samedi 14 mai 2011

Last song of Haiti earthquake victim inspired music composition

The song Ben Larson sang as he was dying in the rubble of an earthquake inspired a musical composition that was performed on Mother’s Day in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The song Ben Larson sang as he was dying in the rubble of an earthquake inspired a musical composition that was performed on Mother’s Day in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall.
Larson, the son of the Revs. April Ulring Larson and Judd W. Larson of Duluth, was on a missionary assignment in Haiti with his wife, Renee Splichal Larson, and cousin Jonathan Larson when the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake hit, trapping Ben Larson in a collapsed building.
The last thing Renee Larson heard from Ben was him singing the “Agnus Dei”: “Jesus Christ, you bear the sins of all the world away. God’s peace to us we pray.” Sung to the tune of “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” it is part of the 10th liturgical setting in the Lutheran hymnal, said April
Larson, senior pastor of First Lutheran Church in Duluth.
The story of Ben’s last song traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, where it inspired Stephen Johnson, a composer who is dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the two largest seminaries in the world. Johnson said he heard the story from Ann Hafften, a friend of the Larsons who sang in the school’s Master Chorale.
“His story not only resonated with me in that a fellow believer had a heart for Christ and was actively serving as he passed away, but also as he was trapped under the rubble, he sang about God’s peace in his final breaths,” said Johnson, 35. “What a wonderful example of the hope that Christians have.”
Between duties as dean and faculty member and father of two young children, Johnson spent the next nine months composing “Peace Ascends,” a 30-minute piece for chorus, orchestra and baritone solo in three movements. The second movement, titled “Where Charity and Love,” is dedicated to Larson.
“Peace Ascends” shared the program with another original composition and Mozart’s “Requiem” on Sunday in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, one of the nation’s most prestigious classical music venues. The seminary’s
Master Chorale sang, accompanied by the New England Philharmonic Ensemble.
Before the New York debut, Johnson’s composition was performed three times in Texas. The seminary offered to fly the Larsons to any of the performances, but the only one their schedules allowed them to attend was in Fort Worth on April 14.
April Larson, whose background is in music, said she went to Texas with joy, but also with some trepidation.
“I didn’t have any idea what to expect in that piece,” she said. “And it was just a hundred times more powerful than what we were expecting, in a musical way. … (Johnson’s) theology was exquisite. He really entered the suffering. He didn’t pretend it was something else.”
Johnson said differences between the Baptist and Lutheran denominations never entered his thinking.
“I thought about a fellow believer in Jesus Christ who gave his life in ministry of the Gospel,” Johnson said. “That was the story of hope that impacted me so deeply. … We do think differently about a number of points, but these are not matters for which we break fellowship.”
April Larson said meeting Johnson was a humbling experience.
“It’s absolutely no surprise to me that, even though this was a Lutheran man who died singing his faith, that this dear Southern Baptist could receive this powerful witness in Ben’s dying and then incorporate it into a wonderful composition that has been sung in Lincoln Center,” she said.
No additional performances of “Peace Ascends” are scheduled, but Johnson said there have been discussions about making a recording available, and also about a possible future performance by Luther College’s Nordic Choir, which sang at Ben Larson’s graveside service. He was a graduate of Luther, in Decorah, Iowa. Ben, Renee and Jonathan Larson all were students at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, when they were in Haiti in January 2010.

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