A Human Requiem

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Johannes Brahms said of the title Ein deutsches Requiem, “I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human….” So Brahms wrote a work of consolation for the living, “a healing piece,” as Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser has described it. You don’t need to know German or the Bible when you hear Brahms’ Requiem, you feel its meaning and its comfort.

You no doubt have heard of the protest at Powell Hall Saturday night, just before Markus Stenz turned to give the downbeat to the orchestra and chorus to begin Ein deutsches Requiem. You no doubt have your own thoughts and feelings about it.

Among the orchestra and staff of the St. Louis Symphony the thoughts and feelings are as diverse as can be found anywhere outside of Powell Hall. In response to the protest, some were inspired, some were afraid, some were appalled, some were angry, some were puzzled.

Some members of the audience booed, some applauded. Some members of the orchestra and chorus applauded. Others did not.

I’ve seen the word “surreal” used more than once on individual musician and chorus member Facebook accounts. And for some, there remain unresolved, conflicting thoughts. One chorus member wrote: “As for me, I added Michael Brown and his family to my private list of those for whom I was singing the great German Requiem.”

“Behold, I show you a mystery:/ we shall not all sleep,/ but we shall all be changed….”