24 Apr 2011
Inside the Classics

For those who celebrate it, Happy Easter! I grew up in the Quaker church, where we observed the holiday primarily by replacing the murmured “Good morning” that closed our mostly silent Meetings for Worship with a murmured “He is risen.” (Quakers don’t go in for a lot of pomp and circumstance.) But I always sort of envied my Catholic friends who would come to school on Ash Wednesday with a smudge on their foreheads and dress up for Good Friday vespers, if only because there’s comfort in being part of a group ritual like that.

I’ve always thought it curious that we reserve Handel’s Messiah for Christmastime, when it’s unquestionably a work about the Resurrection. And since I grew up in a religious tradition that values music, but places it firmly outside the worship service, I’ve never been terribly clear on what music is appropriate for Easter.

But this weekend, I was offered a gig playing Friday vespers at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, the first time I’ve ever played an Easter-related service that I can remember. On tap was Gabriel Faure’s transcendently beautiful Requiem, one of my favorite choral works, and not just because it calls for two full viola sections and only one lone violin. The orchestra played it several years ago with the St. Olaf Choir, and those concerts stand out as some of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of.

House of Hope’s Motet Choir isn’t St. Olaf, of course, but they were in excellent voice on Friday evening, and the two soloists floated through their (actually quite difficult) parts with ease. The violas were all MN Orch players, and it was fun to connect musically with each other in an environment outside Orchestra Hall. And Faure’s take on the requiem mass, far more uplifting than solemn, seemed the perfect accompaniment to a holiday that celebrates the transcendence of death.

The best part of the performance was the ending. Before we began, the pastor had instructed the congregation that the Vespers would be concluded at the end of the Requiem, and that “you are welcome to remain in silent meditation, or take your leave quietly.” So when our final notes drifted away into the air, there was no ovation. Just a roomful of prayerful people, sitting in silent devotion as we musicians quietly stood and filed out of the sanctuary.

If I hadn’t have known better, I’d have thought I was back in my Pennsylvania meetinghouse, getting ready to murmur “He is risen” while shaking hands with the Friends around me.

<October 2019>

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