Inspired by imagery of a Holy Tree that overspreads all, The Bristlecone Mass by Carson City resident Robert Leonard Reid will premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in the Performance Hall of the Brewery Arts Center.
The 90-minute work features 23 songs sung by four soloists and the 40-member Sagebrush Chorale, conducted by Laurie Martin. Theatrical elements include the Bristlecone Dancers, choreographed by Norma Conway, and mimes Karen Chandler and Jake Reid. The entire performance features The Telegraph Street Band headed up by Reid at the piano.
The musical numbers range in style, including sacred, blues, Latin, country, gospel and rock.
The piece is a Mass because it incorporates the words that have been part of the Christian Mass for 1,300 years, such as those in the Gloria and Kyria, Reid explained.
"I use exactly those words, but instead of using Gregorian Chant or liturgical music, I use blues (and other contemporary forms)," he said. "Unlike some of the old Masses we're used to from when we were kids, this is really fun. ...
"It's about inclusiveness. We believe everybody's loved. There are some solemn parts of it, but overall there's a sense of joy."
The seeds of the piece took root many years ago while Reid served as musical director at St. Peter's Episcopal Church under the Rev. Jeff Paul. Reid led music in a contemporary service that incorporated such things as jazz, rock and pop, "all kinds of music unknown in the church at that time," he said.
For a service one week, "I sat down and jotted down a song. It worked out well in the service. That was kind of the beginning."
The imagery of the Holy Tree is that of an ancient bristlecone pine imagined to be somewhere in the mountains of eastern Nevada. This central symbol is embodied at center stage in an 8-foot piece of folk art designed and created by wood craftsman John Combs.
Reid first encountered the image of the tree in "Black Elk Speaks," the autobiography of Sioux prophet Black Elk, who tells of "the sacred hoop of all people" and a tree that will "shelter every living thing in happiness."
"It's a wonderful and powerful idea that I've turned to repeatedly in my writing over the years," said Reid, who is the author of three books and dozens of articles and is a photographer as well as musician. "It provides the central theme for the Mass - that of inclusiveness."
At the premiere performances of The Bristlecone Mass, theatergoers will see a Children's Wall representation of Langston Hughes' "Dream Dust," which forms the lyrics for the Mass's "Gather Out of Stardust."
An original watercolor by Pat Frederick-Perona, which forms the official logo, will be on display and offered at a raffle. A hosted wine bar is included in the ticket price. Orders for audio CDs of the performance will be available, and Reid will be available to talk to about the performance.