Choral Music Review Print

3,026 Untimely Deaths

September 11, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

For occasions of national mourning, Mozart's Requiem seems to be the work of choice. And no wonder. Incomplete at the time of the composer's early death, it eloquently symbolizes untimely loss. The ardent labor of Mozart's student, Franz Xaver Süssmayer, to complete the Requiem according to Mozart's sketches is this lesser composer's sole claim to fame-a fact also contributing to the greater symbolism of our futile attempts to fill the gap of a tragic death.

The performance of the Requiem as a memorial attained worldwide status when a Seattle chorister conceived the idea of 24 performances from every time zone at precisely 8:46 local time to symbolize the moment when the first plane hit the World Trade Center's South Tower. Over 15,000 volunteer instrumentalists and singers around the world contributed to the "Rolling Requiem" project.

Dr. Rodney Wynkoop, director of the Choral Society of Durham, the Duke Chapel Choir and the Duke Chorale, found out about the project on an electronic bulletin board for choir directors and members and approached the North Carolina Symphony to collaborate. Joined by members of the North Carolina Master Chorale (formerly the Raleigh Oratorio Society) and the Chapel Hill Community Chorus to make a chorus of 267 singers plus soloists soprano Jacquelyn Culpepper, mezzo-soprano Mary Gayle Greene, tenor Randall Outland and bass William Adams. The NC Symphony volunteered its services, and the City of Raleigh contributed the use of Meymandi Hall.

The choruses practiced separately, coming together for only one rehearsal the night before the performance. There were no rehearsals with the orchestra, Wynkoop relying on the fact that probably every musician had played or sung the Requiem on several previous occasions.

An audience of about 1,500, many having arrived a hour in advance to be sure of getting a seat, chatted quietly while the orchestra members practiced and tuned and the singers filed on stage. More a "service" than "performance," the idea was to have no applause either before or afterwards. The soloists walked on stage separately before the official tune-up, and Wynkoop "materialized" from somewhere within the violin section to avoid setting off the customary recognition from the audience. As it was, a long and absolute silence occurred spontaneously as the orchestra put their instruments aside to await the tune-up and the start time of 8:46. Unfortunately, the audience broke out in applause at the end of the performance, giving their customary standing ovation, but neither Wynkoop nor the soloists reappeared to take additional bows.

Traditionally, the arts have been the primary ambassadors of international good will. While the United States and the Soviet Union pointed thousands of nuclear warheads at each other, they were, nevertheless, sending to each other's countries ballet companies and jazz bands, soloists and orchestras. The Rolling Requiem project was conceived as a universal memorial, transcending all geographical and political boundaries. We can only hope that as with the two superpowers of the Cold War, music can make up the vanguard of peace.