Ubi Caritas: Ola Gjeilo, Di Marco, and community in a choral ensemble.

Ola Gjeilo´s magic in creating music straight out of a film score is incredible. I remember when I first started to dabble in composition, my friends told me that the scores I write reminds them of film score. It wasn’t until grad school that I learned who Ola was, had the pleasure of emailing him (and Morten Lauridsen) for some of my classes.

His mastery in weaving seemingly familiar tunes, and rich harmonies are evident. If you ever hear his Sunrise Mass it feels as if the music is in a constant stasis, but at the same time moving forward. In this Mass, text, in my opinion, is critical for this movement. His attention to both the accompaniment and choir (or whatever ensemble he uses) is no short of extraordinary.

While I was attending grad school at Western Illinois University, we sang his Ubi Caritas. It was not until yesterday where I realized that he had a version of this Ubi Caritas with accompaniment. While the accompaniment for this piece, its based on the improvisation he did in a concert, it truly elevates a song that is already beautiful in itself.

Here is the text for Ubi Caritas.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.


In my last post, I talked about Di Marco, one of my undergraduate professors at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (Ponce Campus) and his deep rooted faith (being a priest) and his passion and love for music. I remember talking to him about composing, music, and if I should truly go to a graduate program. His answer was something that is straight out of his book, but also from Sister Act 2.


“Quisiera recordar al estudiante que no hay estudio teórico, ni libro, ni profesor que substituyan su constante actividad musical, auditiva y práctica. Todos podremos ayudarlo y ofrecerle nuestros conocimientos, pero ser músico es un don De Dios, que sólo fructificara con el esfuerzo personal” – Abel Di Marco March, 1994

“I would like the student to remember that there is no theoretical study, book or professor that would substitute your constant musical activity (hearing or practical). We can help you and offer our knowledge, but being a musician is a gift from God that will only blossom with your perseverance” – ADM

To my students: to those who were, who are, who will be- Abel Di Marco
To my students: to those who were, who are, who will be- Abel Di Marco

Which brings me to the Ubi Caritas. In 2010, I had the crazy idea of reviving a Renaissance choral group we had in our town. All of the members were our professors , their families, and choral members from different choirs in our town. After all, my home town in Puerto Rico is called the choral capital of Puerto Rico. We say this with provide since we have choirs in almost every high school in the south side of the island compared to the majority of Puerto Rico. And we made it happen. It started as an elective, but then we had 3 successful “seasons” as a group. It was one of the best times I had in the island. I believe one of the reasons we were as successful and as joyful in it is because of Di Marco. We sang different arrangements and the Gregorian chant for Ubi caritas which the first 2 lines are as follow:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Di Marco

While there was no talk of religion or anything by all means necessary, there was this sense of “we want to sing. we want to be with each other. We will be here”. And overall, I believe that’s the key component of Ubi Caritas. I believe that’s why I love this text so much and am listening to Gjeilo’s version so much. If you are ever been in a choir or any musical ensemble you always want to be a part of it. Praise Choir, Chancel Choir, Community Choir, what have you. There is something of being in a community of people who gather for the exact same thing as you do. To sing.

If you want to look at the score for this piece you can find it here in J.W. Pepper.

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