‘Gaia’ is the name that ancient Greeks gave to their home, their planet. Composed in 1980, the MISSA GAIA is Paul Winter’s joyous, rhythmic, contemporary EARTH MASS in the world’s largest Gothic Cathedral. Performed by the Paul Winter Consort, and featuring the voices of wolf, whale and loon, a massed choir of hundreds of voices, and gospel singer Theresa Thomason, the Earth Mass/Missa Gaia also includes a dance performance by Forces of Nature, all in celebration of the beauty of the animal kingdom. Some 5,000 people flock to the Cathedral for this event, accompanied by their pets of all kinds and sizes. The service concludes with the Procession of the Animals, a silent parade of creatures great and small down the Nave of the Cathedral.
Following the Procession, the Cathedral hosts an outdoor fair, with many animal, environmental, and other social justice organizations sharing information on their efforts. You can also grab a bite at one of the vegetarian-friendly food trucks, line up on the Pulpit Green to have your creature companions blessed, have your face painted, or enjoy a performance by the Mettawee River Theatre Company.
The MISSA GAIA or EARTH MASS is performed in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the first Sunday in October every year as part of the Cathedral’s Celebration of the Feast of St. Francis. This year the Earth Mass will be performed on 4 October 2015 at 10.30am.
Admission is free; passes are required. Day Of passes will be available on the morning of October 4th, but they go quickly! You can make online pass reservations starting at the beginning of September.
All pets are welcomed, and clergy are ready to bless pets on the Cathedral lawn after the service.
The Creation of the Earth Mass / Missa Gaia
Paul Winter remembers:
“My first visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine was in the spring of 1974, for the funeral of Duke Ellington. The experience of hearing the extraordinary music of this service in the awesome space of the Cathedral was profoundly moving. A succession of renowned jazz soloists, all alumni of the Ellington Orchestra, played and sang great Ellington songs to a congregation of 10,000. This music felt entirely appropriate in the Cathedral. These songs were hymns of our lives.
“As we were leaving, recordings of Ellington came through the sound system, and I can still hear the velvet, liquid tone of Johnny Hodges’ sax soaring way up in the vault of the Cathedral. I had then no clue that several years later I myself would have the opportunity to play in the Cathedral; and the last thing I would have dreamed is that I would be making music for liturgy.
“In 1977 the Consort and I played for the annual conference of the Lindisfarne Association, a gathering of scholars, seekers and artists who were meeting that year in a small church in Lower Manhattan. After the concert, a man introduced himself to me, saying he was James Morton, Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and that he would love to have us play there. I was surprised, and honored, but in my mind I didn’t feel quite ready. With the memory of that first experience still resonating, I felt that for the unique space of the Cathedral, with its seven-second reverberation time, we would have to create a very special music
“I ran into Dean Morton again, two years later at another Lindisfarne conference, this time in Colorado. My vision had expanded, and my confidence; when the Dean asked if the Consort and I would like to be artists-in-residence at the Cathedral, I was thrilled… and I knew we were ready.
“In New York, for my first meeting with Dean Morton, he asked if I wanted to try the acoustics. I took my horn in the empty Cathedral, stood awhile in the reverberating silence, and began to play. The sounds, floated, and hovered, and seemed to glow with a richness I had never before known. It was mesmerizing. The Cathedral seemed a perfect acoustic space for my soprano saxophone. Then the Dean, with characteristic enthusiasm, wanted me to improvise with the Cathedral organist, Paul Halley. As if I weren’t intoxicated enough with the sound of my own horn, that first duet with Paul was overwhelming. He wove gorgeous tapestries of sound on the organ, supporting and surrounding my melodies with harmonies that were both earthly and sublime.
“A series of events were planned,including ‘The Tao of Bach’ with Al Huang, TURTLE ISLANDwith poet Gary Snyder, the premiere of the music from our sea-mammal album, CALLINGS, the first annual ‘Winter Consort Winter Solstice Whole Earth Christmas Celebration’ and ‘Day of the Seal’. From my own experience of sounds in the cathedral, I understood that the purpose of the great cathedrals is to awaken in usa sense of the sacred; and that ‘sacred’ means a sense of connectednesswith the Universe.
“Then a unique idea came from the Dean: he suggested we create 20thCentury music for the Mass.
“The idea of writing a Mass seemed far-flung. I had never even beento a Mass! Trying to imagine what I would want to hear in a truly contemporaryMass, I realised I would want to create a Mass that was both ecumenicaland ecological, one which would embrace all the voices of the Earth. I wantedto feel the Earth-power of percussion in harmony with the serene voicesof the choir, and to share with the congregation that spirit of celebrationwe know with our concert audiences. The title would be EARTHMASS.
“Could a Mass celebrate a vision of the entire Earth as a cathedral?
Dean Morton assured me it could.
Could Mass music be based on themes from whales and wolves?
‘You can write a Mass on anything’, the Dean said.
“I was enlisted; my work was cut out for me. Feeling like a freshmanon the first day of college, I began gathering recordings of the great historicalmasses, from Dufay, Machaut and Palestrina through Bach and Stravisnky,Poulenc, Kodaly and Britten. I learned that the Mass has been the cradleof eastern art music for the last 800 years, and has provided the contextfor some of the greatest music ever written. I was heartened to know thatat the root of many of the elaborate polyphonic masses of the Middle Ageswere simple folk and popular tunes, the most famous being the chanson ‘L’HommeArme’, a drinking song used by Dufay and 20 other composers as the themeof their masses.
“I had no drinking song in mind, but I did have a fine melody froma wolf that fit perfectly with the words ‘Kyrie Eleison’.
“The EARTH MASSevolvedover the next four months. Our friend Mary Schoonmaker suggested the alternativetitle MISSAGAIA, using the Greek name for Mother Earth and acknowledging theGaia hypothesis of scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who propose’that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses,and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single livingentity, capable of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overallneeds and endowed with faculties and power far beyond those of its constituentparts’.
“If the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ is about synergy, then the process of ourcreation of the EARTHMASS/MISSA GAIA is truly a manifestation of Gaia. For what developed was an interweave of creative ideas from all the members of the Consort; and our process was self-balancing, by virtue of the common instincts of our little musical tribe. While no one of us knew all of what was appropriate for the music for this Mass, together we found that we did know.
“EARTH MASS/MISSA GAIA was premiered on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1981, celebrating Mother Earth, with a sermon by David Brower, founder and president of Friends of the Earth. The Mass was recorded that September on two nights in the Cathedral with invited audiences, and on St. Francis Day October 4th, honoring the beginning of the year of the Saint’s 800th birthday. Now we perform the MISSA GAIA each first Sunday in October, at the Cathedral, in a grand celebration that includes the dancers of the Forces of Nature Theater Company, stilt dancers, and a choir of three hundred.
“The EARTH MASS/MISSA GAIA has been for me a journey that hasn’t ended. It has opened doors to places, within and without, I had never known, and it has led me to remarkable meetings with fellow students and teachers”.