Last night I performed in one of the most difficult concerts of my career. The Children’s Hospital of Greenville holds an annual service in memorial to those children who have died in the hospital in the past year. This year the Greenville Chorale Chamber Ensemble was invited to sing. The service consists of a half-hour video with images of the children, our music, some remarks by the hospital chaplin and an invited speaker, then a reading of the children’s names.
We were not sure if our ensemble could hold it together for what was sure to be an emotionally charged service. As it turned out, while there was sadness, there was more of an air of stoicism among the families. I guess that for most of them the time for grief had passed, and that this was more of a remembrance. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stay for the entire service, so we were spared some of the more emotional elements. That, and low lighting that made it difficult to make eye contact with the audience helped.
For our repertoire, we sang the Psalm 23 and Psalm 121 settings from the Howell’s Requiem, “Cast Your Burdens Upon the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, an excerpt of the finale from Rutter’s Mass for the Children, and Daniel Gawthrop’s setting of “Sing Me to Heaven” by the poet Jane Griner. While all were appropriate, the Gawthrop was the most powerful in my opinion.
Sing Me to Heaven
In my heart’s sequestered chambers
Lie truths stripped of poet’s gloss.
Words alone are vain and vacant and my heart is mute.
In response to aching silence
Memory summons half-heard voices,
And my soul finds primal eloquence and wraps me in song.
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
Sing me a requiem, sing me to heaven.
Touch in me grief and comfort;
Love and passion, pain and pleasure.
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem.
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God:
Sing me a love song, Sing me to heaven.
The St. Olaf College Choir sang this piece on NPR, and you can hear it on the NPR website.