Composer Nicholas Fairbank, who graduated high school in 1974, believes he was one of the last B.C. students to take a Grade 12 provincial exam in Latin. He has also sung in church choirs all his life, so he said he had a good sense of the rhythm of the language.
Fairbank, who is also artistic director of Via Choralis and the director of music at First Unitarian Church, has put this skill to use recently when composing the music for a new secular “vespers,” based on the ancient monastic rite sung each evening in monasteries and convents. The piece, called “Vesperae pro Serveto,” will debut on Sun. Nov. 26 at 2:30 p.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sidney, with a second performance on Sun., Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church. It will be performed by Via Choralis and the Chalice Choir of the First Unitarian Church of Victoria, which have a combined number of about 75. They will be accompanied by an eight-piece musical ensemble.
The text is all new, and written by Rev. Frances Dearman, a Unitarian minister. Dearman’s text is based on the titles and themes of ancient texts, but is almost all original and inclusive of many faiths, which is part of the Unitarian belief. It is named for Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian who was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1553 and whose writings were formative for the Unitarian-Universalist church. Fairbank said his seven-movement work, which runs about 30 minutes, is “a calm, quiet affair,” which is meant to evoke a contemplative mood.
“Most of them are describing nature and what people would normally do in the evening — take the dog up for a walk in the hills, look at the sky, feed the children, put them to bed, but then there are scenes of nature as well and descriptions of the stars,” said Fairbank.
Fairbank acknowledged that Victoria is chock full of choral concerts this time of year, with Handel’s Messiah as one traditional example, but he’s hoping that people will attend this one “because it’s new and different.”
“The text is really central to the whole work, which is really what inspires the music,” said Fairbank.
Fairbank said that all the melodies and harmonies are also original, save for one theme in the first movement where he incorporated a melody from the Greek Orthodox liturgy, Phos Hilaron, which is translated as O Gladsome Light.
“People who think about other traditions this time of year, might think of the Winter Solstice. There is certainly some connection in the text to that, the shortest day of the year, the darkness and the cold. All of which I suppose have been incorporated into our Christmas traditions, sacred and secular all mixed together.”
Tickets are $18 at the door and $15 in advance. $5 student tickets are available at the door. Children under 12 are free. Advance tickets are available at Tanner’s Books, from choir members, and online at brownpapertickets.com/event/3098094