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For many, the beautifully moving Spiritual "Were You There?" consoles those who have known oppression and injustice by inviting them to identify with Jesus’ suffering upon the cross. For others, the Spiritual asks all to consider whether there is any difference between us and members of the crowd from 2000 years ago who watched Jesus die. This chorale composition, which was inspired by "Were You There?", attempts to reconcile both understandings by juxtaposing the biblical last seven utterances of Jesus from the cross with the words and musical material of the Spiritual.
Musically, this setting of "The Last Words of Jesus on the Cross" builds seven meditations upon the crucifixion out of the motivic, harmonic and formal material from the original Spiritual. While that musical material is present in every phrase of this composition, the result is more than an arrangement of "Were You There". Indeed, a full statement of the Spiritual’s actual melody does not appear until the final movement. Rather, through techniques such as interval and formal expansion, contraction and inversion, the elements of the original are recast in various ways to create each of the work’s seven contemplations. Hopefully, the result is a vivid motet for Passiontide which invites the choir and audience to participate in the pain and promise of the crucifixion as well as in the dignity and transcendence of Jesus during his final hours among us.
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