I began sketching ideas for Exultation Mass during the first part of the 2005 purely as an experiment of my abilities as a composer. I have always had a great appreciation for choral/orchestral music, film score, and jazz harmony. (A bit eclectic, I know). My efforts as a composer up to 2005 had only involved setting choral music for the church choir under my direction. I suppose I felt the need to challenge myself by trying my hand at orchestral writing. As a composer, you learn your craft by studying the works of those who have come before and by simply writing. You find out what works, what does not work, and how others have addressed the same problems.
Thinking back on how the seed of inspiration was planted, I suppose I can give some credit to a recent performance of Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with the Tallahassee Symphony and Community Chorus under the direction of Dr. André Thomas. This was not the first mass I had performed of Haydn’s, although it is one of my favorites. I began to ask myself how someone could make multiple settings of the same text. How could this sacred text yield so much creative energy to a single composer and inspire him to create multiple and varied settings? I found my answer within yet another question – How many ways are there to pray?
Having been fortunate to be a part of so many wonderful performance experiences of the masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc, I decided to undertake a new setting of the mass with such masters as my guide. I wanted to capture the essence of such a dramatic text with the energy of the genres/styles for which I had an affinity.
By March of 2005, I had the majority of the choral writing roughly hashed out. Upon reflection of my work thus far, I discovered I had written the contrasting sides of my faith: exuberant rejoicing and profound reverence. As a composer you have rhythm and harmony as tools for expression; I employed both to help create these contrasts found in Exultation Mass. The performer/listener will find these moments of rejoicing and celebration in the opening Kyrie, Sanctus, and the end of the Agnus Dei expressed with driving rhythmic ostinatos, dynamic outbursts, and dance-like syncopations. These moments are alternated with more meditative sections found in the Gloria, Benedictus, and opening of the Agnus Dei. The use of lush jazz harmony is employed more in these sections as a means of expressing the previously mentioned profound reverence.
With this rough draft completed, I began writing the orchestral parts. Not being as experienced with orchestral writing as I was with choral writing, I looked to film score for inspiration. Some present musicians may scoff at the mere suggestion of film score, but I find it intriguing. I am also of the opinion that future musicians will study the exciting and ground-breaking genre just as we presently study the operas of Mozart and Verdi. After all, the word Opera literally translated means work. It is where we derive the word opus. That being said, are not film scores the “work” of today’s musicians that is enjoyed by the populous?
The mass received it first performance in the spring of 2007. It was performed by the combined high school choirs of Duluth High School under the direction of my friend and former high school choral director Greg Smith in Georgia. I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical of hearing younger singers perform the work since I had initially envisioned it for an adult choir. My doubts were quickly put to rest upon hearing the recording of the performance – I was overwhelmed with joy! The energy that was given by the younger singers breathed life into the mass I had not imagined. Their performance embodied the celebratory nature I intended the music to communicate.
Fast-forward to the year 2009; I shared the mass with my friend and mentor Tom Stoker at Arborlawn United Methodist Church. He was quick to point out to me that the mass needed a title. I already had in mind that the name should convey the rejoicing, exuberant nature of the work, but was still uncertain as to the appropriate name.
The idea for the name of this mass came from singing an anthem by Mark Hayes, And The Father Will Dance. While this exact text was not included in the mass, it was the source of inspiration for title. The text of the piece was taken from Zephaniah 3:14, 17 & Psalm 34:2, 4. The portion of text which captivated me reads:
And the Father will dance over you in joy!
He will take delight in whom He loves.
Is that a choir I hear, singing the praises of God?
No, the Lord God Himself is exulting o'er you in song!
And He will joy over you in song.
After naming the work Exultation Mass, Tom then asked if I would consider expanding the orchestration to add woodwinds. The original orchestration was scored for brass, strings, and percussion. I was reluctant at first to acquiesce to his proposal. I wanted to keep the work accessible to all size ensembles. After much consideration I agreed that it would be effective to add yet another layer of color and texture to the mass. Ultimately, the work stands scored for:
2 French Horns
1 Bass Trombone
SATB chorus with Soprano Soloist
The newly orchestrated work will receive its premier on Sunday April 25, 2010 at Arborlawn United Methodist Church Fort Worth, Texas under the direction of its music minister, Tom Stoker. It is my sincerest wish that through its music the listener not only hear a choir and orchestra resound the praises of God, but have the Lord God Himself is exult over them in song!