The Crossing to Perform ‘Poor Hymnal’

By Francisco Salazar

The Crossing is set to present David Lang’s “Poor Hymnal” on Dec. 15 and 17, 2023.

The concerts will be performed at Iron Gate Theatre at Penn Live Arts and The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

The piece, which was co-commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting, Jill and Loren Bough, and Peggy and Mark Curchack, is a concert-length a cappella piece that poses the question, “Are the hymns we’re singing today truly reflective of a society that feels a responsibility to care for and support one another?”

Lang noted, “I am a big fan of hymn books. I have a small collection of old hymnals that I have picked up over the years—used and thumbed over and smudged by the generations of people who had turned their pages. What I love about hymnals is that they are a catalog of things a community of worshippers can agree on, a catalog that can be sung. And what the worshippers are singing about matters. The texts represent the beliefs and values that the worshippers all share, so hymnals have the power to highlight the hymns that make a particular community feel and act differently from all the others. Many religions—mine included—profess that an important part of their belief is to care about how people who are comfortable should act towards people who are not. How we were strangers in a strange land, the least among us, the camel going through the eye of the needle, etc. Of course, it is hard for us to remind ourselves to keep caring, and it would be so much easier to forget. With this in mind, I wondered if the hymns of a community that did not want to forget our responsibilities to each other, and that wanted to make our responsibilities to each other the central tenet of our coming together, might be different from the hymns that we are singing now. I wrote poor hymnal to find out.”

The new work marks the ninth piece composed specifically for The Crossing.