Worldwide, voices to sing through tears in September 11 'song of transformation'
Seattle Times music critic
Eugenia Wuhrmann, a member of the Seattle Symphony Chorale, wasn't the only one choking up as she sang Mozart's Requiem yesterday in an emotional dress rehearsal for Wednesday's performance at Safeco Field in memory of those killed in the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.
Many of the singers did what Marcie Howard said she did: "Sang a little, cried a little. We all stepped up to a different plane of focus and intensity because we were all remembering the tragic loss of life that brought us here."
More than 180 international choirs have seized upon the Seattle chorale's idea of performing in a "Rolling Requiem" observance, in which each choir begins a performance of Mozart's sublimely moving Requiem at the local time of 8:46 a.m. — the time, in New York, of the first attack on the World Trade Center.
It all begins tomorrow at 1:46 p.m. Seattle time, as choirs in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, begin their Mozart performances. It continues on to Australia and then Japan, where Koichiro Okazaki, conductor of a choir in Nishinomiya, said he wanted to "pay my respects to the victims through song."
Seattle choristers said they're thinking about all the other singers, in all the other places in the world, participating in the collective event.
About Latvia, where the Requiem in the Riga Dome Church will be broadcast on television and radio and will feature addresses by the prime minister, the archbishop and international diplomats.
About the Czech Republic, where 11 choruses will unite for a massive Requiem set against a video of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
The Requiem will roll on all afternoon and night, and then end a day later in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where two choirs and a radio station will send Mozart into the airwaves.
"Even in Antarctica, where there are no choirs, the Requiem will be played at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station at the South Pole," said chorale member Andrea Wells.
JoAnn Wuitschick, another chorale member, believes Mozart's Requiem "is going to be this world's song of transformation."
"With all the rushing to and fro, day in and out, rare are the moments when we sit down to a meal with a family or take time to call a friend or bother to acknowledge the stranger beside us," she said.
"On 9/11, for at least one hour, there will be a conscientious effort by thousands around the globe to tune in to the same wavelength. What an affirmation of love, healing and support. We will all come to realize the power of one can be filled with goodness and that we each can contribute to the sum of all things in a positive way."
Rolling Requiem organizer Madeline Johnson, who spearheaded the international grass-roots effort from her Camano Island home, has spent months answering several hundred international e-mail messages a day and countless hours answering her home phone.
"I found myself thinking about Mozart, and I hope wherever he is, that he knows what is happening," Johnson said at yesterday's rehearsal. "This is the only piece of music ever sung in this way around the world, and it is the music he wrote as he lay dying."
Conductor Gerard Schwarz, who will lead the Safeco Field performance, waved his arm toward the stage of musicians before the rehearsal. "Isn't this amazing?" he said. "This is a musical idea that has literally vibrated around the world. People feel so deeply that they want to understand and experience this cleansing together."
The homegrown project has taken flight in the imaginations of musicians in nations spanning the globe. In the process, it has earned approving comments in journals ranging from The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine to the China Post. In just the last week, more than 20 new choirs have joined in — most recently, a children's chorus in Australia.
In Seattle, the demand for free tickets has snowballed in the past week from 5,000 to more than 10,000, prompting the move from the Paramount Theatre to Safeco Field — and a lot of new questions about acoustics, amplification, parking, traffic management and logistics.
Amidst all the excitement, there's still one big unknown: the identity of the woman whose idea sparked the whole thing.
An audience member at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale's opening performance of the Mozart Requiem last January approached chorale member Terry Blumer as they walked to their cars afterward. She told him of her vision during the concert: to have the best choruses in the country ring the Ground Zero area in New York to perform the Requiem after the cleanup had been completed, with one singer's voice for each person lost.
"I don't know who she was, and she has never stepped forward," said Blumer, who described her as an older woman with short, silvery hair. "Maybe she never will. I think we have an angel."
That idea brought together a group of chorale members to explore the possibilities on a volunteer basis. In weekly meetings since January, the committee decided to broaden the initial vision to the current international one. A Web site (www.rollingrequiem.org) was created; international choirs were contacted and press releases sent out.
"No one could have predicted, though, the enormous response we have gotten," Johnson said.
"Every day I'm surprised all over again. Choirs are still coming forward."
As yesterday's rehearsal started, Schwarz gave the downbeat, and the chorus entered on the word "Requiem," sung with what chorister Mary Jo Knittel calls "a sound like never before, so full of beauty and passion."
It's a sound that Schwarz is convinced will make a difference.
"Music makes our ideas come together," he said, "and people around the world recognize its value to express what we cannot otherwise express."
Melinda Bargreen: firstname.lastname@example.org.