Monday, April 16, 2018

Eric Conway: Morgan Choir performs Verdi Requiem commemorating the victims of the Holocaust at Chizuk Amuno Congregation

Eric Conway writes:

Hello Morgan Fine and Performing Arts Community,

Yesterday, Sunday, April 15, 2018, the Morgan State University Choir performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass with the Bach in Baltimore chorus and orchestra to a sold-out house!  

This concert was part of Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Day of Remembrance at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville.  The actual date of Yom HaShoah worldwide was April 12, 2018.  The director of the Bach in Baltimore choir, Herb Dimmock, asked if the Morgan choir would join his choir in this performance, marking the 30th anniversary of their group.  Verdi’s Requiem is such a beautiful and powerful work, I could not say NO to the invitation.  Beyond the beauty of the concert, the choir also learned much about the Holocaust during the pre-concert remembrance.

You may ask,  "why sing a Catholic requiem at a synagogue?”  We all learned that during the Holocaust, there was a Jewish concentration camp, Terizin (Czech) Theresienstadt (German), - 35 miles outside of Prague that held as many as sixty thousand Jews captive at one time.  This camp originally was marketed by the Germans to the world as a place to protect the elderly Jews during the War, but quickly became a huge Jewish ghetto housing more artists and artisans than many other of the camps.  Initially, prisoners were allowed to perform their art, at least after hours of their labor, which went far toward helping their spirit during this surely dehumanizing time.  One young imprisoned Jewish conductor, Raphael Schächter  who took his sole score of Verdi’s Requiem with him to the concentration camp, taught Verdi’s Requiem to Jewish prisoners by rote after hours in a cold dank basement after many hours of slave-labor.  Between 1941 and 1945, Schächter led sixteen performances with piano by sixteen different groups of Jewish prisoners before being sent out to the gas chambers in other camps - thus the connection of the mass to the synagogue.  In 2012, a well-scripted documentary was created entitled “Defiant Requiem” about the story of the Jews who sang Verdi’s Requiem directly to their German captors. Yesterday’s concert, was sung remembering their defiant actions in the face of their adversity.  See trailer to this excellent documentary which is a streamed-video with an Amazon Prime membership:

During the concert, many of the actual survivors of the Holocaust were in the auditorium, many who were weeping during the ceremony and the singing of the music. The two choirs and soloists gave a performance that was so riveting, that absolutely everyone in attendance had to be moved; who also had to reflect again on this terrible time in our human history.  

A Washington Post writer once said, "twenty-two percent of millennials are not aware of the Holocaust and two-third of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz!” I was very proud to say at least all of the millennials in the Morgan State University choir now know the story of this terrible genocide in World War II - “We must never forget”.

On May 6, 2018 at 4 PM, the Morgan State University choir will present our annual Spring concert.  We will perform excerpts from this ninety-minute work with our own Morgan soloists!  I hope that you can attend!


We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Aristotle
Eric Conway, D.M.A.
Fine and Performing Arts Department, Chair
Morgan State University
1700 East Cold Spring Lane
Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center, Room 329C
Baltimore, MD 21251

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