Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Visual and Performing Arts
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Music Performance | Performance Studies
On September 8, 1971, Mass by Leonard Bernstein premiered at the inauguration performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C. Subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers,” Mass possess examples of several different types of music, making the piece very eclectic in nature. It is a huge work which requires close to 200 performers who are well-versed in several musical genres.
Bernstein composed Mass using the form of the Roman Catholic Mass celebration, as many composers have done in the past. Bernstein was a bit more daring, however, and instead of composing music suitable for a church service, he composed music for a performance of what actually does through the minds of the congregation during the Mass. Mass explicitly depicts the crisis of faith that every person experiences at some point in their lives. As a result, there are moments of intense drama, sometimes vulgar and offensive in character, which serves as the theme of this Capstone Project.
Many Roman Catholics thought Mass was full of blasphemy due to its use of an eclectic assortment of musical genres. I have made it my mission to explore the role of eclecticism, and how and why it contributed to the perceived sacrilege of Mass. In order to do so, I present the views of one imagined Catholic lay-person who took offense to the work as well as one Roman Catholic priest who thought it was deeply effective. I also discussed social influences in the 1970’s and how they may have contributed to the negative reactions.
Bernstein’s Mass was not performed for nearly three decades after its first tour in 1971. The reactions to these more contemporary performances were much more positive than the 1971 performances. In my project, I also examined the reasoning for this change of attitude by considering social changes. I then looked into how societal norms inspired different performance practices. I investigated the differences in performance elements between the 1971 and 2008 performances in the context of changing societies.
In my discovery of how performance practices and societal norms are interrelated, I performed a recital of religious song. On the program, I featured the signature song, “A Simple Song,” from Bernstein’s Mass. The song is sung by the Celebrant and serves as a sort of “call to worship.” It was written using folk element of popular music from the 1970’s.
In the end, I made conclusions expressing that not only does society have an effect on performance practices, but performance practices have an effect on society. The exchange is ongoing and it is something performers must always consider when preparing to present their art to an audience.
Note: With the permission of the Honors Program, I am exempt from writing a Reflective Essay.
Hubbard, Theresa, "Crossing Borders in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass" (2009). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 417.
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