodates a group's limitations more than an limpidly tonal piece with singerly requirements of simple melody only, with major repetitions and the melodic part always doubled in both registers. And yet when rehearsing it, one choir member (the wife of a Deacon!) put her hands over her ears, as if the music were incredibly harsh to her, and others behaved as if it were terrifically difficult, certainly mentally exhausting. I might as well have written the unabashed modernist piece to begin with, the ear candy I did write was received as an unreasonable challenge. I lost my job soon after anyway. From the reaction of some of the choristers (and the pianist!), you would think I had been Schoenberg in Vienna. I thought they were as difficult as Klingons.

I do, in fact, like the Mass of the Resurrection well enough, for what it is, especially when played on the harp, as a few of its movements are here. But I doubt I will ever write anything more like it. I learned the hard way that stylistic concessions lead to an infinite regress of demands. It is better to keep my artisitic integrity - and especially, it is better not to waste time! - to write what I think is important, and to let my audience and me find our way to each other as well as possible.

I think I learned as much as the situation had to offer, it was a test I should not have had to have been put through, and I have not even the illusion that a legacy can be created for the future if the community with whom one is dealing insists on its ignorance, and cannot work with any genius it cannot bring down.

There are still a few copies of the CD which St. Gregory's worked hard to prepare. It is called ST. GREGORY'S CHOIRS NON NOBIS DOMINE and has agreeable artwork of a dove on the cover, cleverly prepared by the artist Theresa Curatto for the entire choir to participate in helping create. I am not sure I want to sell any of my remaining stock of the CDs, but I plan to make the soundfile and score available.


Last updated 1/5/2011