This Sunday is Singing City’s Fall Concert. It is called Together We Sing – Expressions of Life Through American Music. It is my first time singing a concert with Singing City without Jared singing too. This week, we had rehearsal in the First Baptist sanctuary, where we will perform. From my place on the risers, I looked up at the balcony. Instantly, I remembered the first time that Jared and I came to see Singing City perform. It was in the Spring of 2003. It was before we were married. His parents were visiting. We came to hear the Rachmaninoff Vespers, David Weaver had invited us. It was glorious. I still remember where we sat. And I remember seeing a sheet in the program that invited people to audition. So that week, I did. Jared did not. In the fall, I went to the first rehearsal. Jared had not yet auditioned and did not have any intention of doing so. I heard about the summer 2004 tour to Ireland. I went home that night and told Jared about Ireland. He auditioned that week 🙂 We never looked back. Even after we had Caleb, our wonderful friend Kim would watch him on Tuesday nights for us so that we could still both go and sing together.
All those memories from just one glance at a balcony…it caught me off guard a little.
Each segment of Sunday’s concert is being introduced by a choir member. I was asked to write up an introduction to the segment entitled “We Sing Our Lamentation,” introducing Samuel Barber’s world famous Agnus Dei (his own choral arrangement of his piece Adagio for Strings). Here’s what I wrote. (This is the full-length version. For time’s sake, the version that I read at Sunday’s concert is much abbreviated, but the essence is still there.)
Ever since April of 1945, when Adagio for Strings was performed during the radio announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, the work was established as an anthem of national mourning. The Adagio was also performed at the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein and at many memorial events in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The piece has also served as a haunting accompaniment for numerous films.
Barber was initially inspired by a passage from the poetry of Greek poet Virgil (Georgic III).
Here is the passage translated into English by Robert Pinsky:
As when far off in the middle of the ocean
A breast-shaped curve of wave begins to whiten
And rise above the surface, then rolling on
Gathers and gathers until it reaches land
Huge as a mountain and crashes among the rocks
With a prodigious roar, and what was deep
Comes churning up from the bottom in mighty swirls
Of sunken sand and living things and water . . .
So in the springtime every race of people
And all the creatures on earth or in the water,
Wild animals and flocks and all the birds
In all their painted colors, all rush to charge
Into the fire that burns them: love moves them all.
In his music, Barber captures the dual nature of the wave. It is powerful and dangerous, awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
We Sing Our Lamentation. As with the wave, the music washes over us, churning us from within. Life is beautiful. Yet grief and pain, anguish and beauty live together. We long for relief, renewal, inspiration.
The text of the Agnus Dei ends with a request for peace. Dona Nobis Pacem, Grant us peace.
We embrace peace.
We are moved by love.
We are not overwhelmed.
Please come to this wonderful concert if you are local. It is an array of great American choral music of all kinds. Sunday November 20th, 4pm, First Baptist Church, Corner of 17th and Sansom St.