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‘Ode to St. Cecilia’: The patron saint of musicians comes to life

J-P Mauro - published on 12/11/17

A new radio drama tells the story of the young saint who has inspired artists over the centuries.

The epic story of the life and martyrdom of Saint Cecilia has been brought to life in a new audio drama, Ode to Saint Cecilia. Produced by the Augustine Institute Radio Theatre, this new series was released on November 22, the feast day of Saint Cecilia.

The work was written and directed by Peabody Award-winner, Paul McCusker, who guided an all star cast (Hayley Atwell, Sir Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Dame Sian Philips, Harry Lloyd, and Jamie Parker) through the 6-part drama. Along with the high-caliber cast, McCusker employs cinema-level sound effects and music to tie the work together.

This is the third audio dramatization of a saint’s life story produced by the Augustine Institute Radio Theatre and written/directed by McCusker. They also produced The Trials of Saint Patrick, an 8-part audio series about the patron saint of Ireland’s holiness and dedication to the people of Eire, and Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi, a 10-part audio drama about the astonishing life of Saint Francis — the fun-loving son of wealth and privilege who gave up everything for the sake of Christ.

McCusker was kind enough to chat a bit with Aleteia about this latest project in his ongoing series, and answer a few questions.

How has your faith been impacted by getting to know these saints?

Coming so close to the saints – to tell their stories dramatically – means I have to get inside their hearts and minds to try to understand them as characters. So all three have made me think about the sacrifices they made when they chose to follow Christ and what it means to say “yes” to Him and really mean it, come what may.

Previously you have covered the lives of St. Patrick and St. Francis. What inspired you to feature St. Cecilia as your latest offering?

After doing two dramas about men, we thought it was time to tell the story of a saintly woman. We considered a variety of options and decided on St. Cecilia because her story was so compelling. She gave us a chance to explore themes about creativity, art and inspiration in a way that others wouldn’t have.

In the promotional video for Ode to Saint Cecilia you mention that this story brings us historical artists who were inspired by the life of this saint, viewing and commenting on her life outside of time. How did you come up with this unusual thematic element?

I was inspired by a couple of different works: Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – in which Scrooge is able to see his life in the past, present and future, from outside of it – and Peter Kreeft’s Between Heaven and Hell, in which C.S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley all meet in a world-between-the worlds on the day they died (which, interestingly, is St. Cecilia’s Day). Bringing Dryden, Handel, Fisk and Maderno into a mysterious “rehearsal hall” seemed like the best way to approach this story and its themes.

Will you continue to tell the tales of saints in this medium? If so do you have any idea which saint you will next illuminate?

We will tell more stories of the saints, I’m sure, but we don’t want all of our audio dramas to be about them alone. There are great works of fiction we also want to dramatize. Right now, I’m working on a handful of ideas as possibilities for the future. (Was that vague enough? I don’t want to give anything away just yet.)

Just for fun, if St. Cecilia were taken out of time and able to view the art and music of today, how do you think she would react?

I suppose it depends on the art and music. The St. Cecilia in our drama would probably reject the gratuitous sensuality of art and music today, or anything that smacked of idolatry. She believed – as Christians have for many centuries – that the purpose of any form of art is to glorify God, bringing praise to Him, either overtly or subtly. She’d probably feel that much of our current art is misdirected, celebrating the worst of our humanity. Or, equally sad, our art is suffering from mediocrity – though it’s well-produced mediocrity.

Follow Cecilia–Aleteia’s music page–on Facebook!

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