Between France and Finland, an artistic collaboration at the service of the Dominican liturgy

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Between France and Finland, an artistic collaboration at the service of the Dominican liturgy
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In the spring of 2014, my provincial Prior informed me of my assignment in Finland for my diaconal year . After ordination, here I am arriving at the beginning of September in Helsinki, where the Vicariate of Dacia (Vicariate of the province of France in the Nordic countries) has a small establishment: the three of us would spend the year at the "Studium Catholicum" (http://www.studium.fi/english.html), name under which our house is known in this country. Finland is a big country like Germany, where 5.5 million inhabitants live, among which 14 000 Catholics of a single gigantic diocese, distributed on 8 parishes served by around twenty priests: suffice to say it is in some way a country of mission! The country is now Lutheran, with an Orthodox minority, was evangelized by the Order in the thirteenth century, which explains a kindness and natural sympathy for Dominicans in this Nordic region, to the point that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has kept some traits of the former Dominican rite in its liturgy.

In the winter we were contacted by a musicologist and singer who worked on the figure of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Hilkka-Liisa Vuori, member of a research unit of the University of Turku in medieval studies devoted to figures of holiness, hagiography, and relics. They were very interested in the figure of Thomas because of the special destiny of his relics, transposed from Italy to Toulouse. These researchers therefore proposed to carry out a critical edition of the Office of the feast of the transposition of St Thomas’ relics, formerly celebrated on the 28th of January. Ms. Vuori already had many facsimiles and photos of Dominican manuscripts of the whole of Europe, but wanted to be closer to the Dominicans to enter more fully in the liturgical tradition of the Order. At this first meeting, the singer that I am, naturally began to hum the notes, and I was amazed to recognize under certain antiphons in St Thomas, the melody of a "O Lumen", and that of " O spem miram ", well known antiphons in St Dominic and still sung in the Order today. Little by little, I worked with Ms. Vuori on this critical edition for several months, evaluating choices between different variants of the same text by singing with her.

I returned to France after my priestly ordination, the provincial asked me to keep regular contact with Finland, in order not to lose my Finnish, in the learning process from which I invested a lot during my year in Helsinki. In November 2015, during my first passage in Finland, Ms. Vuori announces to me that the KONE foundation (Finnish company that especially manufacture elevators and escalators) has granted their research team a scholarship to record an album from this office of St Thomas. And she adds: "Naturally, you will record it with us! You are Dominican, a singer, brother of St Thomas : you cannot say no!" Like this I met Johanna Korhonen, second member of the duo formed with Hilkka-Liisa under the name of Vox Silentii , which already has a dozen of albums (Ancient Music) to her credit. I was honoured by this proposal, and impressed, a few months later, to find myself in the church of the ancient Monastery of the Brigittines of Naantali, in the south west of the country, in its empty nave except half a dozen microphones, with these two professional singers, to record extracts of the matins of St Thomas Aquinas. Even if I love singing and liturgy, the recording was an arid experience: Repeating until disgust the same piece, 8, 12, or even 15 takes, makes one lose the spontaneity of the song and the joy of the celebration! But what a joy to hear the final result: here an extract of the antiphon "Tumor gule" which narrates a miracle of healing attributed to St Thomas: (see attached file)

 

 

The most beautiful was without doubt, in the spring of 2016, a concert with Hilkka-Liisa and Johanna in the Dominican church of Colmar, in Alsace. In the afternoon before the concert, in the municipal library located in our former convent, we were able to examine the manuscripts on which we worked the year before without ever seeing them. And in the evening, in the adjoining church, under the gallery of saints of the Order appearing in the windows, we were able to sing these pieces before an audience of 300 people, in the same place where our brothers sung for many centuries: in this year of the 800th anniversary of the Order, for me, it was a particularly strong experience. The collaboration with Vox Silentii finally found all its meaning: For Hilkka-Liisa and Johanna, it is not to sing for the pleasure of a rewarding artistic performance. The attitude of Vox Silentii is profoundly spiritual: at the heart of the approach is the conviction that these pieces are before anything prayers, texts for liturgical use, which require from the musician humility and spirit of service. That is why, in the ideal, we do not applaud at the end of their concerts, which are built as a liturgical office, respecting the sequence of Gregorian modes and the progression of the texts of the antiphons and responses.

The CD is finally here. Its production has asked of us a lot of work, particularly for the translations, for my part from Latin and Finnish to French. A few concerts of promotion are planned for this autumn in Finland, and without doubt in the spring of 2017 in Sweden. Autumn 2017 will without doubt see me assigned again in Finland... for new albums with Vox Silentii?

 

fr. Marie-Augustin Laurent-Huyghues-Beaufond op

(For any information on the CD, write to : marie-augustin.LHB@studium.fi)