Ein deutsches Requiem

Last night at SF Choral Society rehearsal, I had a moment of true worship. As a musician, I tend to connect with God through music the most because that’s the way God made me. Brahms’ Requiem has been one of my favorites ever since I first sang it in college well over a decade ago. For that performance we unfortunately performed it in English but for an ok reason – it was the 25th anniversary of the first performance done at GCU and we invited alumni back to sing with us, and they didn’t have time to learn the German, etc. While I enjoyed it then, I have a much deeper appreciation for it now.

Brahms’ Requiem is considered more of a “humanistic” requiem because while it has a sacred content it does not follow the typical Catholic mass format. It is a requiem in seven movements, but instead of containing texts that are intended to usher the departed into eternity, it is focused on those still living. The passages chosen remind us that death and loss are inevitable but that God is in charge of it all and we are ultimately victorious because God is. One of my favorite things about the work (and perhaps why some of its critics consider it somewhat pedestrian) is how the music and lyrics fit together so beautifully, intensifying the emotional effect. For example, there is one passage where we are repeatedly singing “Where, O Death, is your sting?” and the music alternates between a thundering indictment and syrupy taunting. It reminds me of a cat playing with a ball of yarn.

One of the reasons I had such a great experience of it last night was that I was focusing on being present in the music and I found myself feeling connected to the thread of the church in history. It’s the same reason I love hymns. It reminds me that there are people who have gone before that have as much to say to us, or more than, the voices we hear today. I also felt the power of the original language that I did not get to experience the first time around. I have not typically enjoyed singing in German as much as other languages – perhaps that is because I grew up in a home where German was used as a secret code, but that’s a conversation for another therapist. I got the power of Brahms writing in his own language for his own people last night like I hadn’t before.

I hope that anyone who is in the Bay Area the weekend of August 3rd & 4th can come see the performance. It’s going to be a fabulous evening at Davies Symphony Hall. We’d love to have as many folks there all the hall will hold. As you might image, the cost of such an event looms rather large – the orchestra alone costs us $21,000 – so go online, purchase those tickets, and come enjoy.

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