For the past several years, Jared Jacobsen has used one Sacred Song Service to provide a memorial for Chautauquan families and friends who have passed away in the previous year.
This weekend’s Sacred Song Service, titled “In Remembrance,” will offer that memorial again. This year, the service is dedicated to the memory of Marilyn Phillips Carpenter, who passed away in January.
“She was larger than life. She was funny, elegant and passionate about what she did,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution organist. “She lived life to the very fullest.”
Carpenter was a longtime Chautauquan and one of the longest-standing members of the Motet Choir. Despite mobility issues in her later years, Carpenter kept moving with a variety of activities, including her time with the Community Band as a self-taught snare drummer.
“[Marilyn] was a vat of positive energy in the room,” said Ruth Powell, Chautauqua Choir librarian.
As in previous years, memory books that have been kept in each denominational house to allow congregants to add their departed loved one’s names will be set along the edge of the Amp’s stage. Each book will be accompanied by a votive candle.
Between the traditional “bookends” of the service, “Day is Dying in the West,” “Now the Day is Over, Night is Drawing Nigh,” and “Largo,” traditional funerary Scripture will be read. The choir will also perform Stephen Paulus’ “Pilgrim’s Hymn.” Audience members will have the opportunity to add names to the memory books during this time.
Rounding out the service will be a sing-along version of Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem.”
“I had done a sing-along version of Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ and it worked because most everybody had sung the Hallelujah chorus,” Jacobsen said. “And when I got back to California, one of my snide friends said, ‘What are you going to do next, a sing-along Fauré’s ‘Requiem’? We all laughed about that, but then I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
To allow Jacobsen to accompany the choir on the organ, Powell will conduct the choir. In addition to her work in rehearsal with the singers, Powell has spent the past week teaching a Special Studies class titled “The Fauré Requiem: A Guide to Listening and Singing.”
“I think anybody who’s ever sung it loves it immediately. It’s just accessible and beautiful,” Powell said. “Fauré’s contemporaries called this a lullaby of death. It’s a gentle treatment of [the Catholic Mass for the Dead] text. It’s very hopeful, and I think, having sung a large number of requiems by different composers, he really captured the text in a way that others have not. He’s sticking right with the Mass, and just somehow made it human and accessible.”
Jacobsen and Powell said this accessibility means the congregation can be asked to accompany the choir in all but a few especially complex sections of the requiem.
“The magic of this is that everybody seems afraid to mess it up, so everybody sings very gently,” Jacobsen said. “The choir’s doing the primary singing and the whole congregation is surrounding them with this halo of sound.”
To prepare for the complexity of the performance, choir members were asked to attend all three of this week’s rehearsals rather than the usual two. Even so, Powell said her emphasis in these rehearsals was not on the music itself.
“My approach is going to be notifying them, ‘Look what he’s doing here, and how this time we’re doing this text is different than the time we’re doing it at the end, and what does that possibly mean,’ [as a way of] humanizing it for [the singers],” Powell said. “I’m going to encourage the choir to be mindfully engaged every second whether they have notes to sing or not.”
Though the requiem will be sung for everyone the congregation wants to remember, Jacobsen said his and the choir’s minds will likely be on Carpenter, who refused to stop making music even as her health declined.
“She wouldn’t dream of [retiring from the choir], because she still had songs to sing,” he said.