EnkindlingLoveBefore Wednesday’s rehearsal of Canticle the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati and Craig Hella Johnson brought in a special guest to speak to the musicians and a few friends of the group. VAE invited Gillian Ahlgren to speak to us about St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

Dr. Ahlgren teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where she is Professor of Theology and the newly appointed Director of the Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of Teresa of Avila, having written three books on this great mystic saint. Her newest book, just released, considers the intellectual and spiritual relationship between St. Teresa and the author of the text I set for Canticle, St. John of the Cross.

Ahlgren’s brief talk was scintillating and enlightening, and I realized that I had never seen anything like this before. Pre-concert lectures are often seen (for better or worse) nowadays, yet I’ve never known of an organization that brought in someone to speak to the musicians. It was such a simple and thoughtful gesture on the part of VAE to allow the singers and instrumentalists to enter more fully into the text they were proclaiming. I was deeply impressed.

It’s one of a growing number of things that impresses me about VAE, Craig Hella Johnson, and their staff and board.

Here are the notes for Canticle. Commissioned by the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Craig Hella Johnson, Music Director, it’s for SATB choir, three cellos, and one percussionist playing vibraphone, bass drum, tambourine. It’s about 65 minutes long. The text is A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ by St. John of the Cross (1542–1591). It premieres 30 April 2016, Lakeside Presbyterian Church, Lakeside Park, Kentucky, and 1 May 2016, Old St. Mary’s Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.