This weekend the Greenville Chorale celebrates the opening of its Fiftieth Anniversary Season with a concert this Saturday at the Peace Center. On the repertoire is the first piece that the Chorale did in its very first season – The Brahms German Requiem. Also up are two pieces commissioned for the event by local composers Robert Powell and Dan Forrest.
The Chorale got its start in 1961 as the Rotary Civic Chorale under the direction of William Jarvis. From 1968-1987 the organization was known as the Greenville Civic Chorale. In 1987 it became known as simply The Greenville Chorale. The Chorale started with forty-five singers, and now features about 160 singers.
It’s also a celebration for our director, Bing Vick. This is his 30th season as the Chorale’s director.
Rehearsals have been going well, and I think the group is ready for the concert. The Brahms Requiem is one of my favorite pieces of choral music, and I think many others in the group have sung it several times before. I studied it in conducting classes at Furman, and this will be the fourth time I’ve performed it. Most recently, I sang it a couple of years ago with the Spartanburg Festival Chorus. This time we’re singing it in English instead of German, and it feels a bit weird. I keep humming the German text instead, because I know it better. It doesn’t help that we have different editions, and so we’ve had to write in changes to some of the English text.
Brahms’s German Requiem is very different from the liturgical Latin requiems by other composers such as Verdi and Mozart. Those follow the standard Catholic mass liturgy, which have all sorts of strange imagery and references. Usually one of the most stirring sections of a requiem mass is the Dies Irae, or Day of Wrath. The Brahms Requiem, on the other hand, doesn’t follow the liturgy. Instead of Latin, it was written in Brahms’s native tongue, hence the name German Requiem. The text consists more of words of comfort for the bereaved. I guess that makes it acceptable to sing in English. Even before the idea of “stages of grief” came about, Brahms incorporated these ideas into his requiem – anger, futility, acceptance, and finally peace are all part of the text.
The two commissioned pieces by Powell and Forrest are also coming along quite nicely. I especially like Forrest’s ‘”St. Patrick’s Hymn”. The text is set to a simple hymn tune written by Forrest. It’s simple, yet compelling and singable. I think it will be the big hit of the evening, and I wish it were the finale rather than the Brahms. Even so, the whole evening should be enjoyable.
So, if you’re not already tied up with Furman Homecoming (which is also this weekend) or one of the other many things going on in town, come out to the Peace Center Saturday night to help the Chorale celebrate. Even if you do have other plans, change them. It will be worth your while.