Tomorrow morning I'm going to church with a friend of mine. He is getting a degree in international public policy now, but studied viola at a conservatory in college. We've performed together a couple of times rather informally, and when he asked if I would play with him for a church service of course I said yes. We'll be playing Hindemith's Trauermusik at some point (perhaps the offertory? I'm not even sure). It's not an especially long or difficult piece, but it is poignant. The end has always struck me. Hindemith takes the tune "Old Hundred" originally harmonized by J.S. Bach (or, for church-goers out there, the doxology tune Praise God from whom all blessings flow or All creatures that on earth do dwell...), reharmonizes it with some crunchy dissonance, and adds mini-cadenzas in the solo viola part.
I was practicing this evening, and running through that end part made me nostalgic for some other hymn tunes. I love the old traditional hymns with their rich, full harmonies, best sung in four parts with a resonant pipe organ leading the way. So I dug up my Mennonite hymnal that I bought in college when I took organ lessons (seems so funny you can get that on Amazon!) and ran through a few of my favorites. I'm at a point in my life where I'm not particularly religious, but there is comfort in those familiar tunes.
I started thinking about music as memorial. (I took a whole graduate seminar on this very topic, one of the best classes I ever had.) Hindemith wrote Trauermusik quickly as a memorial to a king who had just died, but whenever I hear it, I think of commemoration in a more communal sense. All creatures that on earth do dwell...
You see, today is the one-year anniversary of the Aurora shootings. And just one week ago, George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin. These are two very different crimes, of course, with seemingly unrelated issues around them being discussed. At some level, though, it comes down to the grim reality of gun violence in our culture and, tragically, the victims caught in the crosshairs (if you will).
All these heavy thoughts were occupying my mind tonight as I scribbled in fingerings and worked out the frequent tempo changes in my music. I think it's just coincidence that we're playing Trauermusik at this particular time (we're also doing a Stammitz concerto for the postlude, and I assure you it's not nearly as profound). For me, though, it's a private memorial.