Be Ye Broken (2017)
Fantasy for Organ, Strings, and Voices
Thomas Sheehan, organ; Harvard University Choir and Orchestra; Edward Elwyn Jones, conductor
Duration: 13 min.
Dedication: in incerto tempore
Commission: Commissioned by The Memorial Church, Harvard University
Publisher: Soundspells Productions
Be Ye Broken (2017), a fantasy for solo organ, strings, and voices, takes its title from a Shaker song: “Fall on the Rock” (from the Watervliet, New York community; 1847). The text speaks of a common theme in Shaker theology: a call for humility. The individual must by humbled, with all their pride smashed and completely broken apart, so that God could then work through them.
Fall on the rock and be ye broken.
For my holy word is spoken.
Bind me ’neath the raging billows.
Twist and turn and bend like willows.
As in many Shaker songs, each line of the text is followed by “vocables” (words chosen for sound rather than meaning).
The song serves as the musical material for this work; it is heard sung by the voices at two places. The first time it is presented in an unadorned, Shaker manner; later, it occurs amidst a thick, roiling ensemble texture. Throughout the piece, the organ and strings develop the material in a variety of manners.
The general tone of this work is that of a dark intensity, and I would be hiding something if I did not acknowledge that the deeply troubling and uncertain national and international zeitgeist of early 2017 had a definite impact on the structure and mood of the piece. Abstract music does not necessarily have any inherent non-musical syntactic meaning, but an emotional landscape is something that music can reflect and map very well. It is in this spirit that I offer this piece.