Our world is wounded. All around us we see the cracks: the effects of environmental crisis, mass migrations, global pandemic, political polarization, growing income inequality, the rise of authoritarian regimes, unprecedented social change, and reticence or resignation on the part of many to do anything about any of it. And yet, our world is also a place of wondrous beauty, a beauty that surrounds us if we have eyes to see it. More than ever we need messages of hope
and unity, messages that remind us of what we already know—that the world is beautiful, that people are beautiful, and if we come together, respect one another, bless one another, and open our hearts to be blessed in return—we might heal the despair, and repair the fractures that are threatening our fragile world.
In “TUVAYHUN—Beatitudes for a Wounded World” we seek to address this fragility, and the part we are called to play in healing it. “TUVAYHUN” in Aramaic is the first word in each of the Beatitudes, “Blessed…” In the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus likely spoke this exact word as he pointed out those who were especially blessed in the eyes of God; but his was not a predictable list. He did not say, “Blessed are the big donors” or “Blessed are
the Church leadership” or “Blessed are those who pray the loudest.” Instead, he shocked his listeners by blessing not those who have joy, but those who mourn; not the righteous, but those who are poor in spirit; not the powerful, but the peacemakers, and the meek. He blessed the sinners, the broken, the marginalized.
TUVAYHUN responds to each of Jesus’ blessings as if to say, “Yes, and…” These new texts illustrate how that blessing applies in the real world. It seems as though Jesus’ words two millennia ago still resonate, and the types of people he sought to comfort with his blessings are still in need of that blessing, and the societal shortcomings he drew attention to then are still challenging us today.
The music of TUVAYHUN takes us on a journey through deep emotions and deeply human situations. The music moves in and out, occupying the liminal space between ancient and modern, sacred and profane. We move from semi-liturgical chant to lively folk dance, from rich orchestral layers to stark solos, from the familiar to the exotic, and back again. The music illuminates the many different peoples and experiences the texts evoke, and serves in sonic form as a reminder of the universal and enduring message of the Beatitudes.
One might think that each of the eight verses in the Beatitudes concerns a different group of people: the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful. However, these are not eight different groups of people, but instead are eight moral qualities that all of us can possess. We are all in need of these blessings, and we are all called to act as the agents of blessing.
“TUVAYHUN—Beatitudes for a Wounded World” was born from a desire to shine new light on those whom Jesus blessed so long ago, for they are still with us. The alternating text and music styles evoke the timelessness of this message of hope and the need for blessing. The liturgical context of blessing is present in the solemnity of chimes and gongs, in the chanted Aramaic text, in patterns of repetition. The response movements transport us from the ancient to the
contemporary world. We visit with refugees. We hear a mother’s lullaby. We hear the voice of a child who has died. We pass from a folk dance to an anthem of universal human needs and dignity, interspersed with messages of hope and blessings. The work ends with an exhortation for all of us to let our light shine and be a blessing to others. Our goal was to bring together images and music from different cultures, to encourage us to see ourselves in the other, to reach out our hands in blessing; for by blessing others, we ourselves are blessed. To hear this message sung in the voices of children makes it all the more convicting.
All of us involved in the creation of this work and recording felt that blessing, from the writing and composition process, to the premiere performance, through subsequent performances, and now through the recording process—all of us touched by this work have come away with a renewed sense of awareness of the other, and purposeful spirit moving forward. It is our hope that upon listening, you too can be lifted up, blessed, and inspired to be a blessing to someone
else in need.
Charles Anthony Silvestri
The Manhattan Girls Chorus, and Michelle Oesterle, Artistic Director
World premiere 27 & 28 April 2018 at Angel Orensanz Center, New York City by the Manhattan Girls Chorus, Michelle Oesterle, Artistic Director.
European premiere 31 March 2019 at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway by the Nidaros Cathedral Girl’s Choir, Anita Brevik, Artistic Director.