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Over the years, Ricochet has inspired lasting friendships, not least of which is many members’ friendship with @tommeyer, who’s not only a great guy, but someone who rendered Ricochet great service before he moved on to other things. When Herb Meyer, Tom’s father, died, the outpouring of thanksgiving for Herb’s life was tremendous. At the time, I dedicated a motet I was working on to Herb’s memory, but life having gotten in the way, I haven’t had a chance to share it with the Ricoverse until now:
I composed the rough draft of this motet a few years ago. Psalm 42 (41 in the Vulgate) is one of my favorite psalms. A penitential psalm, it describes not only thirsting for God — feeling the lack of God’s “waters” — but also of the deep sound of God’s waters, and what it’s like to be overwhelmed by them.
Get close to a waterfall of any great size, and you hear it not only with your ears, but through your feet, your breath, your spine. Like music itself, it’s something to hear with your whole self.
Abyssus (ad) abyssum invocat in voce cataractarum tuarum; omnia excelsa tua et fluctus tui super me transierunt.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
My setting opens with each voice outlining an octave in turn, which is both a fairly literal-minded way of showing one depth calling to another, and a means of giving the voices somewhere to descend from, as waterfalls do. Rising vocal lines describe the waves’ crests, falling lines the waves breaking, the water falling: This short piece is an exercise in tone-painting the obvious way. Even the decision to cadence in the relative major on “cataractarum tuarum” is fairly straightforward: it expresses the joyful sorrow of repentance or mourning. Repentance is hard, but ultimately joyful: it is moral healing. Mourning loved ones is painful, but also thankful: we miss their presence blessing our lives because it was a blessing.
The day Herb died, I was editing this motet. In his honor, I added a few bars, to better express the grief of his loss. Church-choir members (and I know I’m not the only choir nerd here) are often called to make music for dead they’ve never met, an admittedly strange way to affirm someone’s life, but important nonetheless. I never got the chance to meet Herb in life, but I did get the chance to honor his life in its loss, a loss so keenly felt because the one lost was so beloved.