Ellen Oak

artistic excellence | intellectual acuity | spiritual imagination | cultural courage

Earth and Sky: The Psalms of Ascent

These layered settings create a multi-dimensional expression of the journey of the soul with Gregorian chant, dramatic reading of original poetry based on Psalms 120-134, and varied instrumental improvisation. This group of psalms is known as the Pilgrimage Songs. Pilgrimage has a long history in Christian tradition, both as a physical trek to sacred shrines, and as a spiritual journey to the Divine within. Jews came from all over Israel and abroad, especially for the three great annual festivals, to celebrate their faith in the physical center of their spiritual world: the Temple in Jerusalem. Tradition holds that there were fifteen steps leading to the Great Gate of the Temple. Pilgrims would ascend through the city to these final fifteen steps and climb slowly, pausing on each one to sing a psalm, then, finally, their journey complete, their minds cleared, their hearts purified, their souls opened, enter the Temple to worship. These are the songs they sang.

The songs are true to the remarkable range of raw, everyday human experience, where emotions run through confusion, hope, loneliness, sorrow, intimate trust, anger, generosity, fear, joy, anxiety, jealousy, and loving self-surrender. At the same time, in the midst of all the intensity and change, they call the singer and listening again and again to contemplative awareness of the Divine center, the Beginning and the End, the One who is steadfast and faithful. Perhaps you will hear echoes of your own life—your memories, your struggles, your victories, your dreams, and your faith—in these ancient songs, and join your own voice to the journey.