Remembering September 11th with New Choral Works

The upcoming 10th anniversary of September 11th looms large, with plans for memorials and television specials already underway. Like so many in New York and across the nation, deep personal memories are rooted in the day, and for me, some powerful ones connected to choral moments.

On September 11, 2001, I had just arrived at work at Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, about five miles from Ground Zero. My colleagues and I watched the terrible events unfold on a small TV in the theatre’s temporary offices before setting off for home, meeting stunned survivors still on their way to uptown homes on foot. My rehearsal with the Riverside Choral Society scheduled for that evening was canceled. When the 85 singers met a week later, we abandoned the scheduled repertoire and instead the choir librarian gave us each a score of Fauré’s Requiem. Seated informally instead of in our usual sections, we sang through the gentle and intense work and then sat silently for about 15 minutes. Singing the piece together tapped into the shock and sadness we had each experienced and was one of the deepest choral experiences I’ve ever had.

Jumping forward to the 10th anniversary, I was interested to learn about the world premiere of Philadelphia-based composer Bob Moran’s Trinity Requiem, commissioned by Trinity Wall Street, the Ground Zero church, for their youth chorus. The premiere is part of Trinity’s Remember to Love; Observance of the Tenth Anniversary of September 11, running from September 4 to 12 and featuring daily services and concerts. Choral works by Stephen Paulus, John Corigliano, Nico Muhly, Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank, Martin Amlin, Robert Kyre, Marjorie Merryman, and Carlyle Sharpe are featured among broad ranging classical and contemporary repertoire, performed by choirs from New York City, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and Boston.  The full program and additional information are posted here.

I recently spoke with Moran about the creation of Trinity Requiem. I learned about his initial reticence to write a requiem for young singers to commemorate September 11th, worrying about how children deal with the complexities of death and loss. He told me how he found inspiration in the all-too-common grief found in war zones around the world when children suddenly lose their families to violence. He described the experience of a child in Britain during World War II whose parents were killed in an air raid; children who have lost siblings murdered in Kosovo; and children who survived the chaos and trauma of Hurricane Katrina. With these experiences in mind, he went ahead and composed the piece, scored for treble voices, organ, four cellos, and harp, and was “dumbfounded” by the intensity of the choir’s interpretation of it when he heard it at a recording session in November 2010.

Listening to Trinity Requiem, I was struck by its seemless and textural, meditative qualities, made more powerful by the angelic sound of the young voices within the context of September 11th. During the recording of the piece at Trinity Wall Street, despite pauses to allow for the ambient sounds of New York life outside the Church, a passing siren made it onto the tape. Moran feels it belongs there as a stark reminder of the context of the piece.  The work is featured on a recording scheduled for release on the Innova label on September 6. Moran’s Seven Sounds Unseen and Notturno in Weiss are also included on the CD, titled Trinity Requiem: Choral Music of Robert Moran.

The world premiere of Trinity Requiem will be performed by the Trinity Youth Chorus in New York City on September 7 at 6 p.m. A performance will also take place in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 11, at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, which Moran plans to attend.

I invite readers to share the choral music they might listen to or sing on the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

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