Ten years later, requiem 'still makes sense' for 9/11 concert

Friday, September 9, 2011 | 10:22 a.m. CDT; updated 12:24 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 29, 2012
Members of the choir rehearse on Sunday afternoon at the First Baptist Church on East Broadway St. The choir is made up of experienced and beginning musicians.

COLUMBIA — Nine years ago, more than 1,000 concert-goers gathered at First Baptist Church for the first anniversary of 9/11. The turnout was so great, some people had to be turned away.

A choir of about 150 singers filled the echoing sanctuary with Mozart's "Requiem."

9/11 concert

What: A choir, orchestra and handbell ensemble performing Mack Wilberg's "Requiem," Frank Ticheli's "Earth Song," and Jim Papoulis's "Give Us Hope." The program will feature cellist Matthew J. Pierce and soprano Lindsey Lang. 

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.

Tickets: $5, available starting at 6 p.m. Sunday.

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“You could feel the emotion from everybody,” said Elisa Sims, 55, a Columbia resident who performed that night.

Now Columbia’s church music community has come together again under the direction of Edward Rollins, Emily Edgington and Tristan Frampton. People of different doctrines, ages and levels of musical commitment make up the vocal and instrumental ensembles. Their lives move in different directions, but music is something they share.

At a rehearsal in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church last Sunday, Sims brought a program from the first anniversary concert. She flipped through it, noting that this year’s choir is much smaller.

“Hardly any of the same men,” she said.

She flipped to a picture of Rollins, an associate pastor at First Baptist. He looks unchanged: a tall, trim man with a bright smile.

The 2002 performance was Rollins’ idea; he thought it would be meaningful to repeat such a project on the 10th anniversary. He sat to the left of Edgington during most of the rehearsal, singing many of the pieces he, Edgington and Frampton had selected.

Edgington ran the choir through bits of Mack Wilberg’s “Requiem,” the service for the dead they chose to replace Mozart’s. Rollins described the piece as subdued and touching. 

“When we grieve together as a nation, it makes sense to make music together,” he said. “Since we are still suffering, healing and needing to move forward, a requiem still makes sense.”

Rollins explained what goes through his mind when he sings the requiem: choir members who have passed away, the cat that was part of his family and died last week. He spoke about the 9/11 attacks themselves, but more about their effects on the country.

“We have become a lot more regulated,” Rollins said. “Whether that’s good or bad, it’s part of the innocence we’ve lost. We changed.”

Several chairs away from Rollins sat bass soloist Ben Donnelly-Strait, a 21-year-old MU student with long brown hair and a resonant voice.

“Have mercy!” Donnelly-Strait sang. “Have mercy! Hear my cry!”

With precise steps, his voice descended a ladder of pitch. He held the last note, which became softer and softer until his vocal chords finally stopped vibrating. 

“It’s like a scream to me,” Donnelly-Strait said later. “You’re running out of breath and you won’t be able to scream anymore. So you cry.”

He said the music reminds him of his mother who died of cervical cancer in 2009. She introduced him to music and attended his rehearsals while he was growing up, giving him notes afterward. She died three weeks after displaying symptoms.

“Nobody was ready,” Donnelly-Strait said. “It was the same way I felt watching 9/11. When you see something like that, everyone knows what it feels like.”

He said music helps. But it does not make the pain go away.

“Music helps you process it,” he said.

The requiem took up most of the two-hour rehearsal. Edgington’s arms carried beats from her shoulders to the point of a pencil, her conductor’s baton. She conducts various choral ensembles, including the choir at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. She also teaches music at Columbia Independent School.

Edgington said she is fortunate to have never experienced a major traumatic event firsthand, so music is more of a social, spiritual and intellectual outlet. When facing trials large or small, it can be a catharsis for individuals, she said.

“Singing is better than doing or talking,” she told the choir at rehearsal. When she finished conducting the requiem, she took her place among the singers.

Frampton arrived in time to conduct two shorter pieces. A doctoral candidate in the music education program at MU, Frampton is the choir director at First Presbyterian Church.

“(Music) is what I’ve always done,” Frampton said. “It’s where I derive the most pleasure.”

Frampton's conducting style is lively. He said he chose Frank Ticheli’s “Earth Song” for its text. He also likes the dissonance Ticheli has inserted into the chords. Dissonance can become consonant, he said.

“One could hope out of tragedy and discord, we can come together and be accepting,” he said.

Frampton then moved into a lively, gospel-inspired piece. The choir bounced to the music, and the mood became joyous. The song, “Give Us Hope” by Jim Papoulis, was popularized by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.

“We start with the requiem to set the mood and have some remembrance,” Frampton said. “The second half is a theme of hope."

Ben Froeschle, 15, said he agreed to be one of about 15 students from Columbia Independent School singing “Give Us Hope.” Froeschle sings with his church choir and the Columbia Choral Union, so he is used to singing with adults.

“I love singing, and I grab any opportunity I can,” Froeschle said.

Froeschle was 5 years old when the planes hit the towers. He said he doesn’t remember that day. He learned about 9/11 after watching a show about it on PBS.

“My reaction was, ‘Wow, did this really happen?’” he said. “I didn’t realize all the implications of people’s lives who were lost.”

Froeschle said he thinks about the event when his teachers discuss the anniversary of the attacks in his history and current events classes.

"It affected the way we live," he said. "But I didn't know a different way."

Mostly, he is focused on the music.

“Our song is more about trying to move on and continue with life,” he said. “Honestly, I think about notes and pronunciation.”

Sims said her focus for this performance is on hope. As other singers pack up and leave rehearsal, she stayed a little longer and talked about America 10 years after the attacks.

“Now it seems like the whole world is falling apart,” she said.

She referred to revolutions in the Middle East and Africa and economic crises all over the world. People must put aside their differences and hold on to hope, she said; music can help.

“Music has been our refuge,” Sims said. “It’s one of the only things that’s kept me sane.”

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