In a collaborative project between the arts and humanities divisions, Hope College professors produced an original piece of choral music for Vespers — and it’s hitting the road for a spring tour.

It began when Eric Reyes, director of choral activities at Hope, invited Dr. Ben Krause to compose an original piece for Hope’s 2021 Vespers service. (Both Reyes and Krause are assistant professors of music at the college.)

“At some point, we talked about contacting somebody from our own English department to collaborate with us to create an original text,” Krause said. They pitched the idea to Dr. Pablo Peschiera, a poet and associate professor of English at Hope.

“Pablo jumped on board, and we were really thrilled. We thought it would be a perfect combination,” Krause said. “Pablo had a few weeks to write the text, and that would give me a few weeks to finish the music in time for Eric to rehearse it with the choir. It was a very compressed timeline.”

“Because of Eric, Ben and I could collaborate in ways that we hadn’t done before,” Peschiera said. “It was a gift that Eric’s approach to creativity allowed us to do this work.”

The idea was for Krause and Peschiera to collaborate on a motet, which is a form of sacred music that consists of a passage of scripture set to a polyphonic choral composition. “People often use psalms, and there was a psalm I really like, so I used that as the basis for lyrics,” Peschiera said. “It’s not the psalm precisely, but I pulled elements of the imagery from Psalm 89.”

In English, verse 18 references the shield of the Lord:

“Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord.”

But the Spanish translation is slightly different:

“Tú, Señor, eres nuestro escudo.”

In English, this translates as, “You, Lord, are our shield.”

“I read it in a Spanish-English version, and the Spanish just spoke to me more. The English seemed clunkier” Peschiera said. “Rhythmically the Spanish version was more pleasant and the words were a little tighter, so it was easy for me to use.”

Most of the text for their collaborative piece is in English but this line, Tú, Señor, eres nuestro escudo, became the refrain.

“There were several images in that psalm that I thought were very affecting: natural images of wind and waves, the idea that God is our shield against the uncontrollable forces of nature. Metaphorically (and literally), God is our shield against what is uncontrollable,” explained Peschiera.

Here’s Peschiera’s text:

I will sing of your great love forever,
— in the forever of your fields of snow —
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
sing in the wind of the cold night,
and in winter’s sparkling glow.

Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo

I will sing Señor on the surging sea
when all the waves mount up you still them.
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
When you, Señor, spread your hand above
the white washes calm, overwhelmed.

Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo

In a vision you spoke to your people,
You bestowed on us a warrior’s strength.
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
Your love will sustain and strengthen us
and our power grows from your blessings.

Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo
Tú Señor eres nuestro escudo

“Pablo very quickly wrote the text, and as soon as I saw it I knew it would be really good to set to music,” Krause said. “Pablo wrote it with such a musical ear and an imagination for how the words could be sung. He definitely wrote a really singable, lyrical text, with a regular refrain throughout and it’s clearly organized.”

One natural question is how the text, which was commissioned for Vespers, fit with the rest of the Christmas program of a worship service featuring sacred music suitable for the season. Krause thought that, while the piece didn’t directly reference the Nativity, it certainly fit.

“A cool thing about what Pablo did is that there are references to the snow, there’s references to the wind, the cold night, so there’s winter imagery in it, and I thought that was a really beautiful way to connect a psalm to the season we’re in,” Ben said. “One of the sounds of the piece to me feels very wintry, like a cold wind blowing outside Dimnent Chapel or a snowy landscape feel — it’s hard to put into words, except that I felt like it captured that.”

Here’s a recording from the 2021 Vespers performance:

(Tú Se​ñ​or Eres Nuestro Escudo was not part of the 2022 Vespers program, but it will feature in the 2023 Chapel Choir tour from March 16–24. Be a part of shaping this experience for students!)

Both Krause and Peschiera attended Vespers performances, and they spoke highly of the final production:

“We were all really, really pleased with how it turned out. It’s beautiful,” Peschiera said. “I was pleased with the lyrics. Ben turned it into this gorgeous song — his skills as a musician and a composer really made it beautiful.”

“Eric and the choir did such a wonderful job on it, but it was also great having it be part of the bigger worship service and an important Hope College tradition,” Krause said. “It was hugely moving to me to contribute to that.”

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