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O Antiphon of the Day: Reflections on “O Clavis”

JJ Wright - published on 12/20/16

Listen and pray along with the ancient sacred text

The following is part of an 8-day series, bringing to life the texts of the O Antiphons with the music of JJ Wright and a few words from Wright about the composition of the piece in relation to the the meaning of the sacred text:

Read more about the O Antiphons and JJ Wright’s interpretation of them in the album O Emmanuel.

“O Clavis” from the album O Emmanuel


Part of this Advent journey is connecting with our deepest fears. Our fears contain a key to understanding the deepest desires for our lives. While I was writingO Emmanuel, I kept a journal – every time I sat down to compose and couldn’t think of anything, I wrote in the journal instead. These were usually the times I was feeling depressed, uninspired, and doubtful about my abilities, and the vision I have for my life.

My personal tendency is to look at my work with an intense criticism. In one of these moments, I wrote: “Every time I look back on a movement, I’m paralyzed with fear: what was I thinking? There is nothing of value here, I can’t do anything with this material”. Sometimes when I compose, I feel a deep despair related to my work not being good enough – I desperately search for answers, but I’m not convinced that I actually want them. I lose the sense of being happy where I am and become focused only on where I wish I could be.

This is all part of the journey – my fears tell me what I am afraid to overcome. In a sense, my fears reveal where I am most stagnant, most resistant to change, and most unwilling to listen to Gabriel’s hopeful voice describing everything my life could be. ‘O Clavis’ and ‘O Oriens’ give us an opportunity to face our fears head on and find the light of Hope through the process.

The first half of ‘Clavis’ paints a dark picture of a life overcome with fear. The adult singers are prisoners – in their intense fear they stutter through every word they try to sing. This uncomfortable sensation is meant to connect us with our own places of fear and anxiety. This is not often something we intentionally seek to experience in our lives, but right now, I want to encourage you to lean into the discomfort and anxiety present in the music. Let this music connect you with that place of fear so that you can identify and name it.

Latin text:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israël,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit,
claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English text:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

To learn more about the music and purchase the album visit Read and listen to the rest of the O Antiphons series at Cecilia Music.

JJ Wright for Cecilia Music

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