Volume 92, Issue 17

Thursday, October 1, 1998

decisions decisions


Mystical sounds of wildlife

Graphic by Luke Rundle

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

In a world ordered by technology, controlled by time and driven by stress, it's reassuring to know there are those who desire to step away from this manic scene and form a connection with the earth and with others.

"Have you ever heard of the Missa Gaia?" asks Oliver Whitehead, prolific musician and London composer. "It's the Earth Mass which is performed every year at Saint John the Divine, in New York City. Everything there is of course on a much larger scale, the animals are more exotic, there's dancing – it's very spectacular."

Whitehead's instrumental skills have been acquired by Saint Paul's Cathedral to emulate the American version. The result is The Mass for all Creatures, a celebration of the earth and its inhabitants.

Animals may seem to be a peculiar addition to the wooden pews and stained glass decor of Saint Paul's Cathedral. However, Whitehead insists the pets add to the ceremony in a very unique and spectacular way.

"Animal life is very important and a relationship with it is very much apart of our connection with the earth. They are closely connected to creation and they express the presence of the divine," Whitehead explains.

His compositions reflect these furry creatures' importance in the world and their link to the spiritual realm. His lyrics draw upon mystic beliefs from many different cultures and times.

"I'm very interested in the diversity of the traditions and cultures in the world and this is the theme of the whole service. Yes I'm writing for the Anglican Church and for a Mass, but composers have been doing this since the beginning of time. Just take Bach and Mozart," Whitehead explains.

The religious element is placed in the background of Whitehead's project as he enthusiastically propels the notion that we must redefine our purpose in the world. It is through music that this mission can be found.

"I try to get people thinking through music about the earth and the environment and there's more that the church can do about the importance of the earth and the emergency of saving it."

He reaches his masses using the sounds of African beats, Irish Celtic jigs, jazz and Middle Eastern sounds. "The music is about exploring different avenues of creativity," Whitehead says. The result of this travelling through musical history and tradition is a folky orchestral composition.

"We use rich and complex harmonies, but not too complicated so they're not inaccessible for the choirs."

Whitehead continues in his journey through music's diversity, searching to reinvent differing sounds by combining traditions and cultures. "Music is always in my head. I have to keep writing, I don't have a choice."

Graphic by Luke Rundle

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998