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Timothy Falconer
Moravian Choir
Apr 18, 2004
Breathless is a word people use too easily, as are amazed, and moved, and thrilled. Given this, these words seem weak to describe my reaction to last night’s performance of Leonard Bernstein Mass by the Moravian Choir and Women’s Chorus, but they’re the only words that’ll do.

I’m surely biased, as I’m married to Paula Zerkle, the director. While my love for her may have clouded my judgement, there was a moment last night when I literally couldn’t breath I was so thrilled. It was towards the end while the passionate Street Chorus (dressed in sixties garb) earnestly sung “Dona nobis pacem” with the Choir, stronger and stronger, over and over, reaching towards an impossible peak. With each wave of their earnest plea to “Give us Peace”, my amazement multiplied, causing me to think, “This just can’t keep getting better.” Then it does, as the Street Chorus invites the Choir to toss their robes and join their unruly group, knocking over benches, literally screaming their lines. I couldn’t breath.

Then it all stops abruptly. The central figure, a priest played by Noah Rachels, screams “Pacem” and smashes a plate on his alter. The priest, the very symbol of devoutness, of order and ceremony, proceeds to have a breakdown. “Haven’t you ever seen an accident before.” What follows is beyond words. In the wake of such unbounded intensity, Noah’s quiet explosion was truly moving. Around me the audience was silent, clearly mesmerized by his quirky reflections, his uncertain revaluations of his faith. His solo is one of the realest moments I have witnessed on stage. One by one, he recalls themes from the Mass, clearly affected by them, clearly destroyed by his doubt. As he walks off stage, I again wonder, “What could possibly follow this?”

After a sustained silence, one member of the rebellious Street Chorus begins to quietly sing Noah’s “Laude Laude” theme. Another joins in, and another. Clearly they are affected by his breakdown. Soon the whole cast is singing Noah’s simple song, and I am again amazed. Their voices felt like cool water seeping through my thirsty body. The Choir joins in. The Women’s Chorus comes on stage. Noah appears from backstage and slowly wends his way to the front, singing “Laude” again, his faith restored, the tension resolved.

But this is not the end. Having reached a sublime unison, the entire cast (including the instrumentalists) sing “Almighty Father,” a song from earlier in the piece. The Women’s Chorus, dressed in angelic white, walk out into the audience and we're surrounded, we're included, in this unfolding transcendence, this moment of grace. I actually cried.

What can I say? Words are so inadequate. After the audience rose to their spontaneous standing ovation, after the backstage congrats, and the student party till 3am, after driving home with Paula as though it were all a dream, I awoke this morning with the most wonderful thought.

I get to see it all again today! Four o’clock in Foy. Don’t miss out!

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