Published September 30, 2010
The Cathedral Choir of the Cathedral of Christ the King and Camerata Theatre, best known for “The Play of Herod,” will join forces to present “Pilgrim Trail: Miracle Songs from Medieval Spain,” directed by Kevin Culver and staged by Kelly Morris.
Performances on Friday, Oct. 15, and Saturday, Oct. 16, will begin at 8:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 2699 Peachtree Road. Admission is $15. For reservations, call (404) 233-2145, ext. 820.
“Pilgrim Trail,” a theatrical concert, recalls the age of medieval journeys. In medieval times, two major pilgrimage routes wound through Spain, one leading to Santiago de Compostela, the legendary burial site and shrine of St. James the Apostle, and the other to Montserrat in Catalonia, where a Benedictine monastery had been established in the early 11th century, nestled in the spectacularly jagged mountains near Barcelona. The shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat had become a vital cultural center by the 14th century, a repository of art and music, with special connections to Paris and Bologna.
Most of the great monastic library at Montserrat was destroyed by troops of Napoleon, but a manuscript (now known as the Llibre Vermell or “Red Book” for its crimson binding) survived that contained 10 devotional “pilgrim” songs addressed to the Virgin. The manuscript says, “The pilgrims, while holding night vigil, sometimes have the desire to sing and dance, so a number of suitable songs have been written for this need. They should be used in a respectful and moderate manner.”
The music of “Pilgrim Trail” incorporates a variety of voices and sounds from centuries past. An exotic orchestra of viols, recorders, shawms, harp, dulcimer, and large percussion section will accompany the singers.
Culver, choirmaster at the Cathedral, noted, “The music is wonderfully strange and beautiful. There are unusual North African influences found in the music of the Moorish-occupied Iberian Peninsula at this time. … You can also hear traces of Sephardic music as well as distinctive troubadour songs and peasant dance tunes. It’s a cultural stew that makes early Spanish music so distinctive and somewhat un-European. It’s always delightful, often surprising and mesmerizing, and sometimes terrifying.”
The production will also employ lights, slides and giant puppets by Walter Stark (including a 12-foot Virgin and Archangel Gabriel with a 16-foot wingspan) to create a world of dark travels and miraculous arrivals.
Morris said, “The people making these medieval pilgrimages were always close to danger. … Times were hard, so that the prospect of death kept a prayer in your mouth. There was always a hope and longing for intervention and salvation.”
The texts of the songs reflect this intercessory tone.
“A sense of the miraculous informs nearly all of these pieces,” Culver said. “On these rough and perilous journeys the pilgrims knew that the Virgin Mary was always there to protect them, to heal them, to save them. … Virtually all of the tunes are set to texts invoking intercessory tales of the famous Black Virgin of Montserrat.”
He added, “Although most of the pieces have Latin texts, they are not liturgical works. They were developed over the years to comfort, sustain … and even to entertain the pilgrims on their quest. These works give a fascinating glimpse of the rich mix of classes and cultural strands that met in the courtyard at Montserrat, where travelers gathered to pass the night.”