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Music composition captures the words and deeds of priest


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POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009

Composer Donald Reid Womack used Father Damien's own words, culled from letters he wrote and conversations recorded by others, as themes in his music.

“;I adapted them into movements that tell of the work he did, the sorrow or grief that he found there, and the joy he had in taking care of people,”; Womack said in an interview.

The Damien story “;is certainly tragic, but it is also hopeful,”; said the University of Hawaii music professor who was selected in a competition to write the piece.

A passage titled “;Damien's Sorrow”; is “;an angst-ridden movement, using dissonance to depict grief,”; said the composer. “;It is tragic and tender at the same time; Damien is bringing his kindness to this place that is a horror.”;

Womack used three languages to give different perspectives. “;Damien's voice is in English. In Hawaiian it's the witnesses who are there telling what he did. Latin text from the Mass is the outside observer, not of this earth, a timeless perspective,”; he said.

“;Of course, everyone knows about Damien. I knew the basic story, and when this project came about, I immersed myself in books to learn much more,”; said Womack.

He read “;Holy Man,”; by Gavin Daws, and Robert Louis Stevenson's accounts, and found Damien quotes online in a sermon delivered 20 years ago by a Sacred Hearts priest.

“;What we all think of as a saint is the perfect image, and of course, that's not who he was,”; said Womack. “;He was a very rough person, was a thorn in the side of his superiors. That's how he had to be to get done what he needed to do. He was good at his job because of it.

“;Of course, for most people he is a symbol, one of the great models of kindness in human history.”;

The professor, who teaches music composition and theory, has written more than 60 works for orchestra, individual instruments or voice, including a memorial concerto for the Ehime Maru (a Japanese fishing training boat sunk by a U.S. submarine off Oahu in 2001) combining traditional orchestra and traditional Japanese instruments performed in 2006 by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.

Ross Taosaka, executive director of the Honolulu Symphony Chorus, said the organization “;thought it was timely to do something on Father Damien, and we expect to see it performed throughout the year.”; The effort received a $3,000 grant from the Mayor's Committee on Culture and the Arts to commission the work.