One of the banes of my driving existence (when I am not railing against drivers talking on cell phones—that’s a whole blog subject in itself) is to pull up next to a car that is fairly jumping off its tires with super hyped loud speakers blaring, nay thumping, rap. Blecccchhhhh!!! I feel like yelling to the driver—on the assumption that he could actually hear me—to say: Do you mind? I don’t make you listen to my music; please don’t make me listen to yours.
Well, today as I was out running errands and listening to my local NPR station, a piece of music came on that gave me the chance to pay back all the rap thumpers: Charpentier’s marvelous affirming Prelude to Te Deum. What a joy to listen to this magnificent piece. As I pulled up to a traffic light, I cranked the sound up all the way and eased my windows down a bit. Glorious!
I do love music—and for me that means serious (so-called classical) music, some jazz, classic rock and a smattering of other music styles. I love singing. The music experiences I love best are those where music has moved me to tears. Several such occasions come to mind.
Some thirty years ago, when I was singing in our church choir, the then choir director arranged for us to perform Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. At that time, I had never heard the Choral Fantasy before. Many of the themes that Beethoven would later develop in the 4th movement of the 9th symphony are teased at in the Choral Fantasy. For the piano soloist, the choir director lined up Daniel Epstein, who at that time was a budding young pianist. Since our church did not have a piano worthy of being played for such a performance, the choir director went hunting for a suitable piano. I don’t remember where he found it, but the choir director located a lovely Steinway grand piano, that today is one of the church’s prized musical instruments. Soloists were secured, and the Motet Choir, as we were then called, practiced and practiced. Finally, we performed the piece and all the elements blended. To this day, I cannot hear the Choral Fantasy without my eyes filling with tears. And, yes, I crank the sound up on that piece as well.
Our choir would go on to do other wonderful choral pieces—we sang Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass that even now I can still sing almost from memory. We sang Haydn’s The Creation (the wonderful opening movement evoking “let there be light” is the best musical rendition of creation I have ever heard) and Haydn’s The Four Seasons. We sang Durufle’s Requiem and works by Langlais. But one signature choral piece that we never sang was Mozart’s Requiem.
I had listened to Mozart’s Requiem many times. In fact, when I first went to see the play Amadeus performed, the first few opening bars of a piece of Mozart’s music set me to weeping. The Requiem is featured prominently in that play (and also in the movie adaptation). But I had never sung it. Until. . .
On the first anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, someone had the inspiration that a fitting way to memorialize that event and those whose lives were lost would be to have Mozart’s Requiem sung in every time zone around the world. The performance would begin at the exact minute the first plane struck the South Tower. Since the piece takes an hour to perform, a choir in one time zone would be finishing as a choir in the next would be beginning its performance. When the choirs were announced for Harrisburg, PA, I signed up. Of course, we practiced; to be sure not so much as if we were performing the piece in a concert performance, but we did practice.
Then on September 11, 2002, we gathered at the Rotunda of the state capitol building in Harrisburg, and with a massed choir of several hundred, and only piano accompaniment, we sang Mozart’s Requiem. Thus I participated in what was called the Rolling Requiem. The work begins with the somber dark tones of the Requiem itself, then moves into the Kyrie. Next comes the crashing fearful Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). My favorite is one of the more lyric portions of the Requiem, the lovely and moving Benedictus. What a thrill—what a somber moment—what an experience moving me to tears.