The Mellon Interdisciplinary Sacred Music Dramas

Visit the other Interdisciplinary Sacred Music Dramas

In 2012 Sacred Music at Notre Dame received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop sacred music dramas, conceived broadly as opportunities to reflect on important issues in culture and society through a dynamic interaction of the humanities and the arts. Sacred music dramas have appeared in many guises throughout history, and include Greek tragedies, medieval plays as well as oratorios and operas. Sacred dramas can now be construed as any collective exercise by which a community can engage in the performance of an action that illuminates values and leads to new insights.

Under the artistic direction of Professor Carmen-Helena Téllez of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, the Interdisciplinary Sacred Music Dramas may be inspired by a preexisting masterpiece from any artistic discipline, a new commission, or by current issues, but they will be characterized by innovative integration of the arts and the humanities, immersive settings or interactivity with the audience.

The first of these projects was a weekend-long festival with an immersive and interactive installation, titled I WAS BORN FOR THIS. Its concept was triggered by the extraordinary masterpiece of silent cinema The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) by  film director C.T. Dreyer, the oratorio Voices of Light (1993-94) by Richard Einhorn, and the article The Cinematic Maid by Daniel Hobbins, Associate Professor of Medieval History at Notre Dame.  In his article, Professor Hobbins analyzes the enduring figure of Joan of Arc, and how film directors have used four pressure points to reveal their opinions of the meaning of her life and legacy. His approach to the analysis of many films about Joan of Arc sympathized with Professor Téllez’s working model for the Mellon interdisciplinary sacred music dramas, in that context of perception may affect meaning, and art can provide new contexts for the understanding of both history and society.  Discussion about the film, the oratorio and the article led to the conceptualization of an installation artwork as an experience of meditation on the impact of Joan of Arc in the world, and of her role as a model for women who have changed history. Further discussions with Professor of Film Studies Don Crafton led to some important decisions by the guest artists in the project about the precise focus of the installation on images and messages derived from the last few scenes of Dreyer’s film.