I think I found the poem I needed. Blessed be the internet! This translation is floating around online – not sure what the deal is with copyright.
If I’m going for some chant based writing this might be too short; but having found this poem I now need to allow myself to let it be my structural guide overriding any rationalizations of what the right thing to do is. If I do something (like I was planning) in the form of a modern chant, for lack of a better phrase, that I can find in the two pieces I”m doing in New Haven Oratorio Choir right now – Britten Festival Te Deum or Howells Te Deum – the text will be gobbled up incredibly too fast. So I need to express some mysticism and I’ve been thinking that chant is the way to do it. But chant eats words so fast I think I have to do something else.
Here’s the text:
Only Breath – Rumi
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
Now look at the comparative size of Te Deum:
We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim : continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints : in glory everlasting.
[added later, mainly from Psalm verses:]
O Lord, save thy people : and bless thine heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.
These texts imply very different music skeletons. This Rumi poem is way to short to fit into a skeleton of a Te Deum in any traditional sense.
I think I might try something where I repeat lines once, like an echo. That will give this piece some time and still let me move through lines organically – chantlike or speechlike in rhythm where appropriate. (Maybe – the structure of the poem may not be expressible this way and if I go with it – the text is the boss and can overrule anything I’ve planned) I can’t chant this with a lot of repetition to make the poem artificially long. Many repeats of the text seems like it would fight the nature of chant. A lot. Chant means business – most of the time it goes through lots of words fast and repeating seems artificial. Very artificial.
There are so many ways this could go. I have ten ideas floating in my head fighting with each other already. I can make one decision though – I’ll add an organ. That will stretch me right there out of a cappella which is what I’ve been doing for a while.
What happens next is I come up with whatever the most obvious / natural but tasty idea for the beginning is and then let the piece unfold itself. When looking for good seeds I’ll try to stay away from cluster heavy ideas. I don’t want to write another Be Still. And I have one other seed idea that I can try – this is pretty open ended so I think it might work without choking ing me. I’m not going to write major/minor. I’m going to write in E phrygian, that’s the ancient mode (predates modern scales in its way) that you get when you play E-E on white keys only. It’s got a mystical mood and if I get to basses low E is a safe low note.