Former Homer High School choir director, Mark Robinson, along with the high school’s current choir teacher, Kyle Schneider, are preparing the high school choir, the Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus and the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra for three performances of Johannes Brahms’ “Requiem.”
Each group has been working on the seven-movement, two-solo piece since the beginning of September.
Last spring, after 27 years of teaching in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Robinson retired and decided to spend the winter in California with his family. This time away presented a new challenge to Robinson and the performers.
“I put that (my absence) up to community members from the get-go,” Robinson said. “One of the cool things about this community that I learned years ago is that you put an idea like this out there and people say, ‘Yeah I’d like to do that.’ … They just dove right in.”
While Robinson was away, the vocalists practiced with instrumental recordings and under Schneider’s direction, who was classically trained at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. In January Robinson came back and worked with the group for a few weeks before returning to the Lower 48. When he got back to Alaska in March, Robinson said he experienced some anxiety about the upcoming performance, but the groups did their homework.
This is the first time Robinson has shared the role of artistic director, and he said it has been a good experience.
“He (Schneider) and I think a lot alike musically,” Robinson said. “He’s a very talented guy.”
Schneider, who moved to Homer this year, said it’s been wonderful working with Robinson.
“It’s an amazing opportunity as younger choral director to work with someone who is so knowledgeable, who has done Brahms so many times and who has been involved in that world for quite some time,” Schneider said.
Schneider will be performing the baritone solo and Audra Faris will be singing the soprano solo.
“I think they’re fairly tickled by the opportunity (to sing the solos),” Robinson said. “They both have wonderful voices and add a level of professionalism.”
Robinson has been directing performances like this one every few years since 1994.
“In years past when I’ve done things like this for students, they don’t always get it right away, how cool it’s going to be, but they will remember it for the rest of their lives,” Robinson said.
Audiences can expect to be moved by the dramatic piece as well.
“He (Brahms) wanted it for the people,” Schneider said. “It was supposed to be a way for people to recognize those who have gone before us and to recognize our own mortality.”
Traditional requiems are written in Catholic Latin as a mass for the dead. Brahms, who grew up in northern Germany, wrote his piece in German because he was creating it for the people in his time and place.
Robinson usually conducts whole works in their traditional languages, but for this performance Brahms’ “Requiem” will be sung in English to stay true to Brahms’ idea of his requiem being performed in the language of the people.
Brahms also broke tradition with his requiem by making it a comforting piece for the living instead of a funeral mass.
“There will be times when it’s incredibly gentle and sweet and quiet and other times when it takes the roof off the house,” Robinson said. “It would be a mistake to think it would be sad. It’s joyous music; every movement ends in a major key.”