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Oakland Symphony Chorus leads September 11 memorial in song

on September 12, 2011

An overflow crowd packed Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light near Lake Merritt early Sunday evening for a concert on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Oakland Symphony Chorus, in conjunction with Oakland’s Pacific Boychoir Academy and the Oakland Civic Oakland Civic Orchestra performed an hour-and-a-half rendition of Mozart’s Requiem, a piece originally composed to commemorate the death of an Austrian aristocrat’s wife.  Titled “Requiem of Remembrance,” the concert was part of a series of Requiem performances nationwide to commemorate the anniversary of the attacks with a day of thoughtful remembrance and reflection.

Sonoma State University professor Lynne Morrow was the conductor.  Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone and representatives of Oakland’s sister cities were also in attendance.

A diverse array of families, children and seniors sat upright in the pews normally filled with Oakland’s Catholic faithful.  While some came in casual dress, others wore suits.  Prior to the opening movement, some looked cheerful in anticipation; others appeared somber and mournful.

Rector Raymond Sacca began the event by welcoming those in attendance, with the understanding that not everyone in attendance was Catholic and for many it was their first time inside the cathedral’s vast and peaceful space, bathed entirely in natural light streaming through the beehive-like wooden interior space. “More than a place of worship, it is a place of gathering,” Sacca said of the cathedral.  “A place to gather in prayer, in solidarity, and remembrance.”

Bishop Cordileone was the next to speak.  “We come from different backgrounds in terms of our beliefs,” he said, “but we share a common vision of peace.”

After an organ interlude, the chorus, already sitting in place, stood to sing.  All were dressed in black, but like the audience itself, the chorus’ members were of different ages and ethnicities, from male pre-teens in the alto section to senior baritones.

After a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, concert-goers were asked to place single roses in front of a photograph of the World Trade Center. Photo by Dylan Bergeson.

“People often forget that many people on those planes were Californians,” Morrow said just before raising her baton to direct the concert’s opener.  “This was not a remote event for us.  This was family.”

The first song of the evening was the national anthem.  Since the anthem’s scheduled singer, an Oakland firefighter, was ill, Morrow asked the entire crowd to stand and sing with the chorus in what turned out to be an unusually heartfelt rendition.

The chorus and symphony string section opened the Requiem. At times spellbinding and haunting, the chorus’s sound swelled through the ethereal interior space of the cathedral.  While most of the audience appeared captivated, other people brought their own score and stood to sing along with the chorus from their pews.  Just as the chorus entered its last movement, the sunlight turned a shade of orange, casting a warm, even light over all those present.

Following the concert, audience members joined Quan and Cordileone in the Cathedral’s courtyard where Oakland Fire and Police Chaplain Father Jayson Landeza led a flower laying ceremony and moment of silence.  Members of the audience, standing in a semi-circle around a pile of red roses and a small red carpet, were invited to take a flower and lay it on the carpet on the ground in a gesture of remembrance.

“I enjoyed it,” said Linda Mrnak, a retired teacher from Pleasant Hill after the flower laying ceremony.  “It was a nice way to commemorate the day.”

Looking contemplative as the sun set over downtown Oakland, Andree Moran of Benicia said she was similarly put at ease by the concert and ceremony.  “Watching so much about the anniversary on TV, I was getting drained,” she said.  “It was a nice way to end the day.”

Related: Ten years after September 11, Oaklanders reflect on how their lives changed.

This story originally listed the Oakland Symphony Chorus as the only choral group to perform.  Oakland North regrets the error. 


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