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Keith Gates: Music

Biblical Sketch #3: The Maniac of Gadara


1. Journey across the Sea
2. Dance of the Swine Herders
3. The Maniac
4. Confrontation and Exorcism
5. Dialogue

"Since my conversion to Christianity in 1971, I have loved reading the Gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ. And especially now that I have been so ill, the scriptures have given me hope and comfort and joy as I prepare to meet my Lord face to face.

The story of the Maniac of Gadara found in the Gospels of Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-37 has always been one of my very favorite passages. I could relate to the Maniac in so many ways; the bondage to sin as he was in bondage in chains,  the terrible loneliness as he was alone in that dark and frightening graveyard, and the slavery to Satan as he was possessed by a legion of demons. This was a very accurate picture of me in many respects prior to my conversion and also in the addiction that I suffered.

There are many aspects of the story that I liked because of the dramatic aspect: the setting with all those eerie tombs, the personage of the manic himself cutting himself with sharp rocks and running about stark naked, the confrontation with Christ, the exciting, climatic moment of the exorcism when the demons enter into the swine and then rush off the edge of the cliff and drown in the sea, and then the beautiful, touching conclusion when the manic, now clothed and in his right mind sits at the feet of our Saviour and begs to go with him, but is not allowed because our Lord wants him to go tell his family about what great things God has done for him. All these very dramatic elements called for me to set this to music somehow. But what genre, that was the question.

At one time I began a libretto, thinking that it would make a good one act opera. But I abandoned that idea. Then the thought entered my head to use the story as the basis of a ballet (more modern dance than ballet.) It would have to be an all male cast (Christ, three disciples, and the maniac) but that did not discourage me. I tucked that thought away in the back of my mind but never started work on the piece perhaps because the three ballet schools in Lake Charles did not have an abundance of good male dancers (lots of very excellent girl dancers but that was not what this ballet would need.) and that discouraged me from starting a work that I would not be able to get performed.

Then one day I got a call from David Gibson, a wonderful bassoonist who had played in the Lake Charles Symphony for the premiere of my second symphony. He so much loved that work and all the solo bassoon writing in it that he wanted to commission a piece for him and his wife (a trumpet player) to perform. He suggested that I include a piano and make it a Trio for Trumpet, Bassoon and Piano.

As I thought about the commission suddenly it dawned on me that this would be the perfect opportunity to write "The Maniac of Gadara". It all came together in my mind. The bassoon with all its diverse sounds and unique register timbers would be the ideal representative of the Maniac. Especially the high, thin and weird sounds that the bassoon can produce in the treble clef. And the trumpet, with its forthright, clarion, majestic sound, could represent Christ. The piano, on the other hand could represent everything else, the background sounds, the disciples, the storm (another interesting fact of the story is that the confrontation between the Maniac and Christ occurs directly after Christ calms the storm on the Lake of Galilee.)

And so that was the birth of the Maniac of Gadara. I could not have been happier than to finally have a vehicle to compose the music that I had for several years been wanting to write."

Keith Gates
April 7, 2007