To Soothe and Protect

(Copyright John Rutter, Collegium Records)

My high school choir sang John Rutter’s “Requiem” during my junior year. We performed it in spring, close to Easter and Passover. Practice was daily, and like anything practiced each day, the music gradually became learned, then memorized, then second-hand. This complete familiarity with the material was our choir director’s goal: When the time came for our performances, we teenagers wouldn’t need sheet music. In the moment, we would be able to focus wholly on his direction, and the audience. And as a side effect, nearly twenty years later, the notes and lyrics are still deeply impressed in my memory.

I’m not a religious person, but in times of sadness, I find myself returning to my copy of Rutter’s “Requiem” recording by The Cambridge Singers, and the “Lux Aeterna” movement in particular. I find it, still, indescribably lovely — even despite having heard it so much during that initial memorization period. I still get chills at the sequence starting at the 2:18 mark, culminating with a lump in my throat at the 5:22 mark when the sopranos hit that sublime crescendo. Listening back to it now, and remembering all the repetition of our choir practices, I wonder how much time Rutter spent on this work during the composition process, tweaking it over and over until he got it to the level of beauty he found appropriate.

Beyond beauty, though, I find this piece to be such a comfort. No doubt part of the comfort comes from my deep sense of nostalgia I feel when I hear this piece. But in fact, maybe that’s one of the greatest values of a wonderful performance – the ability, in the face of hardship, for a performer (or performers) to reach an audience in a way that can soothe, reassure, and connect. A comforting performance may differ by the eye of the beholder, or the ear of the listener, but for me, it gets no better than this.

This post first appeared on the Good Taste and a Sense of Humor blog.

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