By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For years, Joplin resident Dee Kassab has wanted masterful choral and orchestral productions to be performed in Joplin.
Having earned her degree from Pittsburg (Kan.) State University’s music department in the 1970s, and having seen and sung in high-caliber performances across the nation, she has been exposed to such works as Handel’s “Messiah.”
“When I was in school, we had greats like Margaret Thuenemann and Carolann Martin to introduce us and audiences to those works, but there wasn’t much going on at Missouri Southern at the time,” Kassab said.
“Such works will bring audiences in from everywhere, will attract students, are great for the community.”
In April 2012, a donation sought by a fundraising committee brought “Messiah” to life at the historic Fox Theater now occupied by Central Christian Center. More than 80 student and community voices were directed by MSSU’s David Sharlow, a Kansan described by Kassab as “brilliant.” Sharlow joined the MSSU music department faculty three years ago.
On Saturday night, she thinks audiences will again be impressed: More than 80 voices accompanied by organ, strings and piano will perform French composer Maurice Durufle’s intricate “Requiem.”
Sharlow, once again directing, has brought together the university’s concert chorale of 64 students and a group of 20 community members, including Kassab, for the inaugural performance of the Southern Symphonic Chorus and Orchestra.
“I have always wanted to do this work,” Sharlow said. “It’s a beautiful work, and I’ve always had an interest in it. I knew it was something I wanted to do. This year, I knew that I would have the students who would be capable of singing it, so I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
Sung in Latin, a requiem is a funeral Mass. A requiem has been used as the basis for works by many composers dating to the medieval period. Durufle wrote his version in 1947.
The work is set in nine movements and was composed on Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. Durufle had been indoctrinated in sacred music early in life, having attended the famed Rouen Cathedral Choir School in France.
“During that time period, as far as musical changes that were happening in the classical field, tonalities were being obscured,” Sharlow said. “The emphasis was on the change of meters, signature and tempo changes, going from the very loud and dramatic to the very soft and serene.
“Those were all being explored, so in this work you have the full gamut. You have movements that are extremely powerful and moving, others that are more serene and meditative.”
Durufle, who published just 14 works, wrote his requiem in memory of his father.
“It is a message of hope, if you will, for life beyond the physical life,” Sharlow said.
“I think he beautifully sets that. It ends peacefully. There are a couple of rousing movements, but when it ends, you are at rest, which is what requiem literally means.”
The challenge in a work of this magnitude, Sharlow said, is the tempo changes and metering — or the number of beats per measure and the emphasis put on syllables.
“There is a lot of changing back and forth in this work,” he said. “The tempo changes in some of the movements, and we have done count singing to make sure we get the rhythms. When we put it together with the orchestra, that’s another challenge.”
The university’s concert chorale started rehearsals in January when the second semester got under way, and the group of community singers began in February, rehearsing on Thursday nights.
“Some of the community group are music teachers, some are church choir singers,” Sharlow said. “They have a variety of experiences, and all want to sing.”
Kassab’s committee collected funds from the community to cover costs associated with the performance, which is free and open to the public.
The concert will begin with the MSSU Chamber Singers, who recently performed in Wichita, Kan., and will be followed by the requiem. Audiences can expect the concert to last about two hours, including an intermission.
The concert, presented by Missouri Southern State University’s music department in conjunction with the university’s 75th anniversary celebration, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at First Community Church, 2007 E. 15th St. It is free and open to the public.
In addition to the concert, MSSU will have a variety of events this weekend in honor of its 75th anniversary. All events are open to the public.
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Authors’ book signing in Spiva Library.
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — Community picnic, music and activities on the campus oval; lunch is free for MSSU faculty, staff and students, and $5 for the public.
3 to 5 p.m. — Open swim at the pool at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
7:30 p.m. — Production of “The Patsy” in Taylor Performing Arts Center; admission is free.
9 a.m. — 5K run/walk, with registration beginning at 7 a.m. near the tennis courts behind Billingsly Student Center; the cost is $25.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Southern Smoke BBQ and craft show on the campus oval; lunch is $5 for brisket or pulled pork with one side, or $8 for three ribs with two sides.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Campus tours.
Noon — Screening of a Thomas Hart Benton documentary in Phelps Theatre in Billingsly Student Center.