Eternal Light in Music…and Giving Death its Due
By Concentus member (and by day, Lutheran minister) Johanna Rehbaum.
At rehearsal one night recently, it struck me: for a spring concert, at a time of year the earth relishes in growth and new life, we are singing an awful lot of songs about death. The Brahms, with such lines as, “Dear Trenar is dead—dead!;” Lux Aeterna, which takes its text from the traditional Requiem mass; and of course, Cassiopaea, through which every last one of us has cried as the poet reflects on the death of her mother from cancer.
Death is such a taboo topic in our culture, no? We hate even to say the word—perhaps it is better to sing it, to express the myriad emotions that accompany it through the gentle power of melody, and the rich depth of harmony. Still, despite the elusive nature of articulating, let alone discussing it, death remains the one thing of which we can be certain.
At the above mentioned rehearsal, as we sang through the entire repertoire for our spring concert, I realized it was actually entirely appropriate that we address in our music the relentless reality of death—for as much as we rejoice over the buds and the births and the flowering trees that come this time of year, we cannot overlook that none of these would have delighted our senses if they had not all first died. This is the cycle of existence: newness and life can only come out of endings and death.
We see it in nature, of course. But we see it also in the course of our lives. A graduation marks the end of our time in one school, and also catapults us into the next phase of life or career. A marriage marks the end of life as just-you, and the beginning of life as a couple, even, as a new family. A new job means saying goodbye to an old job (for better or worse!). Retirement means the end of our working selves, and the identity that goes with that, and begins a new way of living, and a new way of defining our identity.
Not all deaths are bad, though they all crave to be acknowledged, and often require some level of grieving (all change does!). And when we are able to do this, to give death its due, this is when these deaths can indeed propel us into the newness and life that awaits.
So, I hope you do enjoy our spring 2017 concert, in which we will not shy away from all that goes into experiencing and embracing the life promised in this season of new growth. And as you enter whatever season of death (and new life) you might be experiencing in your own life, our hope is that, through our gift of music, you might also experience a bit of the “lux aeterna” (light eternal) that promises to follow.