Sacred Song Honors the Dead

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People like to feel like they’re immortal, Jared Jacobsen said. But an important part of life is that it’s finite — we will all die eventually.

Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will help Chautauquans grapple with that idea in this week’s Sacred Song Service, “In Remembrance.” At 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen will lead the service, which will feature “Requiem” by Gabriel Fauré.

Most composers wrote their own requiem, which is a collection of texts for the burial of the dead.

“They’re very dramatic texts and they, in many ways, parallel the five stages of grief,” Jacobsen said. “Some composers use this requiem to wrestle with God, to be angry with God, to try to be resigned with God, to say goodbye to people [and] to hold out a hope for something brighter in the future in terms of a faith journey.”

Jacobsen said although most requiems are dark and gloomy, Fauré’s is “uncommonly tender, sweet and loving.”

“[Fauré] sidesteps most of the darker parts of the requiem texts, so there are no tubas calling you home from the regions of heaven,” Jacobsen said. “There’s a little bit of shaking the fist at God, which is common when a person dies, but not as much as other composers.”

Jacobsen organized a sing-along for Handel’s “Messiah” a few years ago, which some of his friends thought was completely ridiculous. That’s when one of them made a comment saying: “What’s next? A sing-along for ‘Requiem?’ ”

Even though they all giggled, Jacobsen said the snarky comment actually got him thinking about it. Besides “Messiah,” Jacobsen said “Requiem” is the only other large choral piece that most people in church choir would likely have sung at some point, so it will be familiar to a Chautauqua audience.

The guest conductor for this Sacred Song Service will be a childhood friend of Jacobsen’s: Kathleen Riley Milford. Coincidentally, the soprano soloist is a Chautauquan also named Kathleen Riley.

But the Sacred Song Service will actually include a multitude of different names.

All season long, Chautauqua’s denominational houses have held spiral books that serve as “living documents” where Chautauquans write names of people they want to remember in a special way. The books will be placed on display around the Amphitheater during the Sacred Song Service, so attendees can look at or write in them.

“Everything about the evening is tender and gentle and reflective, and by nature rather open-ended, since we don’t understand the end of that journey: when somebody passes away,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of life can happen between one Chautauqua [season] and the next, so this is our way to fold in people who are important to us and to celebrate their lives and their passing with one of the greatest choral pieces of all time.”

Madison Rossi

The author Madison Rossi

Hailing from Chicago, Madison Rossi is the 2016 Interfaith Lecture preview reporter. She is a class of 2018 journalism major at Northwestern University with minors in marketing and religious studies.