Tuesday
Jul282015

The story behind the creation of "Ave Maria" in 1994

July 28, 2015

Over the years, I've been asked many times to tell the story behind the creation of my Ave Maria, a work for treble voices (SSSAAA) written in 1994 at the request of Elektra Women's Choir for the celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Canadian Music Centre. Ave Maria premiered at the Vancouver Playhouse in October 1994, it was published by Cypress Choral Music in 1996, and it burst upon the international choral world when it was sung three times by Elektra Women's Choir for their featured performance in the Sydney Opera House at the the World Choral Symposium in Sydney, Australia in 1996. Since then, it has come to be considered "standard repertoire" for advanced treble choirs everywhere and it's been performed by thousands of women's choirs and children's choirs including a massed choir of 500 children conducted by Bob Chilcott at the Newfoundland Festival from the Rock in 2000.

From the beginning, interesting stories have sprung up around Ave Maria, about its inspiration and its beginning. In fact, there was one video on YouTube that has the weirdest sentence about Ave Maria that I had ever seen and I was shocked to read it. (It said something about The Virgin as traffic monitor and she appeared to ensure that children had safe crossing. I mean, really?) Because of bizarre stories like that, I've decided to clarify things. Here's the true story behind the creation of Ave Maria (on my Official website), so please refer to this if you're trying to settle a bet or publish a program note to accompany your performance.

Yes, there's a story around the creation of Ave Maria, in fact, there are two of them. Both of them are true.

Part the First: In 1994, I was deep in research for an opera I was writing about paranormal spiritual events in war-torn Bosnia, part of the former Yugoslavia. This true story revolved around six children who received daily Visitations from the Virgin Mary beginning in June, 1981 and continuing for several years. Over time, the Visitations were moved from the open countryside to the town of Medjugorje, where every evening at 5:30, the children would receive the Virgin in a tiny chapel beside the main church in the centre of town. Because the children were the only people who could see The Virgin, the visitations had attracted thousands of people in the hope of seeing the children, the next best thing. To the believing throngs, the children represented a connection to the Divine and as such, they were to be worshipped. Every evening for the 5:30 visitation from the Virgin, the children had to be trotted through town protected by a phalanx of guards to get to the chapel. Accompanying them are the sounds of thousands of believers chanting the Rosary as the spectacle passes through town. The children are picked up by the guards, one by one, until they arrive together at the chapel ready to receive the Virgin. They were six little visionary rock stars! I pictured this event as a scene in the opera: a churning Ave Maria sung as the children are trotted through town with the crowd chanting and cheering them on - climaxing as the children arrive at the chapel and, in the electrifying silence at the conclusion, The Virgin appears! (This explains the fermata on the last bar of silence in the music.)

Part the Second: around the same time as the opera on The Visionaries was unfolding in 1994, Vancouver's Elektra Women's Choir commissioned me to make a new work for them in celebration of the Canadian Music Centre. I decided to craft an Ave Maria as a work in six parts - six children, six parts - that celebrates the feminine in the Divine. And what began as a meditation on The Virgin (as mother) transformed into a work about women as women and a celebration of the work that women do to make the world go round. The music is dedicated to my mother as a 65th birthday present (in 1994), but she merely represents all the extraordinary women who do all of the work - day after day after day after day. In all cultures, the repetitive work of women is endless, yet they do it with a love that knows no bounds. The women who sing this music know this because they embody the love that is celebrated in it. My mother, now creeping up on 88, sees Ave Maria as a gift that keeps on giving. Knowing this, one can understand why I have rejected many entreaties to arrange Ave Maria for mixed choir. It's sung by women or children - both of which suit my original inspiration. I'm happy this way.

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