A Requiem for Our Time
The Michael O’Neal Singers last performed the Brahms Requiem in October of 2001, just one month after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Little did we know when we began rehearsals on September 10 that this amazing offering to humankind from Johannes Brahms would become such a source of personal healing and comfort for us during the somber days and weeks that followed. Almost ten years later, we are about to begin rehearsals again on this masterpiece, in preparation for a March 13 performance. The troubled world in which we live today needs the message of consolation offered by this wondrous creation no less than it did ten years ago, or in fact in any year since it was composed. Below are the comments I made to the audience that afternoon in October 2001 prior to our performance.
A year ago, when The Michael O’Neal Singers decided to perform A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms as the first concert of our 2001-2002 Season, we had no idea that our world would change on September 11, 2001. But change it did, and all our lives have been affected. Some of you have been affected directly, most of us indirectly, but each of us has been changed – ‘”in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” – forever changed.
The piece we are about to perform was written with an understanding that we live but a short time on this earth, and we grieve for those who leave this life before us. Brahms knew the sorrow experienced by those who grieve and he selected texts that provide comfort to the living in their time of loss. We have learned that often the individual grief we feel is more completely “worked through” in a community, and especially in the collective grief we are now experiencing as a nation, it is imperative that we encounter it in community. Perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts of music; especially live performance of music that is profound in its depth and meaning, for we experience it in community – a community of performers – a community of listeners – and a combined community of people this day, who mourn and remember.
The Brahms Requiem offers us a chance to grieve together. I encourage you to follow the text printed in your program, to hold your applause until the end of the final movement, and to accept this musical offering as a tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives on September 11 (in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania). May this music, and the words that accompany it, provide encouragement to us as we hope for, and seek, an eventual and lasting peace in this world.