As a senior at Vassar College in 1981, John Delorey traveled to New York City and visited the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the first time. While there, he heard the Paul Winter Consort rehearsing a series of pieces for a concert that would eventually become known around the world as Missa Gaia, or Earth Mass.
Delorey, director of choral music at WPI, returned following year to catch the group in concert. “During this performance,” he says, “I recognized the choir director of the chorus [Johnson Flucker] as someone I had sung with as a boy in the Berkshire Boys Choir — formerly of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He asked me if I wanted to come and sing the following year. I did, and subsequently, brought down a community chorus, which we did for several years, until my appointment at WPI.”
This year marks the 30th annual performance of Missa Gaia at the cathedral. Members of WPI choruses have participated in the event for more than a decade. In 2014, 60 undergraduates and 40 alums will take part in Missa Gaia. In 2014, it became official “alum” event.
Missa Gaia made its premiere on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1981. The Mass was recorded that September in the cathedral on St. Francis Day, October 4, in honor of the Saint’s 800th birthday. It is now performed on the first Sunday in October at the St. John’s in a grand celebration bringing together a collection of choirs, a dance group, and the Paul Winter Consort. The service concludes with the Procession of the Animals, a silent parade of creatures great and small.
Who: The Paul Winter Consort, WPI Festival Chorus, WPI alumni, Alden Voices and Men’s Glee Club
What: Performance of Missa Gaia as part of the 31st Annual Feast of St. Francis and Blessing of the Animals
Where: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., NYC
When: Sunday, Oct. 5, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Call: 212-316-7540 / email@example.com
Missa Gaia was composed by Paul Haley and Paul Winter. “Each chorus has to rehearse the Missa Gaia music well before coming,” Winter says. “The WPI chorus is invited back each year because they are wonderful singers. They always bring the spirit of enthusiasm which is integral to this celebration.
“You may or may not know that the Consort has a special relationship with the WPI chorus, as they sang with us on our Grammy-winning album Miho: Journey to the Mountain three years ago. They are featured on the track titled, ‘Remembering.’”
The first trip to New York for WPI students and alum to perform the work was right after 9-11. “It was quite a dramatic time in the city,” Delorey says. “I went down with 50 students and they all were galvanized by the heightened emotion of the city. We have gone back every year since, this being the 14th anniversary for the students, and my 25th performance with the Consort.”
Winter subsequently honored the WPI Festival Chorus by asking them to perform on the aforementioned CD, Journey Home. Delorey says the genesis of the piece is based on an old tradition in the world of church masses. “Paul took recordings of animals — wolf, whales, loons, seals — and used them as the melodic motive for each movement of the Mass. The wolf call becomes the melodic theme for the Kyrie, whales for the Sanctus, etc.”
When asked what it has been like working with one of the composer of the piece, Delorey says, “Paul has been very supportive of the singers at WPI. He is a dream to work with. We join forces with about four hundred other singers, and we have become the backbone of the performance as we are one of the few groups that are able to be there every year. We are also joined by three dance companies who do liturgical dance during the performance — a real treat for my engineers who do not regularly see such things.”