Providing Light and Hope

by Marshall (Barney) Elam, Calvary Choir Bass


On Sunday, Nov. 5, the choirs of Calvary and Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal churches will join voices at Grace-St. Luke’s to present a Eucharist incorporating Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem for solo baritone, mezzo-soprano, mixed choir, and organ. The service will begin at 5 p.m. Dr. Kristin Lensch, Calvary’s organist-choirmaster, will conduct, and Dr. Patrick Scott, director of music at Grace-St. Luke’s, will accompany on organ. Duruflé’s magnificent Requiem has been characterized as one of the greatest pieces of choral literature ever written. The complexity of the work presents a challenge for both organist and choir and thus is not commonly performed. 


Completed in 1947, the Requiem is based on the Gregorian chants of the Requiem Mass (Missa pro defunctis, or Mass for the Dead, sung in Latin. The work consists of nine movements corresponding to the parts of the Mass: the Introit (Requiem aeternam), Kyrie eleison, Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe), Sanctus and Benedictus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Communion (Lux aeterna), Libera me, and In Paradisum.  It is a beautiful example of polyphonic writing, which means that each voice part has an independent melody, all sung simultaneously. 


Being “within the music” as a member of the choir is quite a moving experience. Duruflé leads you through many emotions, progressing from ethereal, light and airy, to strident, emotive, and ultimately to joyful, representing the hope, consolation, and ultimate joy that surrounds death, grief, and resurrection. In the Kyrie, the successive entry of each voice part creates a visual image of a circle of light reaching up into the heavens.  In a similar fashion, the Sanctus with its upward progression of pitches points to the heavens. The Pie Jesu, performed by mezzo-soprano Sam Powell, is a mournful lament that ultimately ends on a hopeful note. The Libera me, with its ponderous rhythms and tone, also conveys the weight of grief; the movement includes a solo performed by Joseph Powell. All these emotions resolve in the final movement, In Paradisum, an ethereal composition in which the soprano voices evoke images of a panoply of angels moving heavenward and providing light and hope for the life (lives) that is (are) being celebrated.


Throughout, the organ provides a strong base for the choral music, interweaving the choral passages with powerful rumbling low passages and elegant melodies that in many cases presage and echo the choral parts. In this sense, the organ serves as a “fifth voice” in the choir.  


It is particularly appropriate that this service is presented as part of the Feast of All Saints Day, a time when we remember those who no longer walk this Earth with us. I invite you to come and be part of this transcendent “God moment” and, in doing so, remember and honor those family members and friends who have gone before into that great mystery.