"Missa Gaia" - Mass for the Earth

Over my several decades of service to BMPC, I have rarely programmed a major choral work more than once. My rational is that, with such a vast canon of great choral works, a lifetime alone isn’t enough to even scratch the surface. It is far better to expose the choir and congregation to as many masterworks as possible. Over the span of more than 35 years of concerts, I have made a few exceptions to that approach, programming Handel’s Messiah and the Requiems of Mozart, Fauré, and Duruflé more than once. 

My approach to programming was seriously challenged in 2010 with the first performance of Paul Winter’s ecological-musical masterpiece, Missa Gaia. Following that performance, I was deluged with requests for a repeat performance. Two years later we presented Missa Gaia again. After six years of countless pleas for a repeat performance, once again we will present Missa Gaia. Why does this work, the result of several composers working together under the masterful eye of jazz legend Paul Winter, resonate so strongly? How is it that a fusion of world music styles, improvisation, unusual combinations of instruments, a video backdrop, and a soundtrack of wolves, seals, birds, and humpback whales can overshadow Mozart?

I believe that a large part of the appeal is in how intimately the music of Missa Gaia touches everyone. When we hear the sound of an Alaskan tundra wolf plaintively wailing four distinct pitches and then hear humankind’s attempt to replicate those pitches, we resonate with nature in an incredibly personal way. Hearing the awesome sounds of a humpback whale and then bursting into a Brazilian samba that celebrates the ocean connects us, not only to the endangered humpback whale, but also to the people of Brazil. The over-arching impact of Missa Gaia is one of drawing all of creation together in a grand celebration that reminds us of our responsibility to one another, to all people, and to our delicate planet.

One of the most powerful components of our performance is the result of the creative work of BMPC members Tim Starn and Carolyn Gerrish. For the first performance of Missa Gaia, they created a video backdrop that consisted largely of photographs taken by church members. That powerful component was included in the 2012 performance. For Sunday’s performance, Tim and Carolyn have revised the video to reflect today’s high resolution world. These enhancements are simply breathtaking, and their commitment of time and talent is magnificent.

You may be familiar with the “Gaia hypothesis” of scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. They proposed “that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and power far beyond its constituent parts.” 

If the “Gaia hypothesis” is about working together, then the process of the creation of Missa Gaia/Earth Mass is truly a manifestation of Gaia. Singers, instrumentalists, animals, video, and your voices will come together in ways that will move even the “unmovable” amongst us.

Missa Gaia
Sunday, April 22, 4:00 p.m. Featuring the Sanctuary Choir, Singing for Life, Youth Chorale, and Children’s Choir. Tickets: $20 for adults; $5.00 for students. Tickets available at bmpc.org or at the door.