Maurice Duruflé requiem returns to PHS after 45 years

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Choir director Vincent Metallo leads and accompanies the Chamber Choir in a rehearsal. The Choir performed in a reenactment of Opus 9 on March 6. (photo: Annie Kim)

If people were to walk by the the choir room on a Tuesday night at PHS in 1971, they might hear the same thing as they would have in early March of 2016: a couple dozen voices singing a nine-movement requiem, Opus 9, composed by Maurice Duruflé.

On Sunday, March 6, the PHS Chamber Choir took part in a historical reenactment at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton. The choir, in conjunction with the church’s own Trinity Cathedral Absalom Jones Inspirational Choir, performed a show that was first done 45 years ago in the sanctuary. In 1971, Duruflé conducted the two choirs who sang the requiem he wrote. His wife, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier-Duruflé, who is famous in her own right as a romantic organ player, accompanied the choirs on organ.     

Hanna Rush ’16 is in PHS Chamber Choir, a smaller ensemble choir within the PHS Choir, with only a little over a third of all choir members involved. She has been in the choir for one year and explains the performance as a tribute to the concert that was done decades ago—a way to remember the event as part of the history of the church. “The same concert was done by the conductor [forty five] years ago, so it’s … symbolic,” she said.   

The choir put in a substantial amount of time and effort to make sure the performance was something Duruflé would have been proud of. “We’ve also had extra rehearsals; sometimes [the choir directors] will pull us out during choir class and we’ll go over the requiem,” said Maya Sarafin ’16.

In addition to the long rehearsal hours, the choir faced other challenges in their recreation as well. For instance, the choir is usually conducted by Vincent Metallo, one of their own choir teachers and with a piano accompaniment. Sarafin said, “There’s a new conductor, so [we’re] just getting used to the conducting style and singing with an organ.”

This new conductor was Dr. Lyn Ransom, who is the co-founder of VOICES, an auditioned chorus that both performs and aims to educate the public about the compositional aspects of choral music, and has been recognized by the Arts Council for her efforts. Dr. Ransom found herself connected to Duruflé’s historical concert, as VOICES recorded the Duruflé requiem back in 2001 at the same cathedral. Curious about the history behind the requiem, Ransom collaborated with several of her acquaintances, as well as PHS’s music department, to put together the concert in an effort to honor past musicians like Duruflé and to recreate the experience from decades ago.

Finally, Sarafin talked about the difficulty of singing the requiem itself. “The music itself isn’t very easy—it’s kind of a challenge for the choir to learn,” she said.

With only a little over 30 people in Chamber Choir and nine parts in the song, there were very few people singing each part. According to Rush, this makes it difficult for the singers to stay on pitch, especially given the limited amount of time to prepare. “It’s a bunch of different voices coming together and we haven’t had a lot of time with them,” Rush said.

In the end though, the performance went well. The two choirs taught the audience the song, sang the requiem, and then enjoyed refreshments.

Their long hours ultimately proved beneficial. “The show went off without a hitch,” Sarafin said.

The performance was ultimately a demonstration of music’s ability to connect people across musical prowess and generation. Although the initial performance was 45 years ago, the concert illustrated that the same music can be enjoyed, something that Sarafin thinks Duruflé would have appreciated. “I think that it would make [Duruflé] happy to see that [In Paradisum] spanned cultures and time and we’re still able to like be connected to something so old like music,” she said.

PHS Chamber Choir, along with the full PHS Choir, will be performing again at the Spring Concert.

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