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Pentecost in Grand Rapids

from Tuesday, May29th of the year2007.

Happy Pentecost, everybody. giotto_pentecost.jpg Pentecost is a really exciting moment in the year because it is all about language. Liturgically, what’s going on is a mirror to the Tower of Babel: a moment of linguistic comprehension through confusion, a bright flash. In the Hebrew Bible, all of the people on earth speaking the same language is an affront to God; in the New Testament, foreign (in the corporeal sense) languages become a temporary point of connection between strangers.

One of my all-time favorite Pentecost motets is Thomas Tallis’s Loquebantur Variis Linguis. I’m including a recording here, as well as a link to a piece I wrote (called So to Speak ) that uses the same theme.

[audio:02 Loquebantur variis linguis.mp3]
Thomas Tallis’s Loquebantur Variis Linguis
The Cambridge Singers / Rutter
Buy the whole album here

Nico Muhly So to Speak
The Juilliard Orchestra / Milarsky

picture-4.pngThe thing that excites me so much about this Tallis are these little licks at the end of the phrases; when done right, you really get the effect of flaming tongues. I tried to get at the same grammatical hysteria in So to Speak. I once rode on a plane to Grand Rapids, MI, next to a girl about my age who was just getting back from missionary work in Nigeria, where she claimed to have engaged in True Spiritual Warfare (her emphases), and also claimed to have spoken in tongues, at that time. What was touching and beautiful about her story wasn’t the fact that it was totally crazy but was instead that she articulated that her glossolalia was her profound and only connection to other people of faith (who were missionaries from places where English is not spoken). I will add here that in addition to the gift of tongues, she got some pretty awesome braids.

I’m in the process of overcoming my fear of Icelandic declensions, which is to say, I’m too scared to actually converse, because I’m scared that I am going to decline something wrong and will have a Missed Connection, very much against the spirit of Pentecost! picture-6.pngI have an Icelandic grammar that is really unencouraging (see telling nugget at right) and seems sometimes to work against the grain of the way the language is actually spoken; maybe I’m just sensitive.