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Blog

Grant Us Peace

Brenda Bliven Porter

Untitled

Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Benedictus qui venit. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona nobis pacem.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is He who comes. Hosanna in the highest.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Lamb of God,

Grant us peace.

-----

As the melody climbed higher, the voices of the choir filled the cavernous ceiling of the cathedral. Agnus Dei. Lamb of God. People in the audience lifted their countenances, spirits soaring with the melody as the new key carried them away.  I glanced around, furtively wiping away the tears in my eyes, only to notice that others were doing the same. After standing and singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” we walked out into the cold winter night, exclaiming to one another about the loveliness of the evening---an annual choral concert in our small Midwestern town. “It was all so wonderful, but ‘The Ground’ was my favorite.” I agreed wholeheartedly and wondered what made this piece by contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo such a favorite.

A few months later I looked at the score and noticed the key changes. For a few measures, dissonance was introduced into an otherwise lovely melody and it became almost painful to listen. But in the measures after a key change, the melody was transformed---it soared, it spoke, it gave hope to the listener. Gjeilo, a Julliard-trained composer from Norway, has suggested that contemporary music has focused almost exclusively on the suffering and pain of human life: “the Modernists were brave to delve into parts of the human psyche that are dark and edgy, but I do think they got somewhat stuck in that.” Further, says the composer, “I think people naturally and instinctively want to experience “transcendence, resolution and the feeling of redemption, joy and peace that the resolving of discord can yield.”

Perhaps key changes are a way of seeing the dark and difficult experiences in our human lives---illness, job changes, loss, disappointment, uncertainty, unfulfilled expectations. Although painful in the moment, these transitions may be understood as temporary and transformative, allowing us to look forward with hope to a new key, a soaring melody, and perhaps a richer and fuller knowledge of the Creator’s love for us.