What: Cascade Chorale presents “Pura Lux Mass,” by James Knox

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Nativity Lutheran Church, 60850 Brosterhous Road, Bend

Cost: Free

Contact: cascadechorale.org

By all measures, James Knox’s teaching sabbatical last year was a success.

Make that a “massive” success. During his time in Belluno, Italy — a sister city of Bend since 2011 — the professor of music and director of choral studies at Central Oregon Community College found time to complete a new work: “Pura Lux Mass.” It will debut this weekend when Knox leads the 75-voice Cascade Chorale in concert at Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend.

No, Knox will not be delivering a sermon. In the choral music sense, a Mass is a musical setting of liturgical text. For “Pura Lux,” Knox used the classic Latin of the Roman Catholic Mass.

Knox visited Belluno with his wife and kids, where in short order, the athletic and musical family of six became involved in running and music.

Knox said the sabbatical came about because of an existing connection between Bend and Belluno. When he did a singing event to help send-off Bend students who were headed to Belluno, one of the Bend ambassadors asked if he’d ever thought about going to Belluno to see about the music scene there, perhaps take a sabbatical.

In Belluno, he continued his own studies at Vicenza Conservatory, and became involved in helping out at the Antonio Miari Music School there.

“I was working with the choirs, and just kind of building relationships, whether it was individually through voice lessons or just working with various choirs,” Knox said. “It’s a small town, so word kind of spreads quickly. ‘Oh, American people are coming.’”

Though he knows only a small amount of Italian — and not the dialect spoken in that region — he also managed to get involved in singing in a choir that did two performances during his two months there.

“With the people that I interacted with, they spoke English, which helped,” he said.

Somewhere in all of that, he found time to write.

“When I wasn’t working with any students, I would go up to one of the practice rooms, just kind of isolate myself for a few hours and write,” Knox said. Writing wasn’t exactly new to him.

“I’ve written a lot of music. I’ve just never put it out there,” he said, quickly amending the thought. “I’ve featured some of my pieces here and there, as far as living here.”

“Pura Lux” means “Pure Light,” a phrase that he liked the sound of, and which to his ear sounded like the name of a Mass. A number of melodies that had been percolating in his mind since 2015 landed in the piece.

“I’ve always gotten certain melodies stuck in my head, and I always had little melodies about the ‘Kyrie,’ which is the first movement. I thought, ‘Well someday I’d like to set that in a setting of some sort,’” he said.

The “Pura Lux Mass” clocks in at half an hour, a duration that Knox finds pleasing.

“It’s one thing to be a choral composer, but to write an actual substantial work … that lasts 30 minutes, I always thought, ‘I’d like to do that some time.’ I feel like I had enough ideas, and I just kind of put it together, and I think that it works nicely. … Rhythmically, it’s fun to hear.”

Originally, he wanted to compose “Pura Lux Mass” for strings and choir. But he also wanted it to be more accessible.

“It’s not every day that you have choirs that have string orchestra at their disposal,” Knox said. So as a compromise, he’s rewritten it for piano accompaniment, marked with notations where he wants synthesizer tones to add depth. The Bend audience will hear accompaniment from pianist Jonathan Shepherd,

“He has a new, state-of-the-art keyboard. I said, ‘Hey, you’re the perfect guy that could add some of these sounds in there,’” he said.

Shepherd’s synth skills will also come in handy during the “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.” Concertgoers this weekend will hear selections from the Karl Jenkins work.

“That uses trumpets and flutes, and he’ll be doing that all on his keyboard. Just kind of a cool effect,” Knox said.

He believes “Pura Lux Mass” would have come together eventually, but traveling seems to have opened a creative tap.

“When you’re in a different setting, and you’re not bombarded with the daily routines of our busy American life, you get inspired. Creativity just kind of pours out. It’s nice,” he said.

And the tap seems to have remained running.

“Since my sabbatical, I’ve written tons of new pieces,” Knox said. “It’s kind of a new, fun side of being a musician.”

Before visiting Belluno, the Knox family rented a car and visited a few other European countries, including Germany and Estonia, the latter home to the Estonian Song Festival, a major choir festival held outdoors on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

“I met with my good friend … he used to head up the (festival), which has 40,000 singers in it,” Knox said. “They bring in choirs from all around the world, primarily the Baltic states. I just wanted to visit him and see how things are run over there, take in how music is viewed over there, versus here.”

The Estonian Song Festival happens just once every five years, and the Knox family is hoping to add their voices.

“It’s happening this year,” Knox said. “Our plan is to go back and sing in that festival.”

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