The December 2020 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “An American Mass: Celebrating Our Shared Music In An Ancient Form” by Carlton E. Kilpatrick III. You can read it in its entirety online at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction
The Mass is a treasured form in the Western canon of music and liturgy. A celebration of the sacrifice offered for the forgiveness of sins in the early Christian faith, it is still part of the worship in modern Catholic denomination.
Settings of these ancient texts have been continuously performed both in liturgy and in concert for hundreds of years. From plainchant settings by anonymous monks to the high drama of majestic settings by Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, the Mass text continues to provide inspiration for composers.
Mass settings appear less frequently among the non-idiomatic compositions of Black composers. Marques Garrett’s online resource of “Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers”1 identifies fifteen, only a few of which utilize the forces of mixed choir and orchestra. When the search is stretched to idiomatic music, defined here as gospel, spirituals, jazz, hip-hop, and rap (among others), more examples exist, including the well-known Gospel Mass composed in 1978 by Robert Ray.
In that same year, André Thomas, a first-year doctoral student at the University of Illinoi–Champaign–Urbana, performed as a pianist and singer in the premiere performances of Robert Ray’s newly composed Gospel Mass.2 Some forty years later, Thomas would find himself surrounded by signs that he should pursue a Mass project of his own. The resulting work blends both the idiomatic and non-idiomatic aspects of Thomas’s compositional oeuvre, resulting in a work that is in his unique voice—an American voice.
Mass: A Celebration of Love and Joy is written in a Missa Brevis format with a complete Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei in English translation.
1 Marques L.A. Garrett, “Beyond Elijah Rock: The Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers,” accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.mlagmusic.com/research/beyond-elijah-rock.
2 Details about Thomas’s life and the writing of the Mass come from an interview with the author conducted in July 2020. Details about the Negro spiritual can be found in André J. Thomas, Way Over in Beulah Lan’: Understanding and Performing the Negro Spiritual (Dayton, OH: Heritage Music Press, 2007).