Contributed by Kim Vanderheiden
A friend and I recently attended a performance of Street Requiem in Berkeley California. A fellow artist I knew was singing in it, and I had read about efforts to collect the names of the homeless who had recently died on our streets who were being remembered in it. I wanted to hear this contemporary take on a rich and powerful traditional form of music and prayer, and to hear the names of people whose paths have interwoven with mine, but I’ve never known, and who are now gone.
The church in which it was held was close to the college campus and active in hosting performances and speakers of interest to the local community as well as students. My friend and I walked in among hundreds of others who were gathering. Many were seated already. We decided to try the balcony. As the orchestra warmed up, the choirs filed in behind them and took their places on the risers. As the time for the performance began, two speakers stood at each side of the orchastra and spoke the acknowledgement and dedication. The audience hushed.
“I respectfully acknowledge the peoples of the Ohlone Nation, upon whose traditional territory we stand today. I would also like to pay respect to heir elders, past and present, and extend that respect to other indigenous people present…” it began.
Then, a man who had recently joined us on the balcony began to sing, a crystal clear, beautiful tenor:
“Requiem aeternam. (Bring them eternal rest.) Bring them Peace. Dona eis pacem. (Give them peace.) Honoured now, not forgotten. Requiem sempiternam et lux perpetua luceat eis. (Give them everlasting rest. Let perpetual light shine upon them.)“
When I showed up to listen, I was under the impression that this performance was unique and locally created, but I soon discovered that it’s being performed by choirs worldwide, and can be heard online through YouTube as well.
Street Requiem was composed in 2014 in Melborne, Australia by Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, and Jonathon Welch, to bring a sense of peace, remembrance, and hope to those struggling with street violence and loss of safety on their streets. While drawing deeply from the format of traditional Requiem Mass such as those famously composed by Mozart, Verdi, Haydn, and others, Street Requiem interweaves Latin with English text for contemporary audiences, and the music folds together gospel, Celtic, neo-Romantic, neo-Baroque, indigenous and contemporary genres to reflect the blend of cultures and religions in our present cities. In that vein, the piece is neither of a specific religion, nor secular. It’s intended to be deeply spiritual and to allow listeners to center in the music while drawing from their own faith or meaning.
As the performance moves to different locations, the dedication is changed to reflect the local native heritage, and the names of the remembered to those who have died on the streets in the region of the performance location. The performers themselves also change. I saw the performance by the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra and Berkeley Women’s Community Chorus which was held at the First Church in Berkeley, California. The conductor was Derek Tam and the soloists were Molly Mahoney and Brian Thorsett.
May I suggest? If you participate in a choir, check it out on YouTube and see what you think. If you like it, see if your choir can bring it to your region. I found the performance impressive, prayerful, tender, and memorable.
“As part of the human race, we must find compassion for those we never knew who’ve died senselessly on the street, whether they were young or old, in war or peacetime, in violence or in illness. Through remembering them, we are reminded to value all life. Lest we forget.” – Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, & Jonathon Welch