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  • Writer's pictureMarkdavin Obenza

Pater peccavi

It's been just over a year since we were on the analog stage. Nothing like a pandemic to remind us how important those moments are, when an audience gives over their precious attention to artists who are then tasked with creating meaningful slivers in time. I, along with every other performer, treasure these moments and will never take them for granted, no matter who I'm performing for or for how many. But my biggest takeaway from the pandemic is a renewed sense of duty. After all our needs are met and desires fulfilled, what else is there to live for? It's the sound of human voices singing a chord, dancers organizing time and space, and an array of colors connecting with humanity in a way that money cannot buy (well unless you commission something lol).

Here I am in my element sharing the stage with Byrd Ensemble singers Ruth C Schauble, Jenny Spence, Margaret Obenza, Sarra Sharif Doyle, Josh Haberman, Orrin Doyle, Michael Bennett, Kevin Wyatt-Stone, Ari Nieh, Clayton Moser doing everything we can to make it sound good. Looking forward to sharing the stage with you all again. And for the rest of you artists, hang tight. There is still more work to do.

*** About the music

More often than not, many Renaissance lovers prefer 8-part Renaissance polyphony in multi-choir, usually double. It's more flashy. The Pater peccavi here is unlike that kind of motet and written in essentially strict counterpoint. It's underrated, in my opinion, how beautiful this writing is. The ebb and flow is unrelenting, making any deviation from it all the more obvious. The texture created by the individual lines makes the music sound more transparent for me. As if I'm looking through a waterfall, wondering what's on the other side.

We know little about Flemish Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505–1557). He was born in the Low Countries, became a priest and a member of the chapel of Emperor Charles V as either a singer or chapel master, and died in 1557, likely in a plague outbreak in Béthune. "Pater peccavi," a motet about the story of the Prodigal Son scored for eight voices, epitomizes the Flemish style that considered uninterrupted counterpoint (especially eight-part counterpoint) to be the highest art. The style valued subtle and intimate expression over antiphonal or polychoral music that was meant to impress by sheer size and volume.


Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son: make me like one of your hired men.

How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will arise and go to my father and say to him: “Make me like one of your hired men.”

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