“Scenes From the Mountain” by Zachary Cheng ’21 (Performed by the DeMatha Wind Ensemble)


“Scenes From the Mountain.” Composed by Zachary Cheng (DeMatha, ’21)

Performed by the DeMatha Wind Ensemble, April 2021.

Contributed by Homer L. Twigg IV,  Dept. of Theology, DeMatha Catholic High School, Maryland

Scenes From the Mountain, a score for Purgatorio by Zachary Cheng (2020)

Scenes From the Mountain is a musical score for Purgatorio by Zachary Cheng (DeMatha Catholic High School ’21).

Of his composition, Cheng writes: “This small movement, which is only around six-and-a-half minutes long, was incredibly difficult to complete despite its length. I returned to it many times over quarantine though I could not seem to find any musical ideas that would stick with me. That changed for the better when I returned to the work in late August and decided to shift my approach. Instead of specifically cataloguing the tale of Dante, I decided to use music to describe the general environment of the Mountain of Purgatory. This ended up giving me more musical freedom. I also shifted the orchestration from a traditional orchestra towards something I am much more familiar with, that being the wind ensemble. The specific movement here encapsulates the base of the mountain (Canto I) up to just before the Valley of Princes (Canto VII).”

The score, with Cheng’s interlinear notes, are available to view here. Listen to it on Soundcloud.

Many thanks to Zachary Cheng and his teacher, Mr. Homer Twigg of the Department of Theology at DeMatha Catholic High School, for permission to share the composition.

Dan Christian, All My Life’s A Circle… A Harry Chapin and Dante Alighieri Anthology (2006)

“Taking ideas and putting them into action is a specialty of Baltimore, Maryland, English teacher Dan Christian. In his quarter century of teaching at The Gilman School, Christian has successfully merged his two passions, the music of Harry Chapin and the teaching of Dante’s poem the Divine Comedy. The result is a thought-provoking and insightful spiral-bound book of student essays called All My Life’s A Circle…A Harry Chapin & Dante Alighieri Anthology.

Until this year, Christian’s in-class efforts had been informal, with references to Harry being made as ideas arose while teaching. Recalling a concept that emerged from a 1990 seminar for teachers of Dante’s work, this year Christian formally put ‘celestial cross-pollination’–the intersection of art and literature–into place. Christian notes, ‘I asked my students to answer the question: Why and in what ways could a character in Dante’s poem have benefited from or been enriched by listening to this particular song?'”    –Linda McCarty, Circle!, Summer 2006

Dan Christian was the 2017 winner of the Durling Prize of the Dante Society of America, which recognizes exceptional accomplishments by North American secondary school teachers who offer courses or units on Dante’s life and works. Read more about Dan’s teaching philosophy on his website https://danteiseverywhere.com/.

Adam Zgol’s Purgatorio Score

Dante’s Purgatorio Through Music” showcases a piano composition by Adam Zgol (DeMatha High School ’21, Hyattsville, MD), created as an assignment for DeMatha ethics and theology instructor Homer Twigg’s unit on Purgatorio. The composition was presented at the Academic Symposium at Catholic University (Washington, D.C.) in Spring 2020.

The whole composition is available to listen to on Soundcloud.

We thank Adam Zgol and Homer Twigg for their permission to share these files.

Mountain of Purgatory in Minecraft

In 2019, Juniors Jack Batton and Connor Smith of DeMatha High School (Hyattsville, MD) designed a playable Minecraft version of the Mountain of Purgatory as their final project for DeMatha theology instructor Homer Twigg’s unit on the Purgatorio. The mountain is organized by terrace, each labeled with corresponding cantos. The terraces depict figures of the penitents engaged in their purgations; pictured at left is the wall of fire on the terrace of Lust. The project was presented at the Academic Symposium at Catholic University in Spring 2019, and a video walkthrough of the world is accessible on YouTube (last accessed April 24, 2020).

In early 2020, Jonas Long, Chris Allen, Thomas Mesafint, Gray Griffin, Seth Barnes (DeMatha HS) took the original concept developed by Batton and Smith and greatly expanded on it in terms of size, detail and complexity. They also have made their map publicly accessible for other teachers and students of Dante to explore and contribute to in the future. Screenshots (right; below) are of the server, and instructions to access the server can be found here (last accessed April 24, 2020).

We thank the designers and Homer Twigg for their permission to share the documents.

“Michael Hersch’s ‘a breath upwards’ Receives Baltimore Premiere”

“Scored for soprano, horn, clarinet, and viola, ‘a breath upwards’ has a sung text drawn from Dante — mostly Purgatorio, with some Inferno at the end — and another, un-sung text drawn from Ezra Pound’s Cantos. The fragmentary Pound lines are meant to be contemplated during four instrumental interludes in the 12-movement cycle.

[. . .]

This score, Hersch wrote in a program note printed in Thursday’s program, was his effort ‘to get away from illness, fear and loss,’ that he turned to parts of Dante’s epic poem about purgatory and hell might not seem the most logical way of going about this attitude shift, but it’s a perfectly natural choice for the deep-thinking Hersch.

[. . .]

The most extraordinary and moving passage was the final song, when the dark mood lifted just enough, leading to a long, beautiful melodic arc for the singer in the final line: ‘And then we emerged to see the stars again.’ The sudden cut-off at the end of that line — like the way a falling star evaporates in an instant — was a master stroke.”    –Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, April 24, 2015

Dante’s pizza products

Baltimore, Maryland

Contributed by Liam Malouf