pax penetralis (inner peace passing through)

When I was asked to compose a companion piece to the Vaughan-Williams Dona Nobis Pacem, I knew immediately I wanted to present a different angle and view of “peace”. For me, acts of society are acts of the individual writ large. Thus, in my world view, peace in the world starts with the peace inside.

I've often been fortunate enough to have material walk right up to me and introduce itself, and this was certainly the case for pax penetralis. One of the first texts I encountered was the opening couplet by Layman P'ang: when the mind is at peace, / the world too is at peace. In addition to being a fine sentiment, beautifully expressed, it gave me a focus for the piece as a whole, and grounded the other texts. It seemed natural to frame the piece, so the text is heard first at the beginning, sung in unison, and at the end, where it is sung in harmony.

In contemplating the idea of an inner peace, it also struck me that “peace” doesn't always mean “calm”. That inner peace can be joyful, even ecstatic. Although not in the sung text, a quote from Ann Lamott also provided inspiration: “peace is joy at rest, joy is peace on its feet”. This seemed to resonate with the Rumi text, and suggested the dance-like character of the middle section.

So the work unfolds in three large sections: a slow introduction, a more active middle section, and a final section of repose. Three different peaceful views of a world “where everything is music”, as it were.

pax penetralis is dedicated with great affection to Robert Geary and the fine musicians of the San Francisco Choral Society. I have enjoyed many of their performances in the past, and it has been a privilege to work with them in creating a new work.