“Come home; you are my beloved. Come home; you are mine.”
The lyrical bookends of an original composition by Antonio Centenera frame the message of God’s unconditional love delivered in the Trinity High School junior’s piece, “PRODIGAL.”
Unveiled to the public last month during the school’s spring concert, “PRODIGAL” was written by Centenera specifically for Trinity’s 40-member choir. It’s the first choral piece the 17-year-old has composed, although he’s written smaller pieces and songs since taking up the piano at age four.
“In middle school, I wrote a piece for our band, but it wasn’t as complex or sophisticated as it is now,” said Centenera, who is a graduate of St. Patrick School in Carlisle. “This year, I started taking composition more formally and I’ve written pieces mostly for instruments and piano.”
“PRODIGAL” is a poignant lyrical blend of Centenera’s original lyrics and Latin prayers and poems against the emotional juxtapositions of celebratory and muted tones he plays on the piano.
The piece is not a retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son; instead, it’s an expression of “going away from something and then coming back to it,” Centenera said.
“The idea was to show the dichotomy of my relationship with my faith,” he explained. “There’s the personal side of peace and feeling like you’re called to something greater than yourself, and that you’re called to a relationship with God. There’s also the middle part with Latin poetry, the Act of Contrition, a love poem, and all these other parts of the faith which are doctrine, prayers. It reminds me of my time at Trinity – Theology classes, Masses and prayer services that are really helpful to your faith but sometimes can seem like an overwhelming amount of information that is still completely important to the faith but it’s just a different texture than the interior relationship that you have.”
Centenera wrote the “Come home” lyrics and chords last year after spending some time in quiet reflection.
“It was supposed to be a mimicking of what I imagined angels to sound like. I just kind of heard those chords…. That was the thing I was trying to get across to people who hear it, because the words ‘Come home’ are calling you out of yourself,” he said.
At the encouragement of Caroline Jarret, the Chair of Trinity’s music department, Centenera presented “PRODIGAL” to the school choir. Teaching the piece to his classmates and guiding them through the nuances of the words and notes was an invigorating experience, he said.
“Something I’ve come to understand more about composition as a process is, it’s like writing a recipe for a huge group of cooks. You’ve never met the cooks before and you don’t know what the recipe is going to taste like. You know a little bit because you’ve tasted the individual ingredients, but you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” he explained. “In teaching the choir and showing them all the ins and outs of what I wanted, they were so patient and did such a good job.”
“To actually hear a group of people sing it and collaborating with Mrs. Jarret as the conductor to give it more nuance was really invigorating. It really did bring the piece to life in a way that I couldn’t have imagined,” he said.
One of Centenera’s biggest musical influences is French composter Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), whose pieces are distinguished by the imbuement of his Catholic faith and rhythmically complex music.
“He created these chords that really described God and the faith in general in a really mystical sense. They’re not entirely graspable by our senses, so obviously they’re not always the easiest to listen to, but when you do, you find a real natural beauty to them, even if it’s not understandable at first,” Centenera said.
As for his own musical path, Centenera aims to continue his study of music in college, although he’s not exactly sure what form it might take.
For now, he is reveling in bringing “PRODIGAL” to life, and the positive message it shares.
“Self-acceptance is a really important theme in what I’ve written, because people need to know that they are loved and that they’re always being called home,” he said.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness