No doubt you’ve already heard all about Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, premiering at The Schnitz this weekend. The posters and ads and coverage have been everywhere. Maybe you even read all three parts of Charles Rose’s interview with Geter for ArtsWatch back in 2020 (*checks notes*), two goddamn years ago.
- Part one: Black music is the centerpiece of American culture
- Part two: Tired of having conversations
- Part three: There’s a man going around
There’s a terrible irony in the line that gave part two its title:
If people want to sit and listen to a new version of a Requiem Mass I think that’s absolutely fine, but I do hope that there is something that sparks something within someone that would inspire them to do something. I’m not going to define what that is, whether it’s to go home and reflect or send money to the NAACP. The one thing I know that I’m tired of is having conversations. I want to see things happen.
And should we quote Langston Hughes now? Yes, we should:
What happens to a dream deferred?‘Harlem’ by Langston Hughes.
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
And while we’re at it, let’s consider part of his “Let America Be America Again”:
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
We don’t need to belabor the point, do we? It was huge news–beyond huge, gigantic, gargantuan news–when the Oregon Symphony announced the upcoming performance of: 1) a new work by a genuinely local composer; 2) which would be a substantial, large-scale composition for choirs and orchestra rather than the usual tone-poem or fanfare; 3) featuring a coalition of area choirs, two of Oregon’s best vocal ensembles, and the state’s greatest living poet.
This is what we’d all been dreaming of, those of us who do love Beethoven and Mahler but were hungry for new, substantial work by living local composers. Perhaps you know how rare it still is for any classical group, let alone one of this size and caliber, to perform music written recently by hometown musicians. And Geter was a particularly good choice: a Black singer-composer who’d already put down deep roots in Oregon’s musical community as a tremendously busy bass-baritone.
Then, the dream got deferred.
Return of the Requiem
We don’t need to belabor that point either. Everything got cancelled, rescheduled, rescheduled again, yadda yadda yadda.
Now that the Requiem is finally coming to the stage for real, it’s slightly surprising to see that it hasn’t sold out. The Schnitz seats 2776, and last I checked there were about 200 tickets left. Why? What are you waiting for? Too busy to go out on a Saturday night? Still afraid of Big Bad Downtown Portland?
What’s that, dear reader? Well, no, I’m not going to be there. I’ll be listening on the radio.
And if, like me, you can’t make in person, you can liste that way, too. Go to All Classical’s Geter Requiem broadcast page, and listen up. The broadcast starts at 5:50 p.m., Pacific Time, on Saturday. Until OSO gets around to releasing an official recording of this massively important work–is it too much to hope for a vinyl release? or at least a CD? or at the very very least, streaming on Bandcamp or YouTube or Spotify or whatever?–that’ll be the only way you can hear it unless you’re at the Schnitz. Oh – and, you can listen to it for two weeks after Saturday’s premiere on All Classical’s audio archive.