Composer Patrick Murray (seated) and Greg Rainville, founder and artistic director of the Canadian Men’s Chorus, collaborate on the premiere performance of Murray’s first sacred music composition, “Book of Lamentations.” Photo by Allison Hunwicks

22-year-old Patrick Murray bringing new life to sacred music

By  Allison Hunwicks, The Catholic Register
  • May 12, 2012

TORONTO - At first glance, Patrick Murray is pretty much the antithesis of a choral music composer. The lanky, plaid-wearing fellow with a quick laugh and easy smile has been making a name for himself with his impressive compositions, most recently for his work “Book of Lamentations,” a choral composition based on a 10th-century Christian text that will be premiered by the prestigious Canadian Men’s Chorus. And he’s just 22 years old.

“It is extremely structured, extremely singable and the structural complexity of it is extremely interesting and very advanced, I think, for someone who is 22 years old,” said Greg Rainville, founder and artistic director of the Canadian Men’s Chorus.

The partnership of Rainville and Murray came out of the CMC’s mandate to premiere a Canadian composer at each of its concerts.

“I’d heard a lot of good things about Patrick from colleagues of mine, and I had yet to work with him myself so he was on my list of people to contact. We happened to get in touch for this concert and I quickly realized that he had some amazing ideas for this work,” said Rainville.

The composition itself is based upon an ancient text by St. Gregory of Narek which Murray was initially drawn to because it hadn’t been adapted as often as many of the Mass settings and liturgical works that are the stock and trade of sacred choral music.

“What really drew me to the ‘Book of Lamentations’ is the way that it seemed to combine this intense humanism that you don’t often find in texts from that era,” said Murray

“You can see right through to the soul of St. Gregory and I was immediately struck by that. It inspired some sounds right away so I knew that I wanted to set it.”

The composition has been well received by the performers as well.

“The choir loves the work. The first time we pulled it out and worked our way through it, and when we got to the end all the guys were like, ‘that’s a great piece of music.’ The first time through you don’t pay as much attention to the text because you’re trying to see the notes, no offence,” laughs Rainville to Murray, whose dynamic suggests an intrinsic musical understanding.

“How he brings the text to life in this work is absolutely brilliant.”

Murray, who just graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in conducting and composition, has garnered early acclaim for his work. Drawing inspiration from such contrapuntal masters as Healey Willan, Murray hopes to immerse himself further in the sacred music genre.

“Sacred work is the foundation of choral music in the West. So, absolutely I would like to explore writing more pieces like this.”

Murray employs a writing style that places a great emphasis on the text in conjunction with the melodic line, and, as noted by Rainville, poses a clarity of melodic structure that explores the depth of vocal range without becoming unnecessarily difficult.

“With this work, there were a few lines of text that almost right away I sat down at the piano and had an idea come out. Those provided some anchor points throughout the work for key ideas that I knew I had to work towards,” said Murray. “Then, it was a matter of building and exploring what those ideas can do and how they can link together to form an arch through the whole piece.”

This composition will feature in the Canadian Men’s Chorus presentation of “Out of the Depths: An Exploration of Sacred Music,” May 13, which will have Murray’s work being performed alongside some of the pinnacles of sacred music composition such as Tallis and Willan.

“It’s exciting to see new life brought into old texts. As classical musicians we tend to spend a lot of time doing some of the ‘old greats,’ which are fantastic and wonderful and I love doing them. But, they can get stale,” said Rainville.

“One of the great things about working with new composers is that they constantly not only find new texts, but reinvent the old ones.”

Murray hopes to continue on in a graduate program for composing and conducting in the United States, and is working on several compositions for other choirs. Despite the elusive nature of a career as a composer, Murray remains optimistic.

“You have to just keep doing it. Eventually, it will become professional,” said Murray.

In the meantime, audiences can anticipate his work with the Canadian Men’s Choir, something Rainville feels will have a certain impact on how we view sacred music going forward.

“The new interpretations of it are what keeps it exciting and fresh and applicable to today, and that’s what I like to see, and that’s what I really think (Murray) brings into this piece and this concert,” said Rainville. “I think he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

See www.canadianmenschorus.ca/concerts/upcoming.

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