ESOC Chorus Darmstadt

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St. Francis in the Americas:

A Caribbean Mass by Glenn McClure

A Caribbean Mass celebrates the marriage of Latin American cultures and the spiritual legacy of the medieval Italian saint, Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Followers of “Il Poverello,” the little poor man from Assisi, have left their mark on this hemisphere with cities named for the saint (San Francisco, Los Angeles) and customs such as the Christmas nativity scenes we see at holiday time.

This concert mass sets several of Francis’ writings into languages and musical styles of the New World. The instrumentation features steel drums (invented in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the mid 20th century) and other percussion instruments from Latin American traditions. Just as Francis said that his cathedral was the whole world, we see that his simple wisdom could not be limited to one language or musical tradition. We hope you enjoy this musical mosaic of the writings of one of the world’s most beloved saints.


This piece weaves the Greek text “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” and a prayer written by Francis of Assisi into the fabric of a Caribbean Samba. Francis wrote this prayer at a pivotal moment of conversion. After he had given up the lavish life of rich young man, he prayed before a crucifix in broken down church that commanded him to go “rebuild my church.” This humble prayer was the beginning of Francis’ life of service, just as the Kyrie marks the humble beginning of our liturgy, a liturgy that calls us to a life of service.


In contrast to more lively settings of the “Gloria” text, this piece creates a melancholy mood with the presence two melodies: Amazing Grace (a British tune entitled “New Britain,” and text written by reformed slaver trader, John Newton) and “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child”(a mournful African-American Spiritual). Even though Old Testament scriptures commented on the tragedy of slavery, Christianity still inspired both the slaves and slave owners of the New World. The “Gloria” explores this painful paradox of our history by placing a melody of a slave trader next to a melody of a slave. This piece resonates with the Book of Job by exploring the mysteries of innocent suffering. Latin American cultures were born out of the conflicts and collaborations of Native populations, Europeans and West Africans, therefore, this piece expresses “Glory to God” within the context of their tragic history.


Unlike the mysterious nature of the “Gloria,” the “Credo” is a powerful, confident statement. The soloist sings over a pulsating salsa rhythm. The complex overlapping drum rhythms are combined with a subtle rhythm pattern sung by the choir. In this way, the choir becomes another rhythm instrument. The overall form, a12 bar blues chord progression, makes an additional reference to the African contributions to Latin American cultures while hand clapping refers back to the contributions of Spanish music culture.


The “Santo” sets another one of Francis of Assisi’s poems in the liturgical context. The music includes references to a traditional Mexican melody and a “comparsa” rhythm. The driving rhythm of this piece is reminiscent of a great deal of Latin American liturgical music. Whereas Northern European liturgical music often emphasizes the solemnity of prayer, Latin American and African liturgical music often emphasizes the lively, dance-like quality of prayer.

Agnus Dei

The “Agnus Dei” or “Lamb of God” is arranged in the style of African singing for choir and percussion. The call and response form is a regular feature of African-American singing. The Kenyan work entitled, Missa Luba inspired the rhythmic style of singing that you find in this movement.

Public performace on friday, the 27th. of september 2019 at 8 pm
Christuskirche, Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Heidelberger Landstraße 155
Thanks for support to the
Hans Erich und Marie Elfriede Dotter-Stiftung