Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Virgin Megascore

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Virgin Megascore

Article excerpt

Transfixed by tales of Virgin Mary sightings, a gay composer turns a journey to Bosnia into a chorus of hope

Last year Roger Bourland, a 46-year-old gay music composer and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found himself climbing a craggy hill in former Yugoslavia to experience the divine firsthand. Nearly 20 years earlier, six children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary hovering above them on that very hilltop in the tiny village of Medjugorje. Mary, the children said in 1981, asked them to pray for peace. Ten years later, of course, the region--now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina--would be ravaged by war and "ethnic cleansing."

But when Bourland got to the top of what's now called Apparition Hill, not far from war-tom Dubrovnik, all he could see were the rolling green hills of the Fantasia-like landscape. He felt peaceful and serene. "It was just like I had taken a spiritual sauna," he recalls. "I sweat out all the negativity and bad karma."

Moved as he was, it should be noted that the bookish, low-key Bourland is not Catholic. Best known as a composer commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses to create cantatas like "Flashpoint/Stonewall," he and William MacDuff, a librettist and a UCLA theater professor, had tagged along with a group of bona fide pilgrims to research their newest collaboration, Rosarium. "We wanted to write a piece celebrating some aspect of divinity that is not orthodox or dogmatic," Bourland says. "With the Virgin Mary we could celebrate the feminine side of religion and also talk to people of all faiths about love, tolerance, goodness, and courage."

Bourland and MacDuff's two-act choral drama tells the tale of two Virgin Mary apparitions and the skepticism the visionaries encounter. The mass of humanity onstage--there were 188 in the chorus and 56 in the orchestra at the June premiere performance at UCLA--first sing the fabled story of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 16th century Mexico and then explore the modern-day apparitions in Medjugorje, where those now-grown children say they continue to converse with Mary.

Bourland isn't alone in his fascination with Mary. Theologians and the media have noticed a veritable explosion of interest in the Blessed Mother, even among non-Christians who seem to simply find warmth in what a recent Los Angeles Times article deemed "an increasingly popular symbol of peace." A National Public Radio segment about Virgin Mary sightings has rung up more transcript requests than any this year, while the Illinois-published Medjugorje Magazine boasts 25,000 sighting--minded readers. …

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