I’ve always been a special kind of music lover. Yes, I listened to top-forty kinds of music on the radio as a kid. I was obsessed with MTV. I was mostly normal. But as I began to learn music as a tubist, pianist, and singer, my tastes expanded immensely. When I say “immensely”, I don’t mean I started listening to country as well as rock. I mean all manner of classical music–opera, jazz, Gregorian chant, progressive rock, English folk music, Tibetan throat-singing–just whatever I could get my hands on. My appetite had very few limits and have almost no limits today. But there was one form of music that I became most particularly obsessed with.
I sang in my church choir in high school and the director put a very ambitious work in front of us–to this day, one of my very favorite pieces of music–“Requiem” by Gabrielle Faure, a masterpiece of impressionistic choral music.
If you don’t know, a requiem is one of the Catholic worship forms; a Latin mass. More specifically, a mass for the dead. To my great pleasure, I was assigned one of the two baritone solos in the work: the Hostias portion of the Offertory in which we pray that the recently departed would pass from death to life as was promised to Abraham and “his seed” or, in the more racy Latin, “semini.” No music was or has ever been more suited to my very lyric baritone/tenor voice. I have sung the solo in concert several times since. Perhaps I was sixteen or so.
Then, on a band contest trip, perhaps to Dallas, I found a large music shop on our visit to the mall. I had enough money for two cassettes. The first selection was easy. I was a fan of Manheim Steamroller and Fresh Aire VI was available in the New Age section. But what else to purchase? Then I discovered the largest selection of classical music I’d ever seen in person, and there it was: a whole section of Requiems–not just Faure’s but a dozen others! There were multiple versions of the Faure. I don’t remember how I determined which one to buy. Perhaps I liked the cover–inside a cathedral with stained glass–or Perhaps the B-side, which was Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.
And that started it all. I began a collection of Requiems. In sum, two versions of the Faure, three versions of the Mozart, the Hindemith, the Rutter, the Verdi, the Durufle, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Requiem. Yes, the composer of The Phantom of the Opera wrote and recorded a lovely requiem featuring superstar singers Placido Domingo and Sarah Brightman.
Owning these recordings became an odd source of pride. I was certainly, after all, the only high school kid in the world, or at least in Oklahoma, with such a collection. I both detested and relished being a weird kid, as weird kids often do. I was a very rarified form of nerd. A Requiemaphile?
I brought them with me on trips. The cassettes evolved to Compact Discs. I blew $200 or so on a Discman. These albums, and my many other musical oddities, became a part of my identity. I was sure to display them when given the chance.
To this day, my wife chuckles at the time I tried to compose a requiem with a tiny Casio keyboard and a music staff notebook. A friend was spending the night at my house–even weirder than me–and we were running out of things to do. He was a music fan as well and was pleased with my collection. I played a little bit of the Weber Requiem and he said, “I know what we can do! We can compose a Requiem!”
I was on it like flies on a rib roast. After some time, I looked up to discover than my buddy had retreated to the family den and was watching TV.
“Come on, man! I thought we were gonna write this!” I said.
“Dude, I was just kidding! You didn’t really think we could write a Requiem, did you?”
I still believe I could have at least sketched it out, but I was deflated, and I let it go. I felt like such a fool.
That’s the risk of creativity, and perhaps why so many people do not give their creative ideas a try. Perhaps I was a fool to think my very first composition could be an entire Requiem, but that’s kind of the way I am. Other than a few vignettes, my first significant attempt at writing was a literary novel called Fly by Night. I was never able to finish it, but it was fine work.
Should the music we listen to bet part of our identity? That’s up to us. For many it totally is and that is especially true for teenagers. I have let that be true for me. Perhaps that is juvenile, but I love what I love, and what we love is part of who we are. There is something so satisfying and moving about listening to a Mass set to music, especially a Requiem. I cannot say why. I love choral music, yes, but there’s more to it.
A Requiem is a transcendent work of art. It rides atop the millions of voices of devout mourners who have recited this Mass over many hundreds of years. When I listen or sing a Requiem, I feel that the music is not aimed into the ears of the audience, but to those of a God who listens to our petitions and appreciates our beauty.
Then there’s the fact, that I was a weird kid and I liked it that way. REQUIEMS ROCK!