During this time of quarantine and self-isolating, I decided to take some time and explore some of the great things that Minnesota has to offer (from a distance, of course). Even though the city streets aren’t packed with people nowadays, I’ve always thought it was neat how we can be within the hustle and bustle of a city and then 5 minutes later find ourselves standing near a lake looking at gorgeous scenery. Lately, I’ve taken some walks near the Mississippi River in St. Paul, gone over to the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, and hiked around Minnehaha Falls. It’s beautiful and the views are second to none.
Usually, I like to listen to music when I take walks and visit the nature around me, but lately I’ve decided to take in the sounds of nature themselves as my walking soundtracks instead. When doing this, I found that I was drawn back to one of my favorite organist-composers, Olivier Messiaen. This 20th century French composer has greatly inspired my work as an organist through his use of tonal color, rhythmic complexity and birdsong. Yes, in addition to being a composer and organist, Messiaen was also an ornithologist. One of his famous quotes is this: “My faith is the grand drama of my life. I’m a believer, so I sing words of God to those who have no faith. I give bird songs to those who dwell in cities and have never heard them, make rhythms for those who know only military marches or jazz, and paint colors for those who see none.”
As Pentecost is approaching this Sunday, I would like to introduce you to Messiaen’s Messe de la Pentecôte (Pentecost Mass) written for solo organ. Composed in 1950, it takes the form of the mass in 5 movements: Introit, Offertory, Consecration, Communion and Recessional. For my graduate organ recital, I had the pleasure of studying and performing this work and continually fell in love with it each time I brought it to the practice room, church, and concert hall.
Today, I share with you my own recording of movement 4, Communion: Les oiseaux et les sources (the birds and the springs). You’ll hear three different birdsong within the piece: the cuckoo, the nightingale, and the blackbird. The text associated with this movement comes from the Prayer of Azariah 1:38, 58, “O all ye waters that be above heaven, bless ye the Lord: O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord.” I finally learned how to properly use iMovie on my laptop, so I paired the music with some photos from my nature walks around the area. Hope you enjoy.
Richard Gray, Director of Music