In Crucifixion Resurrection: Nine Souls a-Traveling, a reqiuem by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Alive composer-in-residence Hannibal Lokumbe, nine banners by artist Steve Prince represented the nine victims of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Reverend Mark Tyler held one and explained that we stood on his church’s former burial ground. The site is now the southwest corner of the Weccacoe Playground, and we were gathered there for a processional to Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
"Many have been crucified"
Lokumbe, flanked by the standard bearers, led us down Fifth Street to the steps of Mother Bethel, where the crowd stopped to gaze at the banners. Next, the banners were hung in stanchions on the sanctuary’s balcony, the images of the nine victims as saints now prominently displayed for the concert.
Filled to the brim, the church was sweltering and the audience fanned their programs to keep cool; the overflow crowd invaded sections roped off for videographers and photographers. The bright evening sun lit the stained-glass windows, making every detail of their brilliant colors glow. Reverend Tyler, referring to the Philando Castile trial without naming it, said, “Many have been crucified by government authorities, even Jesus.” Yet Lokumbe’s text spoke only of love and warmth.
Lokumbe's music, staid in its harmonic patterns, had flourishes of jazz, exuberantly played by Juliette Kang, first associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Kang’s jazz chops were a delightful surprise, and her perfect descending double stops created a striking introduction to Janice Chandler-Eteme’s strong soprano voice in the “Veil One: Reverend Sharonda Coleman Singleton” response.
Power and joy
Lokumbe conducted, sometimes with trumpet in hand, sometimes taking solos with impressive circular breathing, as the 68-year-old showed that holding long notes and pushing the lungs to go further has nothing to do with age. In spite of the oppressive heat, he leapt, interjected, cajoled, danced, and gestured with the agility of a teenager.
The requiem consists of nine responses (one for each victim) to the question, “What is it you would ask to be recorded into the Book of Ages?” Some responses were spoken. The love and forgiveness at the core of this piece shone through in phrases such as “Music would have saved that boy” and “Maybe now I could reach him” and “The last commandment of my Lord was to wrap the suffering of this child in the quilt of spiritual bliss.” They created a more effective memorial than bitter words ever could.
Lokumbe used both classical and jazz styles. An absolutely riveting tenor aria was sung by Rodrick Dixon to a jazzy violin-and-piano duet, while a pristinely simple mazurka for piano and violin accompanied a soft, plaintive solo by Janice Chandler-Eteme.
The finale was a foot-stomping duet between the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale and Dixon. Hannibal Lokumbe let rip from his trumpet and many in the congregation rose to their feet to clap, dance, and respond in a powerful and joyful celebration of the lives so senselessly murdered for welcoming a lost lamb into their fold.
The experience was a humbling lesson in forgiveness, delivered with joyful music.
To read Mark Cofta's review of the world premiere of New Freedom Theatre's Mother Emanuel, click here.