Children’s choir perform Brahms and contemporary reflections on death

Notre Dame Children’s Choir joined the Singing Irish and the Sacred Music Festival Orchestra to perform Brahms’ Requiem on Saturday, February 3 in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC). Sacred Music at Notre Dame placed Brahms’ Requiemin the canon of genuinely sublime choral masterworks,” and explained that his requiem “was written not as a Mass for the dead but to comfort the living.”

The Children’s Choir, an initiative of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, is composed of five separate choirs, totaling over 120 young singers aged five to seventeen. Members of the Seraphim and Chamber Choirs, two of the choirs for middle and high-school aged singers, performed in the concert.

The performance, directed by Dr. Mark Doerries, featured soloists Anne Slovin—an award-winning soprano and visiting professor in the Department of Music—and baritone Dr. Emorja Roberson, a two-time graduate of Notre Dame’s Department of Sacred Music who now teaches music at Emory University. Approximately 600 people were in attendance.

Inspired by the deaths of his mentor, Robert Schumann, and his mother, German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) wrote Ein deutsches Requiem in the 1860s. The traditional Requiem texts set by such composers as Victoria, Mozart, and Verdi come from the Catholic Church’s prayers for the dead at funeral Masses. Brahms, a German Lutheran, forever changed the genre, conceiving of his Requiem as a comforting work for the living. Thus, he selected alternative texts from across the Lutheran bible to comprise his work, such as Wisdom 3:1—“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

The seven-movement work incorporates varied musical textures to convey the gamut of human emotion. The first movement includes unaccompanied melancholic choral sections; later movements reach a booming forte with full orchestral accompaniment. Yet the same melodic theme recurs throughout the work from beginning to end. Through its seven movements, the Requiem charts the human journey through grief, hope, and healing in response to death.

The evening began with an original composition titled Joy On Its Way, written by baritone Dr. Emorja Roberson specifically for the event. This composition presented a modern-day interpretation of the same humanist themes of grief and healing treated by Brahms in his Requiem. Contrasted with the classical style of Brahms, Roberson’s piece was written in a gospel/jazz style. 

In composing Joy On Its Way, Roberson was particularly influenced by Matthew 5:4, the same verse that inspires the opening movement of Brahms’ Requiem: “Blessed are the dead who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

Roberson explained the significance of the passage, telling the Rover, “This scripture speaks about the ways that people are blessed and provides a level of comfort, enabling people to find a way to express peace.” 

On the music theory side, Roberson noted that the seventh and ninth chords used throughout the piece—idiomatic of the gospel/jazz style—add a layer of harmonic emotion, evoking sensations of grief, loss, and hope in listeners.

After the prelude, the orchestra performed George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings” (1946). Intended as a lament for his late grandmother, the work attempts to appeal to the human spirit in processing the joint experiences of loss and hope, inviting all those in attendance to acknowledge their own losses.

A student in the audience remarked that the piece was “very emotional” and “blended beautifully with the emotions evoked throughout the Brahms performance, particularly the first and seventh movements.”

Even those not particularly familiar with the style of the Requiem were moved by the performance. A sophomore from Farley Hall noted, “As someone who is not well versed in classical music, I thought this piece provided a gateway to inspire my attendance at future performances.”

Notre Dame sophomore Andrew Sjurset reflected on the university’s commitment to promoting sacred music. He told the Rover, “It is a true blessing and pleasure to attend a university that honors the majestic beauty of music.”

A complete list of the upcoming concerts sponsored by Sacred Music at Notre Dame can be found on their website. The South Bend Symphony Orchestra will perform Mozart’s Requiem in DPAC on March 17, and the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir will perform Mozart’s Requiem on Palm Sunday (March 24) in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Anne Griffin is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying Arabic and ACMS. She can currently be found in an undisclosed location trying to stay alive in a heated game of assassin. Anyone with insider information or other general inquiries can email

Photo Credit: The Irish Rover

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