‘In Remembrance’ Sacred Song service to honor loved ones

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

The Sacred Song service will take on a somber tone this Sunday as the choir and congregation sing in honor of lost loved ones.

At 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans can memorialize their lost friends and family by singing and signing books during the “In Remembrance” service.

Each denominational house on the Chautauqua grounds is displaying a book, available until Sunday,  in which people write the names and memories of loved ones. At the service on Sunday, all 25 of the books will be arranged with lit candles on stage, where attendees are invited to write in them one last time.

“Part of the component is … having these books of memory, where people are writing in names ahead of time,” said Jared Jacobsen, coordinator of worship and sacred music. “There’s something tangible about writing it down, and to read through these books is very touching … you can tell by looking at these that this is a human document.”

Chautauquans have been remembering their loved ones in these books for several years, and the service is always emotionally and visually moving, Jacobsen said. The goal is that the books will end up in the Chautauqua Archives.

“The chemistry of the Amphitheater and the magic of Chautauqua takes over,” Jacobsen said.

The books, candles and difficult music can be a challenge, he said.

“It works, and it’s one of those things that ought not to work, but it works here because it’s Chautauqua,” Jacobsen said.

During the book signing, the choir will sing Mormon Tabernacle Choir conductor Mack Wilberg’s version of “Be Still My Soul” and an arrangement of “How Can I Keep From Singing?”

These songs, as well as “Abide With Me” and a reading of Psalm 23, represent the solemn mood of the service.

This service also is traditionally a community sing-along service, even more so than most Sacred Song services. The congregation will join the choir in singing “Requiem” by Gabriel Fauré, a difficult piece that Jacobsen said will require some practice beforehand.

“This is largely an experiential thing. … Part of the experience is to be immersed in the choir in a way that you don’t ever get if you sit in a concert hall,” Jacobsen said.

Guest conductor Steven Skinner will lead the congregation through the rehearsal of a few stanzas before the congregation sings the entire piece. However, this should not detract from the flow of the service or the impact of the piece as a whole, Jacobsen said.

“Here’s people’s opportunity to come and sing something big at Chautauqua with a big group of people in a wonderful hall in which to make music, with very little rehearsal but a great deal of reward,” Jacobsen said.

Skinner also will lead soprano Motet Choir member Mary Ellen Kimble in a solo within “Requiem” called “Pie Jesu.”

“It’s nice, though, because most of us have people that we’ve lost,” said Kimble, who has been a member of the choir for 37 years. “We’ve lost choir members, and choir members have lost family members, and the Motet Choir is a very family-like group in the sense that we are very much tuned into each other and share our joys and our sorrows with one another.”

For Kimble, this memorial service will be bittersweet. In 2009, Kimble lost one of her best friends, longtime choir member Sara Bradley. “Requiem” was one of Bradley’s favorites.

“I’m dedicating this to Sara,” Kimble said. “Because that’s where I miss Sara, is when we’re in the choir room. And we always laughed because we’re both short … but we always breathed at the same place, so we’d have to say ‘OK, I’ll breathe at this measure, and you breathe at this measure,’” Kimble said.

Although the tone is subdued, it also is celebratory, Kimble said. The service acts more as a comfort for the participants than a mourning of the lost.

“People do want to remember, and it does give people comfort,” Kimble said. “All of these things are not for the one who has died because they’re in a better place. But it’s those of us who are surviving. … We’re the ones who need the comfort, and so it does comfort people to think that their loved ones will be remembered.”