Agnus Dei

soprano and fixed media with text sound

Tookah Sapper, soprano.

There never seems to be an end to the cycle of mass shootings in the United States. I can still remember watching the news come out of Colorado about the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. I couldn’t believe that something like that could happen at a school. The nation seemed completely stunned by this attack. I remember going into a bookstore a year later and finding a full display of materials related to the shooting and the victims. Today, however, mass shootings have become so frequent that it seems that we have become numb to their occurrence, and we don’t even know the victims’ names. I wanted to create a piece that would honor victims and their memory, while also shaking the listener from this collective numbness. I originally set out to write an electro-acoustic piece tracing mass shootings from Columbine to the present. Sadly, by the time I finished editing together news clips from the past twelve months, I realized there was already too much to cover in a single work.

This piece takes its form from the Agnus Dei prayer of the Mass. The first two lines contain the same text: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.” (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.) The final line begins the same way, but has a different ending: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” (grant us peace.) I wanted to emphasize that there are no places in America safe from these shootings. Schools, places of worship, and workplaces have all become frequent locations. I wrote the vocal line as though the soprano, herself, could be praying the Agnus Dei during such an attack. Sadly, she is unable to finish her prayer, as the final word “pacem” (peace) is interrupted by gunfire.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.