Challenging Music of Healing and Hope
. . . but Joy Comes in the Morning:
Choral Music by Margaret S. Meier
Albany, NY: Albany Records
Troy 1026, released June, 2008.
Editor’s Note: This music review is part of the six-part discussion of childhood sexual abuse from the Fall, 2008 issue of Christian Feminism Today (formerly EEWC Update), which began with an article about Margaret Meier’s cantata on healing from childhood sexual abuse.
Reviewed by Linda Bieze
EEWC member Margaret Shelton Meier is a gifted composer of contemporary choral and instrumental music. With a Ph.D. in music composition from UCLA, she knows more about counterpoint, harmonization, and orchestration than I can begin to grasp. But Joy Comes in the Morning collects several choral works by Meier, including “A SOCSA Quilt,” from whose last movement the CD takes its title. SOCSA is an acronym Meier devised that stands for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.
In addition to composing the music for these works, Meier wrote the text of what she calls each “quilt square” of “A SOCSA Quilt.” The squares are “bordered” by biblical texts that unite the whole.
This quilt of text and music is not a warm, cozy listening experience, though. It is very challenging music and painful text, richly expressing the anger, despair, and, ultimately, courageous healing and hope of survivors of child sexual abuse.
In some ways, the piece reminds me of composer John Corigliano’s Symphony 1, “Of Rage and Remembrance,” written in memory of the friends he had lost to AIDS. That piece premiered in 1991 and is still performed in concert settings. Meier’s “Quilt” also could be performed in concerts, but the texts are so raw with emotion that I fear the piece will not be heard often. Here, for example, are words sung by the women of the chorus, from Part 1: Horror and Heartache:
We are the beautiful, beautiful young girls.
We are the beautiful young, young girls,
Our senses aroused before their time,
We feel ashamed. We feel abandoned.
Please, be kind to us.
Take care of us, Please! Please! Please. Please.
The instrumentation throughout the piece is superb—brass, percussion, strings all used to emphasize the emotion of the words. Chimes introduce the Scripture texts sung in Part 1, and an ascending melody introduces them in Part 2: Healing and Hope.
It is a blessing that the piece ends with healing and hope, after the horrors that victims of child sexual abuse have experienced and that we listeners have now endured with them.
In community, the survivors are able to find strength, Meier seems to be saying—and the final, majestic chorus uses the words of Psalm 30:5 to express that strength— that “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Other selections on the CD are a setting of the Te Deum (“We Praise Thee, O God”) with brass ensemble that would be very suitable for use in a worship service, and settings of poems by Christina Rossetti (“Lifelong”) and Emily Dickinson (“After Great Pain.”).
A Survivor Shares Her Thoughts on the Cantata
CFT member Susan Campbell, who was profiled on Christian Feminism Today, is a columnist and reporter for the Hartford Courant and author of a new book, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl (Beacon Press, January, 2009).
She is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and has frequently written about her experience and the topic in general. She believes that breaking the silence is crucial if awareness, justice, healing, and survivor empowerment are to occur.
Christian Feminism Today asked Susan what she thought of “But Joy Comes in the Morning.” This was her reply:
“ . .but Joy Comes in the Morning” strikes me as one of the most honest and moving pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I applaud Margaret Shelton Meier in taking this difficult topic and giving it wings. My grandmother used to call this ‘turning bullets into butterflies.’ Meier has done that, masterfully.
“Though some passages may be difficult for survivors to hear—‘We Are the Children Who Hide’ is a tough, tough piece—the story unfolds at ‘Rescue Me’ and moves into victory by ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear.’ Whether you’re a survivor or someone who cares about survivors, this is a beautiful, beautiful piece.”
© 2008 by Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus. Originally published in the Fall (October – December) 2008 issue of Christian Feminism Today, Volume 32, number 3.