As the hart longs for
Fountains of water, so my
Soul longs for you, Lord.
The haiku above is a translation of the Latin words of Palestrina’s motet Sicut cervus, drawn from Psalm 42 of the Old Testament of the Bible.
I recently had the sublime pleasure of singing this motet. One can hear the piece and know that it is beautiful. But by singing this piece in the middle of a small mixed ensemble I learned something that I would never have known otherwise.
This piece breathes. Though it was written so many hundreds of years ago, it is alive. The lines rise and fall gently, as the chest rises and falls when one is at peace, at rest, or in meditation. The lines rise and fall in pitch, describing a smooth arc. The dynamics change, one voice rising in volume as it enters, then falling away as a new voice begins. As the voices intertwine, there is a heartbeat, there is breath, and the piece becomes a living thing. The motet ends with a hushed tone of hope, or assurance, or belief, all the voices uniting as one, as one living being.
And when you sing it, you realize that you, and your one voice, are now part of a stream of singers that have sung this very piece for hundreds of years. Your voice rises now, as have so many voices before you, and when it falls away, a new singer will begin. And the music will live on forever.
Image attribution: The Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1851 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Monarch_of_the_Glen%2C_Edwin_Landseer%2C_1851.png