in paradisum

Here’s a different perspective. In the hours and days that followed the horrific events of September 11, 2001, radio programmer listserves were jammed with the same single question that prompted similar urgent flurries of e-mails and phone calls among concerned colleagues internationally. We reached out for each other’s suggestions and insights on how to ‘get it right’ for our listeners.

As you listen to the radio in a time of unusual or extreme world events, you may not realize how much furious activity is happening on the working end of your radio to make it the best, most thoughtfully-created experience possible for you and everyone else in the audience. That’s just as it should be. You shouldn’t have to think about those things, that’s why we’re here.

When the world outside is suffering as it was that day in a conflicted mix of disbelief, disenchantment, raging anger, calls for retribution, and utter, inconsolable grief – it does call into question how any communication service can best respond to external events and serve its listeners. Arts-focused organizations, like music radio stations, take that concern a little further to see how they can possibly offer beauty and expressions of human achievement that transcend the awfulness to offer messages of hope and assuage the pain.

The single question on all of our minds that day was, “what are you playing”?

At the time I was working as a classical radio station music director in Southern California, and on September 11th alone – not to mention the many days that followed – I remember talking to friends and fellow programmers in places as far away as Minnesota, North Carolina, London, NY City, Colorado, and Alabama. Amid the more appropriate, if predictable, suggestions like Barber’s Adagio, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and Lacrimosa, and Strauss’ Metamorphosen, came more unusual choices like Gorecki’s Symphony #3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”), Liszt’s ruminating Les Funerailles, and  and Puccini’s somber Crisantememi.

Personally, I always find that Dvorak’s Symphony #9 (“From the New World”) hits all the right chords of hope, solace, and forward-looking optimism that offer comfort in tough times. In fact I went home from work early that afternoon and laid on the floor near the stereo, closed my eyes and listened to all 9 recordings of that piece I owned, one after another. And Coltrane’s A Love Supreme lived in my car stereo for several weeks. That’s all I wanted to hear. It helped.

"In Paradisum" from Fauré's Requiem manuscript

Of all the suggestions and ideas that came from those conversations, only one piece of music was unanimously agreed upon as having just the right sound and feel for an occasion like the aftermath of September 11th. It was the Requiem, by Gabriel Fauré.

In many ways it is a conventional setting of the traditional Latin requiem mass…except that Faure omits the fiery Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”)/Lacrimosa sequence, and ends the work with the upifting Libera Me and In Paradisum – texts taken from the burial ceremony, not typically incorporated into the Mass itself. This is a Requiem about transcending into the light of afterlife and solace, not dwelling in the dark discontent of grief and loss and unreconciled faith.

This evening the Burlington Choral Society performs Fauré’s serene Requiem as the centerpiece of their annual fall concert, in a program that also includes Bach’s Wachet, auf! Cantata #140 and another of Fauré’s lovely choral favorites, his student composition the Cantique de Jean Racine.

Life is challenging. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to be transported to a place of deep peace and beauty for a couple of hours. In Paridisum, indeed. There is nothing like the Fauré Requiem.

The program starts at 7:30 this evening, at the North Avenue Alliance Church (901 North Avenue) in  Burlington.

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