A Prayer for Mankind from my set Songs Without Words is the union of two separate threads in my life.
One: the Vingt regards.
There has always been a special place in my heart for the French school of composers. At the time that I wrote A Prayer for Mankind, I had been heavily listening to Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus and performing select movements. When I listened, I thought of his time in German captivity during the Second World War and of the famous performance he gave at the camp for the other prisoners. When I played, I would lose myself in the timelessness and grand expanses of the music. I was lifted to a great distance from which humanity appeared so small.
Religious or not, Messiaen transports a human to the perspective of God.
Two: the Blues.
Growing up in the South, I was fortunate to hear the blues played often and from the heart. It is an artistic wonder. Conceived in one of humanity’s most painful chapters, the blues became one of our most powerful and uplifting artistic expressions. It grew so far-reaching that it helped father over a century of art, and it remains so potent that any person is vulnerable to be moved by it today.
Whenever I write, the blues sings in my inner ear. When I ponder human existence, it gets louder.
When I wrote A Prayer for Mankind, the lament of the blues met with the spirit of the Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus to create a story on the human condition. This composition incorporates these two ideas by featuring two contrasting “characters” throughout; the piano, with static, unresolving sonorities, represents an otherworldly and timeless presence, while the horns, with loose lines and open improvisations, represent humanity. Towards the end, the music reaches a climax that culminates in a sudden sharp dissonance, which could be interpreted as an apocalyptic event, a merger of the divine and the earthly, or Judgement Day. Afterwards, the piece ends the way it began: at a distance.