Solidarity Through Music

November 19, 2015 by

The Thomaskirche in Erfurt

I stood among the sixty choir members on the raised stage, looking down over the orchestra with their instruments poised, and out across the sea of faces in the pews, then up to the packed balconies of the Thomaskirche in Erfurt, Germany. The conductor and soloists waited off stage, listening for the church bells to finish chiming. As the bells tolled on and on, commemorating the victims of the attacks in Paris the previous night, the introductory remarks we had just heard resounded in my mind: “We could not have known how timely this performance of Mozart’s Requiem would be. The news from Paris makes us feel powerless, but the music which we will sing and hear tonight points us to the highest power. We must turn to Him.”

I had not often heard such a reference to God while living here in former East Germany, where confessing Christians are a very small minority, but it seems that in times of crisis people are perhaps more willing to look for a source of strength beyond themselves.

After several minutes the throbbing bells died away and the conductor took his place. For the next hour the strains of the Requiem soared and ebbed, sweeping me up in the music and filling every vault of the high ceiling: “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine...” “Grant them eternal rest, Lord...”

For the last two years I have been studying towards a teaching degree in German and History at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. I live at the Holzland Bruderhof House, not far from Jena. Along with three families, nine college-age people live there and study at nearby universities or participate in the well-known German apprenticeship program. For my peers and me, our trainings are not only an academic or vocational undertaking, but a great way to come into contact with Germans of our generation. So at the beginning of the fall semester my enthusiasm for singing and a wish to interact with more young people outside of the lecture halls led me to join the university choir. Through the weekly practices I forged new friendships and was drawn into shared experiences that I would never have expected.

As I sang that night, I offered up Mozart’s music as a prayer for each of the souls caught in the blood bath in Paris. But not only for them; I also sang for each of the unnamed thousands of migrants who have died en route to Europe attempting to escape the hell of their own countries, and I sang for the people still trapped in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

“Hostias et preces tibi…” “Sacrifices and prayers of praise, Lord, we offer to you. Receive them in behalf of the souls we commemorate today. And let them, Lord, pass from death to life, which was promised to Abraham and his descendants.”

As the last notes reverberated through the hall and died away, the conductor lowered his arms and bowed his head. The choir did the same and after a short moment of silence the entire audience rose to its feet and we all stood for several minutes in what can only be described as a prayerful silence. We stood there, close to 900 people, united before God in our own powerlessness, but woven together in solidarity through the music and a shared longing for this eternal peace for all the victims in this world.

Rebecca Newton lives at the Holzland Bruderhof House in Germany, and attends university in Jena.


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