Composer Doug Detrick explores the account of Jonah (from Jonah 1-2 ) as it relates to the great American novel, Moby Dick, with his captivating work for jazz ensemble and narrator.
Artist Curated by
Jonah 1:1–2: 4
1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD , and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD .
4 ¶ But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. 6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou? 9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD , the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land . 10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD , because he had told them.
11 ¶ Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD , and said, We beseech thee, O LORD , we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD , hast done as it pleased thee. 15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD , and made vows.
17 ¶ Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD , and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD .
10 ¶ And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land .
I was reading Moby Dick for the first time in 2013. As a joke, I started “live tweeting” my reading of the book, pretending as if it was one of the mass audience events that people usually treat in this way. My Moby Dick tweets started out snarky. “Ok, fine, I’ll call you Ishmael,” I said. But, as I got further into the book, and I started to realize that I was actually processing this book, understanding the details of the writing and getting to know the characters much better than I’m usually able to, especially for such a long work.
In Chapter Nine, where Ishmael sits in a chapel on Nantucket and hears Melville’s retelling of the Jonah and the Whale story, I found the bringing together of these two stories really caused a profound collision of values. Jonah’s great humility makes Ahab’s hubris look all the more like naked aggression. Its an amazing foreshadowing of what’s to come in the novel.
When I wrote my text, I wanted to bring out the background of both stories, and talk about why they seem to oppose each other so completely using a blend of journalistic techniques and theatrical character development. The narrator walks a fine line between commenting on the story as an investigator, and as a character from the story. The music works almost like another character, sometimes supporting the narrator, sometimes contradicting him, always amplifying the speaker’s wonder at the depth of intersecting meanings in this collision of stories.
I want to offer sincere thanks to Spark and Echo for this opportunity, for their help in producing the premier performance, and for welcoming a non-Christian artist like me to participate in their project; to Ren Jackson for his great work with the text; to the musicians of AnyWhen Ensemble for their continued assistance in executing my diabolic plots; to Keith Biesack of ITGLOWSNYC for donating that amazing wine at the performance; and to Kirk Van der Swaagh of the Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village for offering the use of their wonderful space in Greenwich Village.
Douglas Detrick is a Portland, Oregon-based composer, trumpet player, and arts consultant whose work in these diverse areas is distinguished by its quiet thoughtfulness and its embrace of good ideas from unconventional sources. He was awarded the 2011 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works and Presenting Jazz grants for his work with his chamber-jazz quintet Douglas Detrick’s AnyWhen Ensemble, and the commissioned work “The Bright and Rushing World” was premiered at New York’s Jazz Gallery in 2012 and performed throughout the United States. He is currently the Executive Director of the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, and performs in Oregon as well as touring nationally with AnyWhen Ensemble. As an arts consultant to individual artists and arts organizations, he helps to clarify goals and define strategies for achieving them through fundraising, program design, marketing, WordPress websites, and career coaching.