Photo by Mary Canale.

Music in the Heart of Manhattan

Chris reflects on his experience conducting the choir during the Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge.

I stood in front of the New York Communion and Liberation choir in City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan on Good Friday, as I have for the last twenty-plus years. Lifting my arms, I began conducting "Demma’d Maran," an Assyrian piece that the choir sang in an Aramaic dialect called Syriac. In my search for new choral music for the Way of the Cross, YouTube had revealed this work, a hymn arranged by a Middle Eastern American musician, Sam, in Los Angeles. A quick search gave me his email address, and within 48 hours he answered my request with the musical score.

Leading the CL choir at the Way of the Cross encompasses so many things that I love: continually finding pieces of unknown beauty in the mysterious emotional world of music, accompanying (mostly) musical neophytes in their participation in that beautiful realm, seeing in the choristers’ eyes the meaning behind those lyrics, those notes, seeing in the two thousand faces of our Way of the Cross participants--Filipinos, Haitians, African Americans, Hispanics, and others who know nothing of Communion and Liberation other than the Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge--that Péguy, Giussani, Pope Francis, Miguel Mañara, De Victoria, spirituals, and 20th century American composers do matter. I get to see the twenty five percent non-CL choir members show up weekly to practice with us. There’s the woman who has sung the lead in La Traviata; the 30-something soprano who I’ve known since she was a nine year old in my children’s choir; the tenor from India who while traveling for his consulting job, learns the parts on his own.

On the evening of Good Friday, I received a text: a professor at Princeton unknown to me heard "Demma’d Maran" being sung and “it seemed a sign of God’s affection for [him].” He studies Aramaic and his passion is Syriac.

I sent a picture of the booklet page with "Demma’d Maran" to Sam in Los Angeles, a page that contained both his name (as arranger) and the beautiful and exotic Syriac alphabet characters. I also sent him a video of us singing the piece in Manhattan; in the background was a sightseeing bus passing by and a Halal food truck serving people twenty yards away. I told Sam that our performance was a humble one, as we didn’t have much time to learn it well. He wrote back: “Chris, are you even serious? This is amazing to say the least!!! Wonderful vocals and great job with the pronunciation!”

Add Sam and the Princeton professor to my list.

Chris, Brooklyn, USA