A musical drama about the dissolution of the monasteries in England in 1538 is coming to the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
Chilliwack musician Anya McRae and British/Canadian composer Roland Bryce bring Portinari and the Black Monk to the stage on Sept. 6.
McRae describes the history of the dissolution.
“If you were a monk in England during the 1530s, life was changing so fast that you were forced to adapt or suffer persecution, perhaps worse, imprisonment and execution even. King Henry VIII was grabbing exclusive power of his kingdom, taking the control of the Catholic church by force and literally destroying anyone or anything getting in his way. This was the dissolution.
“Benedictine brethren were known as ‘the black monks’ on account of the colour of their habit, however there was also very long established French Cluniac monastery in the town of Lewes, Sussex situated in the Southern East of England. This magnificent ‘Priory of St. Pancras’ met its demise in March, 1538, on the orders of King Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell hired an Italian engineer, one Giovanni Portinari, who arrived at the Priory gates, set up camp with a team of sappers and systematically demolished the entire monastic buildings in three days.”
Fast forward to 2022, when McRae was visiting the ruins of the said Priory and, by chance, met up with Bryce. McRae attended a live performance of the musical drama Portinari and the Black Monk in the St John’s Church, Lewes, less than 100 yards from the historical ruins themselves.
Bryce had composed the work in 2019 and there were performances planned up until the COVID outbreak in 2020.
There was singing, Gregorian chants, 24/7 worship, crafts, agriculture, fishing, medicines, herbs and orchards.
Bryce initially composed a set of plainchant based movements using the liturgy and combining post modern elements.
“Any composer relishes a ready-made concept to sound sculpt,” Bryce said. “And if you listen with imagination, the ruins evoke musical life for the monks in every stone and broken archway. Even the nesting birds seem to be singing plainchant in their own style.”
Bryce and McRae have collaborated and will present the musical drama Portinari and the Black Monk at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. It is about the travel journal of a Benedictine monk who visits Lewes at the very time of the demolition in 1538.
The suite of movements is called ‘Carmina ex Ruinas’ or songs from the ruins.
Folks will be treated to beautiful melodies supported by mystical textures, authentic Gregorian chants and even the sounds of the ancient Priory bell itself.
McRae will perform harp music from the renaissance and Bryce will play solo flute and narrate the drama as the Benedictine monk himself.
Portinari and the Black Monk is at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre in the Rotary Hall Studio Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $35 and available at the box office, online at chilliwackculturalcentre.ca or by calling 604-391-7469.
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About Anya McRae:
Anya McRae is known locally as a timpanist and piano teacher. Playing the harp is a silver lining resulting from two years of the COVID pandemic isolation. Her strong desire of honing the skill has accompanied her through the heartache of grief and isolation. Harp music has become her expressions of farewell to the loved ones and grounding for her own well-being. Emerging as a harpist, post pandemic, and her desires to share this beautiful yet healing sound of the harp.
About Roland Bryce:
Roland Bryce studied music education in the UK and holds performers diplomas from the Royal College and the Royal Academy of music. He is known as an inspiring music teacher, publishing creative and innovative books and teaching materials. His compositions include full stage musicals, collaboration with the illustrator, Raymond Briggs, (When the Wind Blows) and audio recordings of nursery rhymes in the style of Mozart (Amadeus Nursery). More information about the musical drama can be found on his website at rolandbryce.com.