Advent is a favorite liturgical season for any church musician, perhaps second only to Lent in terms of the breadth and depth of inspired compositions that have come down to us through the ages. When I was asked to write a piece for Advent that would stand alongside those by J.S. Bach and Benjamin Britten, I immediately recognized the honor and challenge of telling a musical story that so many luminaries have told before. To meet this challenge, I wanted to consider an Advent message that could resonate in the present time as well as the past. During the season where we celebrate the expectant birth of the Messiah, one aspect that I find deeply meaningful is the story of migration: the state of mind a family must have, a parent must have, to gather their belongings and loved ones and flee from one place to another, in hope of escaping some hardship. In 2023, the faces of those experiencing these most dire circumstances can sometimes seem foreign to us as Americans, but the Advent story reminds us that the figure of Jesus Christ himself was once a refugee, forced by the threat of violence to flee despite his family's vulnerable state. I hoped to create something that would highlight the parallels between the story of the infant Christ and today's most vulnerable families, and I decided to write a poem and set it to music to express these particular sentiments. The music is an homage to some of my most beloved church music traditions, inspired by some of my favorite composers: the modernist minimalism of Benjamin Britten, the ordered and ravishing polyphony of William Byrd, the bombastic congregational harmonies of Charles Villiers Stanford. The work is scored for two choirs who alternate languages and styles, with a more contemporary English giving way to a more ancient Latin and back, until they join triumphantly in a plea for peace and light. One other small note: I began the piece in autumn 2023, shortly before the horrific terrorist attack and devastating subsequent war in the Holy Land. As a small response, and hopefully without causing offense to anyone, I decided to include the text "rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem," often translated as "pray for the peace of Jerusalem," a sentiment that is as apt today as it has been throughout the ages.
© Jonathan Woody