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About Missa Gaia



Excerpts from
The Genesis of Earth Mass/Missa Gaia by Paul Winter

In 1977 the Consort and I played for the annual conference of the Lindisfarne Association, a gathering of scholars, seekers and artists who were meeting that year in a small church in lower Manhattan. After the concert, a man introduced himself to me, saying he was James Morton, Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and that he would love to have the Consort play there.  Two years later I ran into Dean Morton at another Lindisfarne conference, this time in Colorado, when the Dean once again invited us to perform at the Cathedral and I accepted.

In New York for my first meeting with Dean Morton at St. John’s,
he asked if I wanted to try the acoustics. I took my horn into the empty cathedral, stood for a while in the reverberating silence,
and began to play. The sound floated and hovered, and seemed
to grow with a richness I had never known before. 

Then the Dean, with characteristic enthusiasm, asked if I would
like to improvise with the organist. Wanting to be polite, I
hesitatingly said 'yes' but wondered what I might play with a
church organist. The Dean went to a phone, and a few minutes
later a tall, smiling young guy appeared, whom the Dean
introduced as Paul Halley. As Paul made his way up to the organ
loft, I went to stand below in the Great Choir. I have no idea
why, but I began to play a slow ascending arpeggio, one that happened to comprise the first five notes of “I Loves You Porgy.”
Immediately Paul came in with the first chord of that song.
Realizing what I’d started, I continued with the second phrase,
and Paul followed right along with its chords. We went through
the whole song together, and then improvised a free duet
as if we had played together for years. His harmonies were contemporary and gorgeous, and he seemed to anticipate
every melodic move I made. Who was this amazing musical
being – a pipe organist with the instincts of a jazz player? In this milestone encounter, I had not only found one of the greatest improvising organists on the planet, but met a soul brother who would be my musical collaborator for the next 17 years. 

Dean Morton, of course, was thrilled, and anxious to make plans
for our first concert in the Cathedral. Our first event was a
celebration of the Vernal Equinox, on March 20, 1980.
this concert, the Dean invited us to be artists-in-residence at the Cathedral. This meant we could present any events we wanted,
as long as we produced them ourselves. That autumn we
presented “The Tao of Bach,” with Tai-Chi dancer Al Huang;
“Turtle Island,” with poet Gary Snyder; a celebration of
sea-mammals entitled “Callings;” and our first “Winter Solstice
Celebration.” But the most unique idea came from the Dean
himself; he suggested we create 20th Century music for the mass 

In January (1981) the Dean called and asked if I would improvise
with Paul Halley in the next Sunday morning service, during
which one of my Lindisfarne colleagues, Amory Lovins, was to
give a sermon on solar energy. Sitting there that morning in the Cathedral, alongside the choir, experiencing for the first time
the High Mass of the Episcopal Church, I began to imagine
what I would want to hear in a truly contemporary mass.
I envisioned a celebration that was both ecumenical and
ecological, one that would embrace all the voices of the Earth.
I wanted to feel the earth-power of African and Brazilian
percussion as a complement to the serene voices of the choir,
and to share with the congregation that spirit of celebration
we experience with our concert audiences. As I listened to
Amory’s impassioned words on our responsibility to the
environment, the title came to me: Earth Mass.

I wondered, could a mass celebrate the whole Earth as a sacred place? Dean Morton assured me it could. Could the voices of
our animal musician colleagues be interwoven in the music,
and could the music for the mass texts be based on seed-themes from the whale and the wolf? “You could write a mass on
anything,” the Dean said.

Kyrie - by Paul Halley and Paul Winter

The Kyrie -- a prayer for mercy -- contains the only Greek words
left in the Western mass and dates from the early centuries of Christianity. Ours is undoubtedly the first Kyrie co-composed
by a wolf. This female tundra wolf was recorded in Alaska
by my friend Dr. Michael Fox, scientific director of the Humane
Society of the United States. She sings the same four-note howl
seven times, with slight embellishment each time. Hers is for me
a mystical melody. It includes the interval known as the tritone
– three whole steps – which is my favorite, and to me evokes the mystery of the living Earth. The occurrence of the tritone in this
wolf song and our usage of it in the Earth Mass, are ironic. In the aesthetics of earlier centuries in Western culture, the tritone was regarded as the interval of the Devil. It was used by composers
as recently as Wagner and Richard Strauss to express the
diabolical. That we can now use this interval without evoking
that kind of mind-set gives me hope that we are maturing as a species.
 I brought this wolf theme to Paul Halley, along with a
celebrative syncopated rhythm from West Africa, and he
wove these into his powerful choral composition for the Kyrie. 

Sanctus and Benedictus - by Paul Halley, Paul Winter,
and Oscar Castro-Neves

If any animal on Earth symbolizes the Great Mother, it is the
whale. When I began to think about the Sanctus for our mass,
he first thing that came to mind was the song of the whale.
Paul Halley told me the Sanctus should be jubilant, and this is
the way I hear the whales’ song. Any species that has flourished
for 30 million years ought to be jubilant. For years I had been fascinated by a particular humpback whale song on a tape
loaned to me by marine biologist Dr. Roger Payne, who had recorded it with hydrophones from a small sailboat off Bermuda.
I call it the “Song of Seven,” since the whale sings seven times
the same sequence of four phrases.
The lead whale-phrase
seemed a perfect seed-theme for the word “Sanctus,” and
I sang this with the whale recording for several weeks as I
waited for the next clue for this piece.

I found it in a joyous rhythm from the northeast of Brazil,
called baiao, which Oscar Castro-Neves had played on guitar
in our recording of the song 'Common Ground.'  During the
Consort’s spring tour in California, I went to Oscar’s home in
Los Angeles and showed him these elements. Oscar took his
guitar and began playing the baiao pattern along with the
tape of the whale, and immediately came up with two chords
that complement both the high and low whale phrases.

I brought a work tape back to New York and played it for
Paul Halley. From our raw material he was to develop the
choral composition for the Sanctus and also wrote the
Benedictus. We had two weeks until the premiere of the
Earth Mass, and rehearsals and other writing took most of
our time. It was only on the Saturday night before the first performance, after all the rehearsing was finished, that Paul
finally got quiet time to write. He composed the “Sanctus and Benedictus” between midnight and 8 a.m. Sunday morning,
just in time to photocopy the score and give it to all of us
to sight-read during the performance. It is a masterful
composition, and it further affirmed my sense that Paul Halley
is one of the great lyrical composers of our times.

Agnus Dei - by Jim Scott and Paul Winter 

The inspiration for our Agnus Dei came from the words of
Dr. Wilfred T. Grenfell, a medical missionary to Labrador in 1909,
“It has not been easy to convey to the Eskimo mind the
meaning of the Oriental similes of the Bible. Thus the
‘lamb of God’ had to be translated ‘kotik’ or young seal.
This animal, with its perfect whiteness, as it lies in its cradle of ice,
its gentle, helpless nature, and its pathetic innocent eyes,
is probably as apt a substitute, however, as nature offers.”

In our album 'Callings', a celebration of sea animals, the final
song is a ballad for the harp seals, entitled “Seal Eyes.” The sense
of peace in this music, and the image of a seal pup as the
Lamb of God, led me to use “Seal Eyes” as the basis for our
Agnus Dei, over which Jim Scott has written this exquisite choral composition. The voices in the distant background during the introduction and later in the middle of the piece, are harp seals, recorded on the ice near the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Beatitudes - by Jim Scott

In contemplating texts for additional hymns we could include
in the Earth Mass, I first thought of the words of the Beatitudes,
which have always touched me. Jim Scott agreed to tackle this composition challenge, and he came up with a poignant and powerful work in a contemporary gospel style.

The Canticles - by Jim Scott and Paul Winter 

Having decided to dedicate the Earth Mass to St. Francis,
the patron saint of ecology, I thought it would be wonderful if
we could create a piece based on his 'Canticle of Brother Sun.'
I was also intrigued with this line from Job: “Speak to the earth
and it shall teach thee.” Listening with Jim Scott to some tapes
of instrumental pieces he had written, I heard one that spoke
to me, with its hopeful rhythmic energy and long ascending
structure. I began trying out these words of St. Francis and Job.
After making a few adaptations here and there, they fit perfectly.

At the end of the Mass, the priest dismisses the congregation by chanting the words “Let us depart in peace.”  In our liturgical performance of the Earth Mass, we play a reprise of “The
Canticle of Brother Sun” following the dismissal. In the
introduction of this performance of “The Canticle” we play
the recordings of our trilogy of voices from the wild:
Sister Loon, Brother Wolf, and Sister Whale.

The Blue Green Hills of Earth - by Kim Oler,
arranged by Paul Halley

The Earth Mass also gave birth to the new hymn “The Blue
Green Hills of Earth.” One friend from the Lindisfarne Fellowship, astronaut Rusty Schweickart, had been the first man to walk
in space without an umbilical. I heard him give a profoundly
moving description of that experience, and of the nostalgia
he felt, floating in space, when he looked out and saw our
tiny Earth in the distance, and realized that all the joy and
beauty and love that had nourished his life had taken place
on that little blue marble which he could cover with his thumb.
Rusty later told me the story of Rhysling, the blind poet of the
Venus Shuttle in Robert Heinlein’s science fiction classic
'The Green Hills of Earth', who writes a ballad about his
yearning “for one more landing on the globe that gave
us birth.” His last lyric stayed in my memory: “May we rest
our eyes on the fleecy skies and the cool green hills of Earth.”

In the summer of 1981, after Earth Mass was largely complete,
I met a young musician, Kim Oler, who had heard tapes of
our premiere of Earth Mass and was so moved that he had
vowed to write a piece for our recording of the mass. Several
weeks later, he presented a melody which we liked but didn’t
know how to use. Then in early September I saw Rusty in
California, and I asked him to tell me again the story of Rhysling.
I loved the images of the Earth forever turning and the cool
green hills of Earth. On impulse I called Kim and gave him
these words, and told him if he could weave from them a
good lyric we might record his piece. Two weeks later he
brought the song to our recording sessions, and Paul Halley
created a new choral arrangement for it which we have used
ever since.

The name Missa Gaia

Missa Gaia, the companion name for the Earth Mass, was
suggested by a friend, Mary Schoonmaker, using the Latin
“missa,” for mass, with the Greek name for Mother Earth,
“Gaia,” acknowledging at the same time the “Gaia hypothesis”
of scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who propose
“that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales
to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as
constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating
the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed
with faculties and power far beyond its constituent parts.”

If the “Gaia hypothesis” is about synergy, then the process of
our creation of Missa Gaia/Earth Mass is truly a manifestation
of Gaia. For what developed was an interweave of creative
ideas from all the members of the Consort. While no one of
us knew all the threads with which we would weave the
Earth Mass, together we found we did know.

The premiere

Missa Gaia/Earth Mass
was premiered at the Cathedral of
St. John the Divine on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1981, with a
sermon by David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth.