With Mystic Mourning, composer Michael Schelle creates a world within which each person can measure soft memories and gain release from shards of harsh remorse. Beginning as musicians each distinctly heard as if in reply to the loud clanging of bells, by work's end the instruments are in unison and, with the softened bells, are resonating in melody with the solo vocalist.
Inspired by a prayer Ashley Shapiro wrote for her mother, Lillian Bass, Mystic Mourning captures what Shapiro refers to as the "unpretty" realities of her mother's physical condition leading to the stroke and to her ultimate release from the unseeing, unhearing state into which her body and mind had traveled.
The jarring and repeated keening of the bells embodies for the listener a closing in, caged, weighted down, confusion. The dissonance of violin, bass clarinet, contrabass, piano wildly insert themselves between the gongs, with chanting emanating from people in the audience speaking about their mothers whose deaths occurred within the past decade.
Gradually, with the violin leading the way to calmness, the tempo and timbre become expansive, and we are soaring into spaces beyond human ken, soul freeing itself into lightness. We must smile in memory of soft caresses at bedtime, salves for bloody knees, encouragement to dare, do, become.
"Somewhere, there's a place where childhood dreams come true,/... where love lasts, and no one has to age... /has to say 'I'm through'" wrote Shapiro, and those are the words voiced as the bells meld into the glissando of the clarinet, into the shimmer of violin, heart of the bass, tink of piano - stillness that moves effortlessly into ever after.
Mystic Mourning, which Schelle terms "A Meditation," enjoyed its world premiere as part of a program musically exploring the concept "Death and Transfiguration." Featured players were Larry Shapiro, violin; Catherine Bringerud, piano; Jon Crabiel, percussion; David Murray, bass; Jay Young, bass clarinet; Juliette Nehring, voice; Stanley DeRusha, conductor.