The Requiem Mass has stimulated composers as varied as Mozart, Gabriel Faure and the modern English composer Herbert Howells. And now, a brand-new work inspired by the Requiem's traditional form will receive its world premiere at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City on November 5.
"'Requiem of Peace' is the title, and that title makes a very big difference to understanding what it's all about," says Dr. Mario Pearson, the Cathedral's music director and the new work's composer.
A Requiem's traditional purpose is to ask God’s mercy on the dead by granting them eternal peace. But Pearson's new work extends that prayer to the living – by adding a reminder to the traditional prayers that peace is still possible in our world today.
Lasting about 45 minutes, or roughly the performance time of a Romantic-era concerto or symphony, the "Requiem of Peace" is scored for a choir of about 40 voices and an 18-piece orchestra of strings with clarinet, French horn, chimes, tympani and piano.
Its 10 sections include the traditional seven sections of the Requiem and three extra sections: a setting of the peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, a setting of the Dona Nobis Pacem, and an instrumental interlude written in memory of the victims of 9/11.
All ten sections are joined thematically by a recurring motif. "Sometimes it's taken up by the strings, sometimes by the choir, sometimes by the chimes, and so forth," Pearson says. "It just helps us be mindful of the whole idea, which is a sort of a musical plea for peace in this world."
Pearson was studying composition at Stetson University in Florida on September 11, 2001, "and that's where the whole concept for the Requiem of Peace came about," he says. "Seeing the chaos of 9/11 reminded me once again of the need for peace in this world."
It was a reminder to one who was already quite aware of the need for peace. Pearson was born and raised in the Archdiocese of Cape Town, South Africa, and saw first-hand from childhood what chronic violence does to a community and to a nation.
"I grew up living with a lack of peace," he says. "I remember, very well, me as a teenager playing the organ for so many funerals of teenagers and young children killed in the crossfires.
"Seeing first-hand the violence of the apartheid system as a child made me recognize the need for peace in the world. So actually, it's a very personal story too."
The November 5 service is a multi-media event. The music will be accompanied by PowerPoint slides, including slides of heroes for peace like Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The cathedral's choir, the diocesan choir, and the choir of Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral downtown will join forces for the performance, which is part of an ecumenical liturgical service of readings and hymns called "Requiem and Remembrance."
Pearson says its purpose is "to remember all of those who have gone before us in faith." He will conduct the ensemble and Canon John Schaefer, his counterpart at Grace and Holy Trinity, will be the organist for the service.
"It's a nice piece of music, very attractive" Canon Schaefer says. "It's very accessible to the listener, but also it very profoundly expresses what Dr. Pearson is trying to communicate."
Sr. Claudette Schiratti, the diocese's Associate Music Director, will be the pianist for the Nov. 5 performance. Monsignor Robert Gregory, Rector of the cathedral, and the Very Reverend Terry White, Dean of Grace and Holy Trinity cathedral, will co-preside at the service.
"The world is so full of contradiction, cynicism, division and animosity, and that's just in conversations between people," Msgr. Gregory says. "We hope the beauty of this music will touch people to be people of peace, and to remind people that peace is still possible in this world for those who seek peace."
There will be a candlelit procession to Grace and Holy Trinity for a reception after the service. Admission is free. "No one will be turned away," Dr. Pearson says.
November’s performance is the third annual choral collaboration between the two cathedrals. A free-will offering will be taken to help pay for the orchestra and to help fund another joint choral venture next year.
"I do hope that parishioners from all over the diocese will come and we have a packed cathedral to pray for peace," Pearson says.
"There are never enough occasions for people to do that. At least I hope that's what people take away from it."
Printed with permission from The Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, Missouri.