It’s so funny how things come back to bite you in the derriere – NOT! Every year for Palm Sunday the Music Director of my former congregation, in cooperation with the choir and one of the soloist would sing a piece that I disliked, ALOT. The piece, The Holy City by Stephen Adams and Richard Crooks was loved by many congregants and even requested! In addition to the palms waving in the air The Holy City was a staple at our Palm Sunday services.
To me it sounded schmaltzy, calliope-ish, and old fashioned. When it began I no longer saw the soloist in his fine red choir robe but standing there with a handlebar mustache and red stripped vest belting out or maybe even bleating the refrain “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing, Hosanna through the ages, Hosanna to your King.” When the piece began I would look at my colleague and very discreetly roll my eyes up into my head.
Well, I got bit tonight here in that Holy City, Jerusalem. It was, as usual, a stunning evening in Jerusalem. The heat of the day dissipated and the cool breeze set in. A few stars popped out in the evening sky as we sat in the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem. The history of the Tomb goes back to 45 CE when the Queen of Mesopotamia fell in love with Jerusalem and decided that it was here she wanted to bury her son. The tombs were cut into the rock and included a cave with a decorated façade. We sat surrounded by the high walls of the tombs which served as a memorial structure used for ceremonies. And it is here that the Palestine Youth Orchestra gave a beautiful concert as part of the Jerusalem Festival 08.
The Palestine Youth Orchestra brings together Palestinian musicians from around the world comprised of 50 young people residing in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, the USA and Europe. This was the first year in their five year history that they were able to perform in their homeland due to restrictions on entry. The first half of the program included excerpts from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet Suite No 2 and 3. Everyone got fired up when they began to play Sabre Dance from the Suite.
The second half of the program featured Palestinian orchestral music celebrating Jerusalem. The three female vocalists were of opera caliber. Their voices blended so beautifully with the orchestra that I got chills. All of the pieces were sung in Arabic except for one song. You guessed it, The Holy City.
OK, it got to me. I admit it. I guess sometimes you’ve just ‘got to be there’ to understand. I have a whole new appreciation for this song because I can see and understand and picture in my mind’s eye the gates rising and the people singing Hosanna to our King. You can listen to an excerpt if you aren’t familiar with the piece. It still sounds like it needs a calliope accompaniment but not so much now anymore. Now I understand the power of the words and the grand, imposing sound of the notes.
Excuse me now while I go to bandage a festering wound.