Nickitas Demos

how grass speaks to fire



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how grass speaks to fire (2014)

Nickitas Demos

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I. ... as a praisegiver - score preview

II. ... like the tenth leper score preview

III. ... by remebering it is grass score preview

IV. ... in imitation of a prodigal son score preview

Duration: 18'30"

Commissioned by Ensemble MD7. Dedicated to Steven Loy and Pavel Mihelcic

The title of this composition is adapted from an English translation of a Communion Prayer written by the Eastern Church Father, St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). The translated phrase reads, “And taking courage from the wealth of Thy benefactions to us, rejoicing and trembling at once, I partake of Fire, I that am grass.” I have always been struck by the poetry of the words and the powerful analogy St. Symeon presents. It also often occurs to me that aside from partaking of the Eucharist, another way the faithful approach Christ is through prayer. If the same relationship exists in this second interaction, how can grass possibly communicate with fire? The Eastern Orthodox Church Fathers provide the answer. Using the model of the Lord’s Prayer, the Fathers of the Church observe that prayers should consist of four parts: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Confession of Sin and Petition for Salvation. The four movements of this work, played without pause, are meditations on each of these four sections as well as my personal interior state as I move through them.

The first movement, … as a praisegiver, is a meditation on the concept of Adoration. It features large unison pitches in octaves, which in my mind represent the immensity of the One being addressed. There are discursive and dissonant motives and harmonies that seek to break away in much the same way that my thoughts tend to break away even at the outset of prayer.

The second movement, … like the tenth leper, begins with gently oscillating octaves in the vibraphone. The title of this movement is taken from a story in the New Testament. In the story, found in Luke 17: 12-19, Christ comes upon 10 lepers and upon healing them is approached by only one, a Samaritan, who thanks Him for the gift. I often think that I am much more like the other nine lepers who after receiving a miraculous gift, go about their business without thanking God. Therefore in prayer, I seek to imitate that tenth leper and always give thanks for all that I have. The music is relatively calm and contemplative throughout the movement with rich harmonies emerging from time to time in similar fashion to my recollections of gifts during prayer.

The third movement, “… by remembering it is grass” begins with a percussion solo on the toms. When the music enters, it is jagged and violent in keeping with the character of the drums. This movement is a meditation on Confession of Sins and begins with loud drumming as a musical manifestation of my personal frustration at my shortcomings and the necessary beating down of my ego in order to truly see my faults; the first step in asking for forgiveness. 

The final movement, ... in imitation of a prodigal son, contemplates the idea of Petition for Salvation. I find it important to note the phrasing of this section of prayer. The faithful are not advised to merely petition God for everything but only what is needful for salvation. Parents often ignore the petitions of children clamoring for items that are not good for them. In like manner, God may also deny petitions. In considering the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), I am confronted with an image of a ruined youth returning in disgrace to his father. Along the way back home, he rehearses the only thing left to ask of his parent, to be allowed to live and work as a servant. Through his contrition and seeking things beneficial to him in the long run, the son receives much more than that. The music in this movement roughly parallels certain portions of the parable. It begins almost joyously with excited upward arpeggios in the ensemble in imitation of the son who has “come to himself” and decides to return home. The music quickly turns more introspective in an effort to portray the long journey back from disgrace and the rehearsal of what the son will now request. The piece ends with a return to the opening character of the movement as a musical representation of the father’s joy at receiving his son back. There is also a short coda featuring a return to musical material of the first movement in an effort to remind myself who that Father really is.