On the way to church this morning (I’m on holiday so it was one of those rare occasions when I went to the church where I’m a member) I listened to the CD of Eric Whitacre’s, 'Cloudburst', performed by the choir Polyphony under their director Stephen Layton.
I first encountered this music nearly two years ago. It was shortly after my Dad died and we were with some close friends for a meal. I remember the occasion clearly as we listened to the first track, a setting of e.e. cummings, 'i thank You God for most this amazing day'. It was like entering a new sound world, and the effect of the music which was overwhelming, oceanic even, came as a gift which spoke wordlessly and deeply to my soul.
Whitacre writes for chorus with a strong sense of vocation, and speaks of 'a real calling'. His music communicates directness, purity, and a keen sense of tension and resolution. It’s characterised by soaring melodies and cascading harmonies, and to describe it as ecstatic, or sublime, isn’t excessive.
One feature of Whitacre’s music which fascinates me relates to time. There are points where it’s as though time takes on a different dimension, not as in timelessness, but a quality of time that perhaps points to a future experience of time, a 'new creation' time, a redeemed time, a time-but-not-as-we-know-it. Jeremy Begbie in his new book 'Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music' is brilliant on this!
It’s been terrific fun to introduce this music to friends, and witness the effect it has, especially 'I thank You God', but also 'When David heard' which rips out the heart, and 'Cloudbursts' with its simulated rain-storm. Some of the shorter tracks are available on iTunes but this is an album which is highly recommended.