The Elephant in the Dark is a piece about religious (in)tolerance. Originally, this piece was loosely commissioned as a prelude/companion piece to the Bach B Minor Mass. I originally settled on composing a modern-day “introit,” similar in utility to Medieval chants that served a similar purpose: to play the role of harbinger for what is to come in the Mass. The central figure of any Mass is Jesus Christ, and there is a great deal of prophesy in the Old Testament that begs the reader to not be afraid. As I sketched, I read texts from other religions and had a number of conversations with friends about their worldviews on society’s current level of fear and how it relates to their religion.
The name of the piece is taken from a traditional eastern story as told by the Sufi mystic, Rumi. In the parable, several men are tasked with identifying an animal by jutting their hands into a darkened room to feel, rather than seeing the animal as a whole. Each identifies a piece of the elephant accurately from their perspective, but all fail to recognize the whole. The moral of the story is that all perspectives have significance and are an important part in recognizing the whole. The elephant symbolizes God in the story, and each person their own worldview and perhaps religion. My piece utilizes religious writings similar to the how the parts of the elephant are used in the story.
The whole work is framed by a poem by my friend, John Grimmett, called “Sonnet for Insanity.” It engages with how difficult an argument with another person can be; pride sometimes wins out and we fail to see the underlying truth in one another’s perspective. Interspersed before and after first stanza are two brief mélanges of three religious texts. The first set are admonitions about listening to God, release of fear, and the tolerance of other religions from the Qur’an, Bible, and Bhagavad Gita, respectively. The second set of texts are set like an argument between the three soloists. Each soloist plays the role of spokesperson for a culture, singing texts from different religions in the original language and the choir serves to unify the underlying message, singing all the text to the Grimmet poem. The final quote of the piece is culled from a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves to summate the work.