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This weekend The Crossing choir is premiering “poor hymnal,” a new work of original hymns invented for an imagined religion that does not exist.
Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang devised a set of songs intended to be sung by a congregation whose sole spiritual goal is the aid of others in need.
“I was a stranger. I was the least of us,” sing the members of The Crossing. “You saw me, and you loved me as you love yourself.”
“I’m a fairly religious person. I grew up in a faith. It’s important to me,” said Lang, who is Jewish. “I’ve associated that with being a musician. Sitting in my studio thinking about the things my religion asks of me — to be kind to the poor, to be welcoming to the stranger, to visit the sick — I take them seriously and don’t do them nearly as much as I should.”
Composer David Lang leafs through old hymn books a the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, where The Crossing choir was rehearsing his work, “poor hymnal.” (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Lang admits he has not imagined an entire theology for his fictitious religion, he just wrote the music for it. The hymns repeat lines that evoke charity, compassion, and empathy.
Most religions, if not all, have some component that encourages people to help other people. But Lang said oftentimes that charity is tied up with the ultimate goal: to praise a higher power.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who is more religious than me, but it seems like the kindness that you are showing is a byproduct of something else,” he said. “This piece is trying to say: The reason we are coming together is to remember how important we are to each other, to remember how important it is that we take care of each other.”