Connecting Beyond the Walls
WELCOME TO THE DAILY DOSE!
Today’s word of hope comes from our own Jake Hill, music associate / organist.
More often than not, the instrumental pieces you hear me play during a service (preludes, music during communion, offertories, etc.) are specifically chosen for one reason or another- sometimes it’s the title of the piece that lines up with a common theme we’re planning a service around; sometimes it is the circumstances that lead to a piece being composed (this is typical for most of my organ pieces, since, most all of them were composed with some sort of liturgical intention… organs only lived in the churches back then, you know!); sometimes, however, composers have transcribed pieces from their original medium for solo keyboard, be it piano or the organ, taking from all walks of musical life, and those pieces are both beautiful and meaningful.
The latter is the case for the piece I share with you today. If you’ve taken any music history classes, you were likely hammered, and I mean hammered, with composer after composer and opera after opera. If you’ve taken a music theory course or six, I promise you found those same composers and those same operas and their respective scores smattered across your textbook pages and screens as you dissected the “math of music”, understanding how certain chords or compositional styles in those operas lead to new eras of thought and tonality. More or less, you were made to understand opera is a BIG deal (aside from the church) in the development of western music!
With it being as BIG of a deal as it was made to be and is, I found myself loving a great deal of it once I was thrown into the operatic deep end of the pool in school. One of my favorite operas (and a good “beginner” one if you have little experience with opera) is Carmen by French composer, Georges Bizet. I know, I know… you’re wondering “what does this have to do with church music and the song!?”- bear with me.
Aside from the stereotypical love-gone-wrong opera plot, there is one character in Carmen that stands out and resonates with all of us… characters in all stage productions have a way of doing that- it is how composers connect with their audience! Micaela, our character of focus in Carmen, is faced with a tough situation- in her case, she’s trying desperately not to lose her love- and in so doing confesses to God, in a sung prayer, how frightened she is, how despite all of her own courage and her own strength, she is still afraid. She cries out to the Lord, asking for His protection, for Him to give her courage. Does this sound familiar? Maybe we aren’t facing lost love as Micaela is, but substitute anything: anxiety, stress, unhappiness, worry, self-doubt, troubled relationships, illnesses, you name it, the list goes on. I’m not sure about any of you, but I find myself in Micaela’s position from time to time. Despite it all- all of the preparation one can do, all of the mental psyching-up we can do for ourselves- it just simply isn’t always enough. Fortunately, though, “enough” is achieved in our acts of prayer. Sometimes we forget that sending those humble petitions heavenward are all our God needs from us to help see us through whatever has us crying out for help.
You wouldn’t have known it then, but, tinkling away in the background on Maundy Thursday in 2019 was this very piece. I played a transcription of it for solo piano as together we all took part in holy communion. While I was not singing along, the words to the beautiful piece were very present for me, and for all of you. What better backdrop for communion than the utterance of a prayer, though song, asking for God’s strength and protection over us?
Enjoy now this performance as sung by Angela Gheorghiu in the 1997 production of Carmen on the grand stage of the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City. It’s a French composition, so, it is sung in French (worry not- both the French and English texts are provided for you below)! Friends, especially now, as we traverse these trying times, remember, God is only one prayer away.
by Georges Bizet
Act III, Scene V
Aria: Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante
English translation in red
Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante,
I say that nothing frightens me,
Je dis hélas que je réponds de moi,
I say alas that I answer for myself,
Mais j’ai beau faire la vaillante,
But no matter how brave I am,
Au fond du cour, je meurs d’effroi
At the back of the yard, I’m dying of terror
Seule, en ce lieu sauvage
Alone, in this wild place
Toute seule, j’ai peur,
Alone, I’m afraid,
Mais j’ai tort d’avoir peur,
But I’m wrong to be afraid,
Vous me donnerez du courage,
You will give me courage,
Vous me protégerez, Seigneur .
You will protect me, Lord.
Je vais voir de près cette femme
I’m going to see this woman up close
Dont les artifices maudits
Including the accursed devices
Ont fini par faire un infâme
Ended up doing an infamous
De celui que j’aimais jadis;
Of the one I once loved;
Elle est dangereuse, elle est belle,
She is dangerous, she is beautiful,
Mais je ne veux pas avoir peur,
But I do not want to be afraid,
Non, non je ne veux pas avoir peur!
No, no I do not want to be afraid!
Je parlerai haut devant elle,
I will speak loudly in front of her,
Ah! Seigneur … Vous me protégerez.
Ah! Lord… you will protect me.
Ah! Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante, etc.
Ah! I say nothing frightens me, etc.
Protégez-moi! O Seigneur!
Protect me! O Lord!
Donnez-moi du courage!
Give me courage!
Protégez-moi! O Seigneur!
Protect me! O Lord!
Protect me! Lord!