An African American Requiem airs this Sunday, June 19, 2022, at 3pm CT
Commissioned by Resonance Ensemble, An African American Requiem was originally slated to premiere in April 2020, but postponed due to the ongoing global pandemic. This long-awaited, highly anticipated performance and live broadcast took place at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon, on May 7, 2022, at 6:00 PM PT. The Oregon Symphony performed with the African American Requiem Choir, made up of singers
from Resonance Ensemble, Kingdom Sound Gospel Choir, and other Portland-based choirs. William Eddins conducted, and Resonance Ensemble’s Artistic Director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon prepared the chorus. The concert also featured a quartet of renowned African American opera singers: Brandie Sutton, soprano; Karmesha Peake, mezzo-soprano; Bernard Holcomb, tenor; and Kenneth Overton, baritone.
The piece incorporates traditional requiem mass parts, African American spirituals, as well as texts from civil rights activists Ida B. Wells and Jamilia Land. It also includes the last words spoken by Eric Garner, a line from a poem by Antwon Rose, and words written and performed by Portland poet Dr. S. Renee Mitchell.
The broadcast is hosted by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight and All Classical Portland’s Suzanne Nance, and produced by Sarah Zwinklis and Eileen Delahunty.
ABOUT AN AFRICAN AMERICAN REQUIEM
Damien Geter composed An African American Requiem to highlight the atrocities of race relations in the United States. Commissioned by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, Geter’s work is a major musical composition for full orchestra, symphonic choir, and a quartet of African American vocal soloists. This requiem in nineteen movements will honor the victims of past lynchings through hanging, and present-day lynchings by way of police violence.
Damien’s Requiem integrates the Latin Requiem text with contemporary texts. The Requiem Mass, the Catholic liturgy performed at funerals in remembrance of the dead, also has a history of concert performance. Many established composers like Mozart, Verdi, and Britten have set the liturgy to music, in honor of someone who has passed, or a catastrophic event in history. As yet, there has not been a Requiem written in honor of African Americans who have lost their lives over the years due to racial violence; this will be a groundbreaking work that we believe can have a tremendous impact on the people of the United States of America.
An African American Requiem serves as a commentary on the war of racism, whose increasing casualties are left unnumbered and counting. The Requiem will use the traditional Latin text, and will also incorporate spirituals (There’s A Man Goin’ Round, and Kumbaya), and texts from civil rights activists Ida B. Wells (Lynching is Color-Line
Murder) and Jamilia Land (We are living in communities that are like war
One ovement is dedicated solely to Eric Garner’s famous last words, “I can’t breathe,” and uses no wind instruments but rather a tenor soloist who sings over the roar of percussion instruments to be heard. The heart of the piece, the Agnus Dei, a piece for solo a cappella choir, fuses elements of jazz, gospel, spirituals, and renaissance styles. The Recordare recognizes children who have been killed and uses a line from a poem by Antwon Rose, “I am confused and afraid.” The Lacrimosa infuses the Star-Spangled Banner with minor harmonies, orchestrated to feel like a funeral march. The very last movement, In paradisum, infuses the spiritual Walk Together Children.