Music is the doorway

Every year for the past five years or so, our UU church has had a Winter Solstice service and the choir has always sung John Schrag’s “Kore Evohe”, a wonderful piece of pagan choral music (a portion of the score can be seen beginning on page 19 of this PDF).

Until this year, we have been singing the original SSAA arrangement, as found in Julie Middleton’s Winter Solstice Singing Ritual (short recorded sample here), by the simple method of dividing the soprano lines between the sopranos and altos and giving the alto lines to the men. This really sucked for the men, because it fell at just the wrong place in most of our ranges, so that we either had to sing too high or too low; but we all love the piece, and so does the congregation, so we’ve plowed through.

Three years ago I discovered that there is an SATB arrangement, done by John Kelleher (a recording of a less-than-exceptional performance – too fast and too choppy – can be heard here). I promptly ordered a copy, only to discover that the printed score has entire lines flat missing, in different spots and for different voices (you can see an example of this in the bottom stave on page 22 of the first link). I can tell these omissions are not deliberate because sometimes when the missing lines reappear they come back in the middle of a word. So, after many fruitless attempts to contact the publisher, both by phone and email, I tossed it into a drawer and forgot about it.

This year, for some reason, I felt drawn to pull it back out and see if something could be made of it; and after three weeks, drawing on a combination of the faulty SATB score, the clean SSAA score and my own intimate experience of the piece, I was able to reconstruct the missing lines. Much like religious reconstruction, it may not be exactly like the original, but it’s functional and it gets to the same end. :)

But in working on this process, I’m coming to realize that I was also working on myself. I’m more awake religiously than I’ve been in quite a while, and more certain again that I am on my proper path; and I also feel much more attuned to Persephone and to those things associated with Her realm than in the past. (I also have this song running in my head most of the time!) Surely it’s not a coincidence that I felt called to work on this so shortly after Samhain… I’ve been much more open this season to awareness of loss and mortality, and as we come into the Christmas season I find that I am thinking a lot about my maternal grandparents, to whom I was very close and who died several years ago, as well as my uncle who passed in the spring.

For the first time I feel like I truly, clearly see my place in the stream of life that flows forever onward, drifting forward until death casts me up on the farther shore. There is a phrase that is used every Shabbat at the synagogue I sometimes attend, before the recitation of kaddish, the so-called mourner’s prayer – “Let us take them into our hearts with our own beloved dead.” This season the phrase “beloved dead” has been with me almost constantly, and has been oddly comforting; it reminds me that whatever lies ahead, my Ancestors have gone there before me (and, I hope, will be there to receive me when my time comes to join them).

At almost 42 years of age, I think I’m finally growing up… and music, as so often in my life, has been the key and the catalyst.


8 thoughts on “Music is the doorway

  1. executivepagan Post author

    Thanks… I hadn’t intended to write half of this when I sat down at the computer – I was just going to write a quick post about the process of reconstructing the music, but then all these realizations just started popping. Now I understand why people keep spiritual journals; I wasn’t consciously aware of half of what’s been going on in my head until I started to write it down.

    Of course, after I finished I began to wonder if the process really did work as I presented it, or whether I’m subconsciously editing my own life to make a better story; and if I am editing my past experience, what effect will that have on how I experience my future experience? (Fair makes me ‘ead spin, it does…)

  2. executivepagan Post author

    My pleasure! I’d love for it to become more widely known and sung (there have been a handful of recordings of it so far), and even more for that success to encourage the composition of more challenging pagan music.

  3. PaganInSoCal

    As a new UU (less than 2 years) but a longer-time Pagan (and recovering Catholic) I was fortunate to be involved in my congregation’s CUUPs/Music Program production of the “Midwinter Solstice Singing Ritual” which includes this song as a reader. I am not a musician, nor a singer, but I know we did this with an all female choir. I had no idea it might be arranged as SATB, which would make it suitable for possible performance by our larger choir outside of the larger ritual. I am going to pass on this link to our music director, who put on the ritual (which, incidentally, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen when we did it as an evening candlelight service.)

    Kor Evohe is one of the songs I cannot seem to get out of my head. I love especially “We are from our birth/Doomed to lie in earth/Kore lead the way!” Thanks for your work to provide a “male voice friendly” version of this piece.

  4. executivepagan Post author

    Cool! We’ve never put on the whole thing, but we’ve sung both “Kore” and “Benedicta Es”. I’d love to see the whole book performed some time.

    The SATB arrangement is really stunning; it adds even more depth to the piece, if that’s possible.

    Thanks for reading (and commenting!).

  5. executivepagan Post author

    Hi Beth,
    Unfortunately, this is not a “new” arrangement, it’s a minor adaptation of a copyrighted work that I created for basically personal use… I don’t believe that I can legally distribute it. However, if you want to purchase a copy of the original score (available for a couple of dollars at the first link above), let me know and I’ll happily tell you what I put in the missing lines!

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