As most long-time readers know, I have the honor to sing with the Santa Barbara Choral Society in the soprano section. For the last two years, we have had plans for the Verdi Requiem on our calendar for Spring 2009. Our concert will be May 16 and 17, just a few weeks from now.
Not too long ago, we learned of an astounding coincidence. May 17, 2009 happens to also be the Commemoration Day of the Liberation of the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin (Theresienstadt) near Prague.
Terezin was a ‘show camp’ where visiting dignitaries from human rights organizations were brought to show them that the prisoners interred there were being treated well. Toward that end, the Nazis directed musicians and singers and artists toward this camp and permitted them to practice their arts for show. Later, most were deported to extermination camps, such as Auschwitz and Malthausen. At Terezin, there was a conductor, named Raphael Schaecter, who assembled a chorus and orchestra from among the prisoners. During the years of 1943 to 1944, Schaecter and his musicians performed the Verdi Requiem 16 times to uplift the hearts of their fellow prisoners and to amuse their captors, who thought it funny that a chorus of Jews would be singing a Christian funeral mass…for themselves.
This year on Terezin’s commemoration day, a chorus from America (the Berkshire Festival Chorus) will travel to Prague to perform the Verdi Requiem at the camp on May 17. On that same day, my chorus, Santa Barbara Choral Society, will be performing the same piece in Santa Barbara.
Once we learned of this amazing coincidence and began to discover more about the singers and the history of this piece of music in their lives, we determined to dedicate our performance to the memories of the singers of Terezin. Beautiful as the piece is (and it is achingly beautiful) it has taken on an entirely new meaning to our group. Each of us feels a connection to these singers and instrumentalists who under the most difficult of circumstances that life could throw at them found solace and even defiance of their captors in the music. Able to say through the Verdi’s score what they couldn’t say in words. For more on the history, click here.
Just today, a friend just sent me a link to an incredible essay by Karl Paulnack on this subject. Better than I ever could, this piece sums up why music matters and why it is desperately wrong to cut funding for music at a time as critical as this one in our country. Now, more than ever, we need music to feed and heal our souls.
If you’re anywhere near Santa Barbara that weekend, come to hear us at the Granada Theater!