Hope. Peace. Love. Confidence in things eternal.
When the Bach Choir of Bethlehem participated in a series of concerts in New York City on Friday in observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the message of the music was very clear. The intent of the project was to promote reconciliation, and to demonstrate the power that music has to heal, unify and uplift.
Every piece of music included in the programs for eight one-hour concerts and a culminating two-and-a-half hour concert by massed choir—all presented free to the public--was carefully chosen to express themes of reassurance, comfort, endurance and faith.
Universal messages were found in the Requiems by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré, written in the late 1800’s; in the Negro spiritual Soon Ah Will Be Done With the Troubles of the World; in the classic 18th century hymn Amazing Grace; in the contemporary anthem that sets to music Robert Frost’s poetry, Choose Something like a Star. And in the soaring, reaffirming melody of J.S. Bach’s Dona Nobis Pacem (“Grant us peace”). With songs as tender as a lullaby, skillfully dissonant chords that could pierce the heavens, and full-out choral exuberance, musicians made a statement of harmony.
The marathon day of music, part of a weeklong series of services and events, was hosted by Trinity Church in New York City, a near neighbor to the World Trade Center, where thousands succumbed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Leaders of Trinity Church fashioned a collaborative event titled “Remember to Love.”
Choirs were invited from communities most closely associated with the flights that crashed on 9/11: Boston, New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania. The Bach Choir was honored to be chosen to represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Greg Funfgeld, Bach Choir Artistic Director & Conductor, consulted extensively with Julian Wachner, Trinity’s Director of Music and the Arts. Months of planning resulted in a schedule of concerts on the hour from 11 a.m. through 6 p.m., performed individually by the participating choirs, and alternating between Trinity Church and its sister facility St. Paul’s Chapel. The final evening concert at Trinity brought together the forces of all the choirs—250 voices—plus a full orchestra, high profile guest soloists and six conductors.
The logistics of such an undertaking are no small feat. Concert-goers may have been surprised to learn that the singers of the different choirs never met or rehearsed together until the morning of the performance. Then they dispersed for a whirlwind day of separate concerts with varied, challenging repertoire. The success of the combined evening concert, gauged by the uproarious cheers of the capacity audience, is a testimony to the individual preparation done by the choirs and the unified sense of purpose the singers achieved. (In Bethlehem, Bach singers rehearsed two nights a week during July and August to learn the music for three distinct concerts.)
Much could be said about the physical demands of a 19-hour day that included more than 8 hours of actual standing and singing, let alone the emotional ramifications stirred by the very present memories of the events of 9/11. The lasting impressions, however, will be from the music that joined musicians and listeners in common cause.
The Bach Choir singers especially treasure the intimate concert of 20th century American music they offered at noon at St. Paul’s Chapel. The chapel is directly across from the World Trade Center site. Immediately after the destruction on 9/11 and for almost a year following, the space served as a place of respite for firefighters and recovery personnel working at Ground Zero.
Singers and visitors at the concert had a keen awareness of the spirit of community and caring in that place. Poignant music of our time wrapped around prayers for peace (always spoken at St. Paul’s at 12:30 p.m.), including the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love…”
After weeks of rehearsal, a bittersweet reality for many choirs is that the experience of sharing carefully-prepared music is gone after a sole performance. The Bach Choir is pleased to have the opportunity to repeat a portion of its “Remember to Love” repertoire at the Bach at Noon concert today at Central Moravian Church. The concert is free and open to the public. Also, archived webcasts of the September 9 programs at Trinity Church are available to view at www.trinitywallstreet.org/webcasts.
Editor's note: Author Corliss Bachman is a member of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.