On Saturday, the Adelphians (the choir I am in) are singing for the memorial service of a music professor who taught here last year, took medical leave this year, and died of cancer just a few weeks ago. I hear stories about him all the time from the upperclassmen, he was a gruff but charming old man who eventually won the hearts of most of his students. Through all the stories and pictures and the quotations, I almost feel like I knew him. I feel loss. I walked by his old office today, it still has his name on it (I don't know if someone else is using it now). It has a discolored note card with his office hours typed on it, typed with a typewriter, it looked like. There are little angels hanging from strings discreetly taped there. Nothing ornate, no fanfare, just a subtle tribute.
One of the songs we're singing at his service is a setting of the Gloria text (from the mass) composed by the late professor himself. Another is Song For Athene, written by the contemporary composer John Taverner. Now Taverner writes choral works which are free in tempo, very simple and smooth harmonically, and generally reflective, not unlike plainsong or gregorian chant; Song For Athene is no exception. The basses sing F's in octaves as a pedal point, staggered for the entire length of the piece. The upper parts alternate between the Baritones singing a simple, chant-like melody in solo to the word "Alleluia", and the whole choir singing the "verses," if you will, on a single chord that simply shifts up and down to form a melody. Now this is the kind of piece that I chuckle at when I first look at it, dismissing it as too simple-minded to warrant praise or respect. There are silly indications written in the music: things like "Very tender, with great inner stillness and serenity," and "With resplendent joy in the Resurrection."
Singing through this song, it became apparent that it's unspeakably beautiful. Combined with the setting of preparing it for a memorial service, and probably also due in part to random hormonal factors, I was overcome with emotion; joy and an unmistakable love for my fellow choristers, that by channelling, focusing our collective efforts, that we could produce something so beautiful. I felt an overwhelming sense of camraderie, and all of the sudden I wanted to purge religion and politics from the face of the Earth; anything we could disagree on, anything that would come between us, anything that would silence the music we were making. All of the sudden I did't give a fuck about who would win the election or pursuing attempts to solve life's questions; there was nothing but the other people in that room, and the sound escaping from our lips. This music, this is all that I am seeking.
The text is wonderful: it's from Hamlet and the Orthodox funeral service--It's especially appropriate for a funeral or memorial service:
Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.
Alleluia. Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-sprint of life and door of paradise.
Alleluia. Life; a shadow and a dream.
Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song; Alleluia.
Alleluia. Come, enjoy reward and crowns I have prepared for you.