This post is an announcement I have dreamed of making for three years. I’ve spent hours at my desk with a score and a pencil, with a vision that seemed so distant, and all of a sudden the notes on the score have voices, and the vision has a venue, a date, and a time. So before we get to that let’s throw it back to the beginning…
Meet César Franck, called by his adoring students “Papa Franck”, hence now posthumously called Papa Franck by me as well. I first encountered Franck in choir when we sang his beautiful setting of Psalm 150 at the end of the choir year, and then I left for grad school, which that summer was one of the terms I spent in Vermont. I couldn’t shake that song from my head, and I used to run through the glorious Vermont mountaintops with the unlikely running playlist of Franck providing a soaring backdrop.
I also discovered the music library at the college and determined to make a side project of reading several composer biographies. Remembering several intriguing anecdotes and stories our conductor had told us in choir, I picked up a Franck biography.
In that biography I discovered that Franck had written an oratorio on the book of Ruth. I’ve always loved that story, and since it’s thematically connected to my novel, I was curious to see what his take on the story was. I found that it is very obscure and is almost never performed. I found the score in the public domain, as well as a recording that a university in France had done some years back. I listened to it along with reading the score in French and absolutely fell in love with the music and the beauty of the French poetry. There is so much richness to the story, the characters, the hope after grieving, and even how the last song connects the book to the rest of the Bible and points to the “Marvelous Descendant” that would spring from the marriage of Ruth and Boaz down the road (Christmas to be precise). I kept thinking that someone should translate this piece, as it might be able to draw a wider English-speaking audience. I’m not sure exactly when or why, but several months after picking up the biography, that thinking shifted from “someone should translate this” to “I should translate this.” So that’s what I did.
It was not an easy process–transforming sung French into sung English feels a bit like the cliché “square peg into a round hole,” pulled by accuracy, poetry, singability, and rhythm. And yet the more I labored over the score, the more deeply I grew to love the piece and its composer–and the more firmly I believed in the need to share it.
A year ago I visited Franck’s grave and the church where he was an organist.
At the time it seemed so distant that this project would ever see a life beyond my desk.
Yet, within a year, I would be sitting across from the theater department head at the school where I teach, when she encouraged me to bring the project to life and offered me the space to make it happen.
In the weeks that followed, an incredible team fell into place as well. We represent a collaboration of musicians from a variety of DC/MD/VA organizations. I have always assumed that I would have to hand it off to someone, or get it published first, but to be able to bring it to life with musician friends from all stages of my life has been a beautiful experience and way better.
I look forward to sharing more about the process and progress in the weeks to come, but in the meantime…save the date for September 15 at 2pm at the Multiz theater, Glenelg Country School. I can’t wait for you to meet this little oratorio. She’s come a long way, and she’s pretty special.