03.03.24 | Music, Stories

    During the 9 AM worship service on Feb. 18, we were treated to the world premier of new music written by our very own FUMCSD member Steve Mason and section leader Sean Macrae Smith: “Processional”.

    The music, lyrics, and performance were AMAZING. Thank you, Steve and Sean, as well as Brian, Jaebon, and the choir for blessing us with this gift.

    We recently caught up with Sean, who composed the music, and Steve, who wrote the lyrics, to learn more about their inspiration and process:

    What was your inspiration for this piece?

    Steve MasonSteve: My inspiration for the poem was the regeneration given by our church’s online services and music events, while I was recovering from severe injuries in February 2023. On one particular Sunday morning, I was overcome by the solemn beauty of the organ prelude and the processional hymn, with the procession and our sanctuary bathed in brilliant sunlight, the sense of Grace lifting the congregation, and the Cross signifying to me both mortality and Eternity. 

    Sean Macrae SmithSean: The piece arose from the coalescence of three streams of inspiration. When I first heard Steve’s poem, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to set it for the Chancel Choir. Those ten lines––wonderful nuggets of poetry they are––were my first source of inspiration. I thought about how exciting it would be to have those words sung in the very space which they celebrate, which led to my second source of inspiration: particularly in works which celebrated the completion of a new cathedral, Renaissance composers would often integrate the architecture of their cathedral space into their motets or masses. Finally, I was inspired by the time I’ve spent at First Church. I think many people in my general demographic miss out on the churchgoing experience. I think many people in my general demographic miss out on the churchgoing experience. Setting aside a chunk of time each week just to be in a beautiful space, fully present with your own conscience, and in community with your neighbors? So ultimately, I wanted the piece to be, very specifically, a celebration of FUMC San Diego: its architecture, its music, its services, its people, and the way those unique elements combine to inspire hope.

    What was your process?

    Steve: I did not follow a process so much as labor obsessively for a couple of days, wishing to hold the fleeting gift of beauty I had experienced by writing those few words. I summoned the courage to share the little poem on Ash Wednesday.  

    Sean: The geometric ratios present within the cathedral informed the musical ratios governing the piece (all of which was an intended reflection of the divine harmonic ratios which governed all the heavens and Earth). I’m very thankful to Dr. Jim Jackson for providing me with the blueprints for our own sanctuary. With the help of these, I was able to take some of the architectural features of the sanctuary and build them into the composition (the specifics of what I even mean by this are left as an exercise to the reader).

    Is this your first original piece, or have you worked on other music?

    Steve: Having the poem set to music was a first for me, and I am enormously grateful to Sean, who did the greater act of composing. The creation of music is a wondrous and heroic act, a miracle I cannot comprehend. 

    Sean: I’ve been arranging and composing music since high school. This was, however, my first time writing for organ (thank you to Dr. Jaebon Hwang for her invaluable feedback)!

    How long have you been involved in music at First Church?

    Steve: Cheryl and I have been involved in the Chancel Choir since about the time we married in 1989, though my participation was limited the years our children were young and while my job and commute to Camp Pendleton were very demanding. After all these years I remain a questionable amateur chorister, surrounded by excellence! I urge anyone interested to give it a try. 

    Sean: I’ve been the Bass Section leader at First Church for a little over a year.

    Is there anything else you’d like to share with the church community?

    Steve: My year of recovery coincided with our church’s Year of Discernment. I have pledged to follow our Clergy and Music Ministries into the Digital Age, to help grow our congregation and community presence, and to preserve our beautiful sanctuary and its magnificent instrument. 


    Thank you, Steve and Sean, for sharing your gifts with us! We’re so very blessed to have you in our church community.