Timo: “fuck, I wrote another Gloria.”

Composer, performer and theater maker Timo Tembuyser brings his Missa Mama Nova to The Hague. This contemporary mass is a special performance with dance and choral singing about femininity. Tembuyser wants to free ‘the archetypal Mother energy’ from the corset of the patriarchal Christian tradition. We talked to Timo about this special work. Timo: “I thought, fuck, I wrote another Gloria.”

What made you want to write a contemporary mass?
‘I did not grow up Catholic, but I grew up in the Catholic choral tradition. I was a member of the boys’ choir and have always continued to sing in choirs. I think the music is beautiful, but at a certain point I questioned the Latin lyrics, which keep harping on the Lord, the Father, your fault. The Church is the ultimate patriarchy. As I got older I started to think about my position as a young queer, as a ‘sinner’ within that tradition. That is what my graduation performance, Missa Homo Sacer, about sinful man, was about. It was intended as an independent work, but I noticed that I was not finished with the subject yet and so the idea for a trilogy was born of which Missa Mama Nova is the second part. Missa Homo Sacer was a choir concert with a monologue. I noticed that I wanted more with the choir, that I wanted to give it its own voice. The music I compose is very polyphonic and I think that is a nice metaphor. This new performance is also polyphonic in form, with a culturally and musically diverse cast. Each part of the trilogy is an autonomous piece and can be viewed separately.’

You already made an earlier version of this part, called Missa Mater Sola. Can you tell us something about that?
‘That was the first version of this new mass about the mother figure. Much of the material has remained the same in Missa Mama Nova, but what was previously missing was the last part, the real celebration of women. This made Mater Sola rather heavy and a bit static. In any case, this is the most challenging part of the trilogy, a deconstruction of the church or the church’s image of women. In the Catholic tradition, Mary has been stripped of all femininity, they have even made her a virgin, she has been reduced to someone who mourns her son.’

In what way was it tough?
‘I wanted to put the woman, the mother, at the center, but she couldn’t breathe. She is a derivative of the Father. The performers also had difficulty with it, we ran into the material that the church gives us, the texts that we have been repeating for two thousand years. I noticed that conflict myself as well: fuck, I wrote another Gloria, which is ultimately about the Father. Where is the woman now? But two-thirds of the way through the performance, that traditional image of women is shattered. The last part is a collective dance, a ‘sacred rave’. Mass should be a celebration – not of discrimination but of connection.”

What will happen in the final part of the trilogy?
‘I do not know yet! Maybe it will be an installation, or a solo. I would prefer to put the choir from the first mass against the choir from the second, but that is impossible, it will never work. We don’t address it, but as a maker you constantly make choices out of lack. There is no money, there is not enough time. That is also why it is necessary that I do a lot of preparatory work, make sure that the music is ready and the form is fixed, and that everything runs smoothly organizationally. I would really like to work with the performers on a piece for longer and make music together. That desire is in line with Missa Mama Nova, in which my own role as a maker is gradually diminishing. Having your own production house, that is a dream. Maybe that will be my next project.”

Missa Mama Nova by Timo Tembuyser can be seen on May 31 at 8:15 PM in Theater a/h Spui. Info and tickets

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