Marti Epstein (b. 1959)

Emmanuel Church is a kind of spiritual home for me in Boston. I believe that there is no one way to  express one’s spirituality or faith, and the fact that I am Jewish has never felt like a contradiction when I have attended services at Emmanuel. This is due, in no small part, to the importance and presence of music in each service. To me, music - its creation and performance - is the nearest thing to true evidence of the  existence of a divine presence. While attending services at Emmanuel, I have often felt an awareness of  that evidence in a very profound and deep way. The first live music I heard after we shut down for Covid  was a performance of Bach BWV 51 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen at Emmanuel. I believe I may have  cried so much that I embarrassed myself - from joy at hearing live music again, from relief that we could  still hear live performances, and from gratitude to the musicians of Emmanuel.

It was a great honor to receive a motet commission from Emmanuel Music. I decided to use as text the first sentence from the cantata BWV 94 - “Was frag ich nach der Welt?” (what do I ask from the world?)  and then, as an answer to that question, Psalm 133 in Hebrew:

Behold how good and how pleasing              Hinneh mah tov umah na'yim          הִנֵּה מַה טּוֹב וּמַה נָעִים
For people to sit together in unity                  Shevet ah-khim gam yah-khad            שֶבֶת אַחִים גַם יָחַד

Including a text in Hebrew was important to me, and this particular text reflects my hopes (and prayers) for  a resolution to the conflicts in the Middle East. Musically, I used imitative counterpoint to show an intertwining amongst all the voices. The opening canon melody comes from the bass line of the Bach chorale. And, knowing the cantata, which is in D major, would immediately follow my piece, I ended "Prayer" on a Db-Eb major second which will resolve to the opening of the cantata.

I am deeply grateful to Emmanuel Music for asking me to write this piece.

©Marti Epstein

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