We were in Knoxville all of last week to see our daughter Elena perform both in an opera (the role of Countess in Marriage of Figaro) and in her graduate recital. The recital had three sets, the third of which was a song cycle by Jake Heggie titled The Deepest Desire: Four Meditations on Love.
The composition came out of Heggie’s work on the opera Dead Man Walking, and the time he spent with Sister Helen Prejean while working on the opera. Heggie was deeply inspired by Sr. Helen’s faith and energy and wanted to explore that musically. When he asked her about her sense of spirituality, she talked about shedding things she found unnecessary and looking into the deepest core of her being to find her purpose, the “deepest desire of [her] heart.” Heggie the asked her to write some some thoughts on the subject, in response to which she sent him six meditations. Heggie arranged and modified them, paring them down to four meditations, forming the text for the song cycle Elena sang in her recital.
The whole cycle is beautiful – both music and words. The third speaks most directly to Sr. Helen’s movement from school teacher to advocate for those on death row. The words invite us to explore our own deepest desire.
I thought I knew my heart’s desire:
To love God, To be with God in heaven
A bud unfolding, a dutiful prayerful nun.
I pleased God, I thought by being obedient
It made me feel holy.
But hetting to heaven takes a long time.
And dwelling far below was a voice calling:
“Lose yourself! Lose yourself upon the deeper
Then, I heard cries from the heart of the city: “Is there
life before death?” I saw. I heard. I followed.
I made my way to prison cells.
I made my way to death chambers.
I saw. I heard. I followed; I witnessed.
A desire for justice woke in me.
A fierce desire that will not let go.
The deepest desire.
The deepest desire of my heart.
Elena fell in love with this music when she heard Joyce DiDonato sing it. You can listen to the DiDonato recording here.
On an unrelated note: Thank you to the folks who have privately messaged me to check in that all was OK given that it has been several weeks since I have posted here. I am grateful for the concern, but no worry. It has just been an extraordinarily crazy month for a variety of reasons.