A Drop in the Ocean

for mixed choir

A Drop in the Ocean was commissioned by Riga Youth Choir Kamēr. It was premiered at the IV World Choir Games (Xiamen, China) on 24 July 2006 by Riga Youth Choir Kamēr, under Māris Sirmais.

This beautiful piece for mixed choir has clarity and purity of harmonic and melodic writing emphasised by soprano lines floating in what feels like an impossibly high tessitura. The work begins with a soprano voice singing the words of the Prayer for Peace of St Francis of Assisi, over a drone-like recitation of the Holy Scripture. On the words ‘sadness, darkness, doubt, injury, error, discord, dispair, hatred’ all the voices converge in a frenzied, convoluted knot of sounds and harmonies that begins to untangle on the words ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!’ The work ends with a quote from Mother Teresa.

— from notes by Anastasia Belina-Johnson © 2016

Dating from 2006, A Drop in the Ocean commemorates the life Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The piece is the most extended example of Ešenvalds’ use of avant-garde techniques to serve his particular expressive ends: the ‘mystical’ atmosphere of the opening is achieved by a combination of whistling and the sounds of quiet breathing; a mysterious and elusive world is immediately conjured up. The altos murmur a self-communing Pater noster on a monotone, while the sopranos’ plaintive prayer is shadowed by a blurred version of the same melody. Their serenity is contrasted with the male voices’ troubled, whispered rendering of that same prayer, which increases in intensity and venom as an unsynchronized pentatonic texture builds above them, eventually introducing the flattened sixth that will characterize the music that follows. After a brief blaze of light comes a sustained paragraph of saturated, ecstatic, ten-part polyphony. Eventually a solo soprano emerges — there is something of the Evangelical call-and-response tradition in her interaction with the full choir — before a lush cadence winds down into one of Ešenvalds’ ‘eternal’ codas, and we hear the same oscillation of tonic and subdominant chords that ends Passion and Resurrection. In live performance, as the soloist’s repeated entreaties are gradually enveloped by muffled whistling, a semi-translucent cloth is drawn over the heads of the singers; once they are completely covered, and sound has returned to silence, the cloth reveals the face of Mother Teresa.

— from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2011

Read more
Youth choir Kamēr... and Māris Sirmais, conductor
Holy Scriptures, St Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226), Mother Teresa (1910–1997)
Latin, English
In Memory of Mother Teresa (1910–1997)
6 min
Youth choir Kamēr... and conductor Māris Sirmais at the 4th World Choir Games in Xiamen, China on 24 July 2006
979-0-706640-72-3 (MB0500)
Portland State Chamber ChoirA Drop in the Ocean
Kamēr... Youth ChoirO Salutaris
PolyphonyPassion and Resurrection & other choral works
Latvian Radio ChoirSt Luke Passion / Sacred Works
Portland State Chamber ChoirThe Doors of Heaven