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The A to Z of Music and Spirit: a user's guide

A quasi music/theatre work for choir and chamber ensemble

Year 2005/2015

Duration: 90 minutes

The A to Z of Music and Spirit: a user's guide was originally titled The A to Z of Spiritual Music: a user's guide. It was commissioned in 2005 by the Seymour Group (later named 'The Sonic Arts Ensemble', Sydney) and produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as an online website project. The website version no longer exists (see here for example). Subsequent iterations are:

 

1) Meditations on Music and Spirit  (consists of the original ABC recordings)

2) a  quasi music/theatre work involving choir and chamber ensemble.

The choral/music theatre version was premiered in 2015 at St Ignatius Church, Toowong, Brisbane by Vocal Manoeuvres directed by Alison Rogers.

Original program from the 2015 production by Vocal Manoeuvres

The A to Z … is a collection of sounds, images, memories and definitions. While not exhaustive, its encyclopedic approach lists phenomena, concepts underpinning the western spiritual ethos and techniques used by composers and musicians to evoke this ethos.

 

The A to Z… does not deify music. Adopting a hermeneutic approach, it catalogues musical devices and various states associated with meaningfulness and transcendence.  It does not refer to “values” which are more aligned to morality or institutional approaches to spirituality. It treats the spiritual as one’s engagement with life.

 

The ‘spiritual’ in western music is somewhat slippery to define yet, however, it lies at the bottom of many expectations of music. Music is able to address indescribable concepts of soul and spirituality. Concepts such as the sublime and heavenly are easily transferred into sonic structures without the use of words. This translation is done via music and phenomenology: music embodies the meaning and our experience of various spiritual concepts.  An important part of this transfer is the common acceptance of certain sounds in having a symbolic meaning. For example, the use of a pulse to refer to action as can be heard in chase scenes in film. This is the domain of music semiology: the attribution of cultural meanings to various sonic gestures and shapes.

Alison Rogers conducting Vocal Manoeuvres, St Ignatius Church, Toowong. 2015

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