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Musician composes oratorio based in scripture, creates own instruments to play it

In a quaint and unassuming River Heights home, there is musical magic happening.

"This one is basically like an electric bass," says soft-spoken Jesse Krause, motioning toward an instrument fashioned mainly out of six large logs. It's meant to look like a giant's rib cage, and it takes up most of his living room.

He grabs a mallet from a nearby bin of other tools and smashes one of the wood pieces to demonstrate how one would play the "bass bones," and a low humming sound reverberates through the room. He hits another and a distinctly different note erupts.

There is also a large harp in the corner, made of other stumps and pieces of wood, with Styrofoam accents and a collection of strings tightened by a dozen or so tuning pegs on the front side. Krause points out a metal contraption on the back of the harp, noting that this time around he made it so the instruments stay in tune longer and more consistently. He plucks the strings gently and creates a chord that exudes lightness — it's a complete contradiction to the bass, but equally as intriguing.

Krause, a member of folk-pop band Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers, has constructed the two instruments specifically for his latest project, David and Jonathan, an oratorio that explores "friendship in the face of adversity." He is once again working as part of the experimental ensemble Ger§uschbiest with his brother, Thomas — part of the experimental folk band Alanadale — and the Riel Gentleman's Choir. A cappella group Antiphony will also contribute its talents to the piece.

It has been more than two years since Ger§uschbiest has performed. The last time was for 2012's Beltheshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar, another Bible-inspired oratorio that earned them a spot opening for acclaimed violinist Sarah Neufeld as part of the 2013 WSO New Music Festival.

A lot has changed for Krause in those two years — personal difficulties in both his love life and friendship circles caused him a lot of pain and anxiety and, though it became a therapeutic process for him, working on David and Jonathan was a more insular process, as he chose to tackle composing the oratorio alone.

"Part of the process of making this work has been to deal with some anxiety and deal with some fear... it's the biggest project that I've ever done; there's a lot on the line," he says.

"Having all of the creative control is nice, of course, but on the other side, it's just me, and there are always fires to put out."

Thomas, left, and Jesse Krause of Gerauschbiest play homemade instruments during a dress rehearsal of their latest production at Saint Margaret's Church.


Thomas, left, and Jesse Krause of Gerauschbiest play homemade instruments during a dress rehearsal of their latest production at Saint Margaret's Church.

Biblical stories provide endless inspiration for Krause, a practising Mennonite. "It's a way to try and remain grounded in history, and not just any history, but my history," he says, also noting that he enjoys giving attention to stories that don't get as much "air time" as some of the more well-known tales.

Because of his personal connection to the content, it remained important to Krause to exhibit respect as he approached working with Bible stories and altering them to better suit the narratives he wanted to portray. The alterations are minor, though; he points out that a lot of the stories depict issues and themes relevant today.

"They have a lot of weight to them," he says. "It's a serious examination of life and the stories that make it important, so in that way just the content of them is continuously applicable, even if the circumstances have completely changed."

"We're not living in 1,000 BC, but the human relationships follow similar patterns."

The story of David and Jonathan focuses on the relationship between the two main characters, which is sparked by David's ascent to power. After David slays Goliath (in a slightly more popular biblical story), he is brought back to see Saul, the king of Israel. Saul's son, Jonathan, takes an instant liking to David, and their friendship is born immediately. Of course, as most Bible stories do, this one ends in tragedy. As David's popularity with the public rose, Saul became threatened, and began plotting to kill David. After several foiled murder attempts (thanks to Jonathan alerting David of his father's intent) David finally leaves the city for good. He and Jonathan share a final, sweet moment together outside the city walls before parting ways forever.

The biblical text doesn't explicitly reveal the nature of David and Jonathan's relationship. Most religious analyses say their connection was one of platonic love, though more modern interpretations explore the possibility of a romantic friendship. That vagueness is something that attracted Krause to the story.

"I connected to the ambiguity of their relationship, that there isn't a label on it, that they can just... be," he says.

Ironically, Krause says David and Jonathan is likely the least ambiguous of all his work. While he didn't expressly admit which parts of the story he relates to most, he is seemingly sure those who are closest to him will understand where he has injected himself within the narrative.

"All of my work has been pretty personal — it's just usually been shrouded in a lot more metaphor, but everybody that knows me knows my story. It's not like there's any need to disguise any of that anymore, which is kind of a relief," he says.

"This story is a bit more of a dreamscape, and I can identify with all three of the main characters — Saul, David and Johnathan — and for me, for my personal story, it could be allegorical if it's understood that I view myself as every character in the story. There's search for self, but also a self divided."

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 9:03 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

11:37 AM: Adds video

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