Program Notes

Several years ago, while browsing through a used book store, I came across a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls by family friend and noted authority on the Scrolls, Dr. Géza Vermes: a man I'd not seen in decades but with whom I still occasionally traded Christmas cards.  After browsing through the book for a bit, I purchased it and soon asked Dr. Vermes permission to set his translations to music.  Like many vocal works, this idea percolated for many years before the opportunity to write for it arrived: an invitation by Chris Eubanks to write a new work for the Yavapai Choral Union.  The result is Fragments, a setting of eight texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls for choir and 2 percussionists, lasting about 15 minutes long.

The first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by shepherds in Israel near the Dead Sea in 1946.  It took decades of analysis and politicking for the scrolls to be reconstructed, translated, and shared with the rest of the world.  Yet, we are still left with holes in the texts, as evidenced by the fragmented translations, where texts start and end mid-sentence, or words and phrases are filled in with guesses or are left blank.

The prevalent theory is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes or another Jewish sect residing at Qumran.  The theory hypothesizes that the people of the settlement hid them in nearby caves during the Jewish Revolt against the Romans, somewhere between 66 and 68 CE.  The settlement was destroyed during the revolt, and the scrolls were never retrieved.

Roughly a quarter of the Dead Sea Scrolls are texts found in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament.  The remaining texts cover a wide variety of subjects, including hymns, poems, calendars, rules, liturgies, prayers, apocalyptic works, and parables.  As a lay reader of all 600 pages of the translations, I found the texts to range from exceedingly dull to utterly fascinating to humbly inspiring.  It is a privilege to have the opportunity to peer into the lives of millennia past and witness the struggles, questioning and thankfulness that both resonate and contrast with what we experience today.

The eight texts I selected to set in Fragments focus on elements of questioning, awe, thankfulness, and humility: elements that I believe are common to just about any universal truth we seek, whether it be a truth that seeks to explain or a truth that seeks to develop right-relationships.

- Henry Flurry, 2013

© Henry Flurry 2013