Monday, November 21, 2016

O Emmanuel (Move Over, Handel)

With Thanksgiving days away, we will soon have the not-always-soothing sounds of holiday music in the air just about everywhere we go before Advent even begins. (November 27 is the First Sunday of Advent this year.) Granted, Advent songs are kind of hard to come by unless you're at Mass. Or, you know, at a performance of Handel's Messiah.

This summer, I really benefited from listening to the Messiah while on my annual retreat. Handel's masterpiece is like a sung Bible, with highlights from Old and New Testaments, all the way to the Book of Revelation (“Hallelujah!”). Reflecting the Gospels themselves, this most famous of oratorios has a highly developed Passion narrative, drawn primarily from the writings of the prophet Isaiah; the Resurrection is treated in words especially taken from the letters of St Paul. 

Now the people at (New Evangelization organization) Dynamic Catholic have released a new oratorio, an Advent oratorio inspired by the seven ancient O Antiphons.   I'm the one calling it an oratorio because that's how I experienced the 45-minute program. (I received advance access to the recording so I could review it.)
O Emmanuel made it to the Billboard charts during its first week on the market as #1 in "Traditional Classical Albums."

Composed by J.J. Wright (who already has a Grammy under his belt and is currently doing dissertation work toward a doctorate in Conducting), O Emmanuel features a variety of musical styles, some (can I confess it?) too sophisticated for me., the work opens with the Annunciation in the words and music of Gabriel's Message (also known as the “Basque Carol”), but the oratorio as a whole includes compositions based on the antiphons of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as the famous antiphons for December 17-23. Wright incorporates not just the ancient texts of the O Antiphons, but their traditional musical lines, woven in with contemporary sounds, especially jazz (odd, but it works) with the composer at the keyboard. Many of the vocal parts are sung by the Notre Dame Children's Choir, and the Fifth House Ensemble (from Chicago!) made a fabulous contribution with their playing.
Composer J. J. Wright

In “VI: Rex” (my favorite) we are treated to a Gospel music setting of a poem by Malcolm Guite that draws on the themes in the 6th O Antiphon: the King of nations; the desired one; the cornerstone that unites the many into one. I love Guite's lyrics, especially the line about “A king who comes to give away his crown.” (The O Antiphons are a while Christmas sermon in themselves.)

What excites me most about this project is that O Emmanuel is a high-level musical composition infused with a beauty that comes from Divine Revelation. There is no more powerful vehicle of evangelization today than beauty, and the people at Dynamic Catholic were inspired in undertaking this. (I hope that composer Wright will be looking for a nuns' choir for his next project. I know some singers who might qualify!)

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Now for the really good part: 
Dynamic Catholic has 10 copies of O Emmanuel to give away to NunBlog readers! To be in the running, you have to do two things:

1. Go to and listen to the samples from the tracks.
2.A Come right back here and in the "comments" express a little something of how a chosen track might communicate the beauty of the Gospel in our times. (You will need to sign in to comment so I can get back to you in case you win.)
2.B Post a tweet (#OEmmanuel) about your favorite track, thanking @DynamicCatholic for the music and @Nunblogger for the chance to win a Billboard #1 album.

Thank you! (Winners will be chosen at random on BLACK FRIDAY; yes, you increase your chances of winning if you do 2.A and 2.B.)

1 comment:

Kim Castro said...

#OEmmanuel @DynamicCatholic @Nunblogger thank you for such beautiful music to help keep us present during this holiday season. Listening to these tracks reminds me of the focus of Christmas and Advent that my family had when I was a child. I hope it will be performed as a concert across the world, the music is of a wonderful quality and excellent musicianship.

I am so thankful He brought this music, your blog and BestAdventEver into my life this year when my children and i need it most.  I am feeling so blessed.