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Florence Symphony, Masterworks Choir to premiere requiem for Charleston church shooting
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Florence Symphony, Masterworks Choir to premiere requiem for Charleston church shooting

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FSO and Masterworks Charleston Requiem

Dr. Will Carswell (sitting) and Dr. Terry Roberts, go over the score for Beyond the Years ahead of the March 27 world premiere of the piece in Florence.

FLORENCE – A unique and memorable cultural event is set to take place Monday in Florence.

The men and women of the Florence Symphony Orchestra and the Masterworks Choir are working hard to make sure it’s everything they want it to be.

The FSO and the Masterworks will join forces to present the world premiere of composer Sarah Horick’s Beyond the Years, a musical requiem that commemorates the victims of the Charleston church shootings of 2015.

The debut of the unique, five-movement work is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center. “Beyond the Years” is the climatic piece on that evening’s concert program.

Horick’s piece was commissioned by the symphony, with the help of underwriters, and has been more than a year in the making.

The tragedy at Emanuel AME Zion church opened a raw gash in the collective psyche of South Carolina and the nation. Horick, a Charleston native, is hoping that “Beyond the Years” can put a little salve on that wound.

She’s attempting to do that with an unusual piece that is challenging the musicians in both the symphony and the Masterworks Choir.

Will Carswell, director of the Masterworks Choir, says much of the challenge comes from performing a piece that is brand new.

"Preparing a new work is a unique challenge in that the singers and instrumentalists are creating from a complete unknown,” Carswell said. “Such a challenge is good, as it requires us to work harder and to listen more intently, thus stretching our musical senses.

“This process has been very beneficial for the choir. We look forward to sharing this moving new work with the audience. Please don't miss it!"

Roberts says the orchestra has been working diligently to master the piece. He’s not entirely sure how it will all work out, but he is certain that the audience will be in for a special treat.

“I am always looking for undiscovered talent in soloist and composers,” Roberts said. “After much reflection and research, I discovered the music of Sarah Horick. She has taken the pieces we have provided with the choir and orchestra and created a beautiful work. The audience, with the composer, will be able to hear and see this work come to life.”

Horick, a skilled vocalist herself, said the work is quite challenging for the Masterworks Choir.

“But I understand that both they and the symphony are quite good, so I’m really looking forward to hearing it performed,” Horick said.

Horick, a Furman University graduate with numerous composing honors to her credit despite her relative youth, said “Beyond the Years” was challenging in many ways.

It was difficult, she said, to deal with subject matter “that was so contemporary that it was still developing as I was writing. When this commission came (more than 18 months ago), this (the Emanuel tragedy) was still very new. We were kind of in the middle of the story.”

Horick said that while the story did have special resonance with her, given the fact that she is a Charlestonian, she also knew she had to be very careful that she did not attempt to “own” a story that was not really hers.

She has attempted to get close to the emotions created by the event by basing the text – the lyrics – for “Beyond the Years” on words spoken by individuals with more direct ties to the church and to the tragic events of June 15, 2015.

The lyrics in the first, third and fifth movements of Horick’s work are based on a poem by Paul Dunbar, an African-American poet of the late 19th century. The text for the second and fourth movements is based on a speech by the Rev. Richard Cain, who served as the pastor at Emanuel right after the Civil War, as well as parts of President Barack Obama’s eulogy for the victims of the shooting.

“It made sense for me to amplify the comments of others, who were more closely connected, rather than try to impose some outside idea on this subject,” Horick said.

Horick said there is no implicit political or moral statement intended within “Beyond the Years.” But the structure of the work might offer clues to a possible interpretation. Both musical themes and certain phrases – “Beyond the Years,” for instance – are repeated in various cycles throughout the five movements.

“And it does seem to me that while we continue to make progress, we do seem to have been having, and to continue having, this same conversation over and over,” she said.

Horick’s works have been performed in the United States, Canada and Europe at festivals, recitals and a host of other events. The premiere of her recent collaboration with poet Shannon Berry, “Lux infinita,” was broadcast internationally on the Eternal Word Television Network.

After graduating from Furman with a degree in Music Theory, Horick earned her masters from Florida State and her doctorate in music composition from The Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C. She and her husband, composer Richard Zarou, live in the Washington, D.C. area.

Horick is in Florence this week preparing for performance. She will be involved in special workshops with students from FMU and possibly public schools in the area, and she delivered a special presentation on the creation of the piece Wednesday at Central United Methodist Church.

The critically acclaimed Masterworks Choir is based in Florence but, like the Symphony, includes musicians from around the region. The 50-voice choir was founded in 1979 by the late Bill Mills.

The Florence Symphony Orchestra is a community orchestra featuring professional musicians. It performs in the 900-seat Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2011 in downtown Florence.

Tickets for the world premiere of “Beyond the Years” start at $30 and are on sale at the FMU Performing Arts Center box office (843-661-4444). The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets can be reserved after hours by calling the Florence Symphony Orchestra office at 843-661-2541.

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