“When Kelly Crandell first asked me to consider writing a piece for Ars Musica, and requested that it somehow embody an Armenian theme, my first thought was not the country of Armenia, or the difficult history of its people. I don’t feel qualified to address those matters in music, as profound as they are. Instead, I thought of my college friend James Najarian.” Ms. Sullivan says that even when they were undergraduates, “he had a distinctive voice as a poet, and has gone on to write poetry of lean strength, using words in unusual combinations that manage to sound utterly right.” The poem “Longed-for Rain,” with its imagery of a parched desert replenished by a storm and the restoration of sight to the blind, recalls the prophet Isaiah as well as Jesus Christ’s healings. She praises Najarian, whom she says “also writes with a mastery of formal structure that recalls the Psalms. All of this made the poem seem like a natural companion to and an appropriate bridge between Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony of Psalms’ and Bruckner’s Mass [No. 2 in E minor].”
For weeks, the soil translated into dust,
Then lint, then ash, and at last
Into smoke. The creek compressed
Itself to an unwilling path of stone.
Its stain lined the valley’s span.
Lamb’s quarter slumped in the lane.
Then, in an afternoon, the sky grew dim,
Trembling with an ancient hum.
In the pool of Siloam
I wiped my useless eyes of grime and spit.
Let the ears unbuckle, and the eyes unbolt.
James Najarian is an Associate Professor at Boston College, where his teaching specialties are Romantic and Victorian Poetry and nonfiction prose. According to the Boston College website, his interests include gender and sexuality in literature, poetic influence, religion in literature, and book production. He is currently working on a study of the idea of the ‘minor poet’ in the nineteenth century. Professor Najarian is also the editor of the journal, Religion and Art.
The text that Ms. Sullivan set as a piece for 4-part chorus, solo quartet, and orchestra recalls the Gospel of John,[9:1-9] which relates how Jesus healed a man blind from birth. Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He then told the man, “Go wash yourself in the Pool of Siloam.” The man went and washed, and returned with his sight restored.
Martha Sullivan explains: “The challenge for the composer and performers of the work is to make a music of dryness and restraint until the waters come, and with them, the release so long awaited.” She also views this project as a wonderful excuse to be in touch with one of her favorite old friends from college, for which she is grateful!