This weekend I jumped in for a sick friend, who could not sing a scheduled concert performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
I will admit right up front that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of musical fulfillment or anything; the concert was with a small church choir out of town, accompanied not by orchestra but rather by four-hand piano. I got the call around noon on Saturday, found some black clothes and my Requiem score, and by 5 PM I was on my way out to the venue for a last-minute rehearsal and then it was showtime.
Two things changed my outlook completely, however. The first was Mozart’s music. As I sang along in the choral parts to keep my voice warm, I was reminded of how incredibly good this music is. As I sang, it occurred to me that, for all I know, this might be the last time I am asked to sing this piece, solo or chorus (which would be a shame, because I am still an excellent choral singer). This thought wasn’t at all depressing, but rather gave me a new appreciation for the moment, for the here and now. I was happy to be there with this music and these musicians, whatever their abilities. We had come together for Mozart. I savored every note of it.
The second thing that happened that evening was that this ensemble inserted, in the very beginning, the middle, and the end of the Requiem, three choral a cappella pieces, making it not simply a concert mass but part of a work of art. I did not recognize the first two works but the third, begun directly after the last chord of the Requiem without so much as a second’s wait, was O Magnum Mysterium by the American composer Morten Lauridsen.
It wasn’t perfect, there were a few shaky moments in the opening chords, and the amateur singers were challenged by the length of this slow, legato, unaccompanied piece. Nevertheless, they managed to create something of quiet and deep beauty, even if only in those few seconds, there in that darkened village church. They created a moment of amazement and wonder in the performance of that gorgeous piece. I was so moved that I nearly cried, with gratitude, with amazement.
When I got home I pulled out an old Princeton Singers recording which features this piece, and have played it probably 25 times in the last 24 hours. I used to sing a lot of this kind of music before I began working in the theater. To hear it again felt like coming home.