Requiem: From Dark to Light

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SIRI BARDARSON, March 29, 2013

This year in our Northern Hemisphere, spring began with the vernal equinox on March 20 at 7:02 a.m. (EDT), last night was the full moon, and Sunday is Easter.

I hope you stood out in the moonbeams Wednesday night. The evening was fine and Orion’s Belt was vivid and huge. This morning out my bedroom window, the cherry tree is bursting, the Cecil Brunner rose is coming on and the grass needs mowing.  To quote James Taylor, “And this old world still keeps spinning ’round, and I still love you.”

The physical world – its reliable power and force and our human constructs pasted on it – it’s a lot to think about; this whole Easter/Spring thing.

My parents have died these past two years, and my sisters and I spent a little time the other night going through old slides. My folks weren’t picture-takers, but there is a lot of documentation of us five girls in our Easter outfits. We all look miserable and as the oldest sister, I  had the annual job of wrestling with a crying two-year old.  Honestly, we never dressed like that and when my thick bangs are cut that short, I have a bad-hair-day cowlick. These small experiences stick with you a lot longer than any sermon from the Methodists.

But the music of Easter – all is forgiven when I can hear the music.  Even as a little girl sitting on a hard pew in patent-leather shoes with a tulle petticoat that left tiny chicken wire imprints on the backs of my thighs, I would feel the agony of the day disappear as soon as I heard the pipe organist pull out all the stops, or when the choir performed their anthem.

If you are like me and the holiday itself brings up the worst of all familial and societal conventions, the good news is that we can still participate in the spiritual or wholly temporal transformation of dark to light through music. I need that. Now as a grown-up, I would give anything to stand in that terrible Easter line up to hold the hand of one of my now deceased parents. Even the newness of spring and all its promise is rooted in change, in losses great and small.  New is new, and each year something must be lost.  Music helps me when it comes to this existential stuff.

As a cellist, I have had the great good fortune to play some fabulous Easter music. The featured music of Easter is often a requiem. I looked this word up in my Webster’s. “Requiem” is defined as a solemn chant or dirge for the repose of the dead; a musical composition in honor of the dead.   Hmm, luckily I caught Bill Humphreys, Director of Music/Sacred Arts Ministries at the Langley Methodist Church, on the phone this morning.

“What is a requiem?”  I asked my favorite musician’s musician.

We had a great chat that moved quickly over the requiem as a Roman Catholic mass for the dead, to the more modern iterations of the form.  “Requiem” is the accusative singular form of the Latin noun “requies” meaning “rest, repose,” with a broader interpretation that centers on the idea of peace.  Historically, the musical settings of the requiem as composed by the likes of Mozart, Verdi and Faure, became concert rather than liturgical pieces. Bill made the comment that the great requiem masses performed in Latin actually allow the contemporary listener to exit the religious message into the identical theme conveyed in the musical message. Wow, gotta dig that as a composer’s challenge!

This Friday night, I am honored to play the “Popper Requiem Opus 66 for Three Cellos and Piano” with James Hinkley, Samantha Sinai and Kathy Fox at the invitation of Bill Humphreys and the Langley Methodist Church.  There will be many other fine musicians and pieces included in the special Good Friday offering, “Listening in the Darkness: Memory and Hope.” Popper’s Requiem seems to follow the more modern idea of moving from the solemn darkness to the light in a transformation that is profound and passionate.  If all goes well, my mind will be thoroughly engaged with all the notes, but my heart will be pounding in communion with the full moon, the blossoming cherry trees and the faded pictures of the Easter line up.  I will know for sure that, “… this old world still keeps spinning ‘round, and I still love you.”

Siri Bardarson is a musician devoting this year to creative projects that synthesize her classical and popular music backgrounds via her new electric cello.  She is ecstatically happy!

Opportunities for gorgeous listening during Easter weekend:

  • 7 p.m. Friday, March 29: Langley Methodist Church Good Friday Concert;  “Listening in the Darkness: Memory and Hope,” Eliza Gylkison’s requiem arranged by C.H. Johnson, and “Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano Opus 66” by David Popper featuring James Hinkley, Samantha Sinai, Siri Bardarson and Kathy Fox.  Plus violinist Gloria Ferry- Brennan and sacred and secular readings under the direction of  Bill Humphreys.
  • 9:30 a.m. Sunday, March 31: Sunday Easter service at Langley United Methodist Church  features Vivaldi’s “Antiphonal Gloria” with choir and instrumental ensemble.
  • 7 a.m. Sunday, March 31:  Easter Sunday services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, with organ preludes at  9 a.m. and 11 a.m. And from Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs”  baritone soloist Karl Olsen performs “Easter,” Movement #1 and Movement #2, “Antiphon,” with TLC choir.
  • 11 a.m. Sunday, March 31: Whidbey Institute at Chinook presents its Seasonal Program led by Fritz Hull and Tom Walker at Thomas Berry Hall.  Music to include a reprise of the Vivaldi “Antiphonal Gloria” with Bill Humphreys’ choir and instrumental ensemble, plus other great music.




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