I am a Protestant and not accustomed to hearing the Latin Mass. But as a trained musician I have sung it. I have also sung in German, French, Italian, Old English and Hebrew. I know the hymnal like the back of my hand and can quote from the King James Version of the Bible. In training and sensibilities I am an old soul.
But none of this prepared me for the grandeur and timeless beauty of Dr. Dan Forrest's Requeim for the Living as performed by The Master's College Collegiate Choir and Orchestra.
It helped that my daughter was a vibrant and joyous alto, sparkling and shining in the back row of the choir. It helped that the performance was set on the beautiful grounds of Forest Lawn overlooking the lights of Los Angeles. It helped that the performance was in a cathedral with 25 foot ceilings and a breathtaking rose window. And it certainly helped that the composer himself was there to explain the motivation and premise for each nuance of the music, and even to divulge clever tricks like the instrumental blast of air illustrating the shortness of life in the Vanitas section of the Mass.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm eager to talk through the Mass and I'll begin with this explanation:
A Requiem is traditionally a service to honor the dead, and to pay respect to them in light of God's eternal truth. But this was a Requiem for the living. Incidentally, I'm a piano accompanist by trade, and I'd learned that the choir's accompanist had worked through the first half of rehearsals and then had succumbed to a battle with cancer. She was nearly my age. This was a very real and personal, poignant reminder of my own mortality which I began internalizing before I heard a note of the music.
On another personal note, my grandparents are interred at Forest Lawn, and as the Requiem began I found myself in a state of surprisingly cathartic grief, mourning every family member, friend and acquaintance that had passed on before. I realized then that we, the living, do need a Requiem of our own, if only to bring us to that moment of acceptance and peace in the truth.
And so, the Mass by section:
Introit - Kyrie
"Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord"
The Kyrie, a cry for mercy, begins with a soul rending theme with descending melodic patterns that continue to woo throughout succeeding sections. No cold, austere self flagellation, this is a warm approachable belief in real mercy, supported by texturally complex choral fabric.
"Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity"
The emptiness of despair often leads to the abandonment of reason and a degradation into what could only described as buffoonery. The orchestra's use of horns to denote foolishness, the odd sounding choral text, and the above mentioned blast of air to denote the brevity of life added to the general rowdy nature of this piece. I found myself suppressing a chuckle or two. Humor is often a gentle reminder of reality.
"Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world"
This incorporates a male soprano solo, whose vocal emasculation perfectly illustrates the humility of Christ and the emptying of the divine in order to take on human form, the likes of which I have never heard. In this I saw the form of God and heard His voice. A rich female solo compliments the sentiment as well.
"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts"
Originally inspired by pictures from the Hubble telescope, the Sanctus offers a sound picture of space, pulling focus away from earth and offering a vast, but corporeal sense of the greatness of God. Later on, in a rush of orchestral energy described by Forrest to depict a return to the hustle and bustle of humanity, I envisioned the Almighty literally 'gathering up His robes' to meet his Creation, His holiness and power momentarily eclipsed by His great love. Forrest explains how he took poetic license and switched the traditional order of the Sanctus and Angus Dei portions of the mass believing that God's holiness is best understood in light of His mercy. I couldn't agree more.
"May eternal light shine on them, O Lord"
We are surrounded with a lush blanket of choral and instrumental sound, 'enshrouded' in the truth of the love of God, and the peace that this reality gives us. A male solo, "Come To Me", echoes the voice of our Savior as we contemplate that in eternity all is well in Him. In such surroundings it is easy to believe that God is light and peace.
Kudos to Maestro Forrest and abundant thanks to the chorus, orchestra and crew of The Master's College for gifting us with such a nourishing musical feast!