Interview with Jesús Gomez, Composer of New Requiem Premiering in Tacoma on Good Friday, April 14

At 7:00 pm on Good Friday, April 14, Tacoma’s First Presbyterian Church will host the world premiere of a new Requiem composed by Jesús Gomez. Gomez graduated from PLU in choral conducting and is now teaching choral music at Glacier View Jr. High as well as serving as a worship intern at First Presbyterian Church. His Requiem will be heard as part of a Good Friday communion service, and it will be performed by chancel choir, chancel singers, chamber orchestra, and pipe organ. Gomez recently described how he came to write his Requiem and what he hopes people will take away from it.
 

Q. What is a Requiem?

Gomez: The Requiem is one of the most significant texts in choral history. It is the mass for the dead, and has been set by composers from as far back as a thousand years ago, and by all the greatest composers since (choral composers who did not write for the Church is a fairly recent phenomenon— beginning roughly 150 years ago).
 

Q. What are the various parts of a Requiem?

Gomez: Musical settings of the Requiem Mass normally contain seven parts: Introit, Kyrie, Sequence, Offertory, Sanctus (and Benedictus), Agnus Dei, and Communion. Each of these serves a very specific purpose, and each is connected to the other within the context of the liturgy.
 

Q. What inspired you to write this particular Requiem?

Gomez: I first had the idea to write a Requiem in November of 2015, as I was at a national convention for the National Choral Conductor’s Organization. It was during that conference that word came streaming in that there had been a terror attack in Paris, and my friends and I looked on in horror as the casualty count continued to rise throughout the day. Experiencing true grief and devastation at world events for the first time in my adult life, I responded by setting a French text—Priez Pour Paix (pray for peace).
 
As the ensuing year unfolded—with terror attacks throughout the world (but very prominently in France, Istanbul, and very recently in the U.K.), school shootings on both college and K-12 campuses, and the rise in “us-against-them” rhetoric on a global scale—I became increasingly distressed. It seemed to me that our world was coming unglued, and that every day brought a new death to mourn or yet another injustice to be broken over. I found my prayers turning from whispered requests for violence to desperate cries for mercy—for a simple respite from the seemingly never-ending store of tragedy.
 
It was this time last year that I wrote the “Sanctus,” and over the course of the next six months, the rest of the Requiem came to me: sometimes bit-by-bit in a struggle for every note, and sometimes in almost overwhelming waves of inspiration.
 

Q. Can you walk us through what the various parts of the Requiem mean?

Gomez: For me, this Requiem tells the story of a Christian who struggles to reconcile the failings of the world he or she lives in—the death and destruction and hatred we seem to be so surrounded by—with the perfection of Christ.

The first half of the work is filled with angst, grief, and doubt. We begin in the Introit (“grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them”), which is a depiction of how often attempt to mask our grief by saying the right things and “putting on” a stoic face in public. It is appropriately solemn, a little haunting, and purposefully lacks drama. The Kyrie, however (“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”), is a cry for mercy: the constant dissonance and shape of the lines is meant to represent the rising and falling of uncontrollable sobbing.
 
Next follows the Sequence. In a typical Requiem mass, the Sequence is a fiery, dramatic work (the first two words, “dies irae,” mean “day of wrath”). It is a text about God’s wrath and judgement on the wicked, and the fearful trembling of all those who bear witness to it. I did not set this traditional Sequence for two reasons: first, my response to tragedy is grief, not anger. I do not easily identify with the fiery imagery of the text, so it would not have been an honest setting. More importantly, to tell the story I wanted to tell, I needed to make a switch in tone here. Therefore, I compiled three smaller texts—O Vos Omnes (“all you who pass along the way, see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”), Ave Verum Corpus (a text about Jesus’ death on the cross), and Adoramus Te, Christe (“We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee: for by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world”). O Vos Omnes is the final piece with “crying” imagery, while Ave Verum Corpus and Adoramus Te move the focus to the cross, and the wonderful tragedy that occurred upon it.
 
The Offertory pleads, “Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, liberate the souls of all the departed from the pains of hell and from the deep pit”—refocusing on the idea that it is Jesus who brings hope of eternal life in the presence of God. This is followed by the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), where we rest in the holiness of God, and take refuge in His perfection, despite everything going on around us. Next, the Agnus Dei, is a hybrid of texts from both the regular Mass and the Requiem Mass to create a progression (“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world… have mercy on us; grant them rest; grant us peace”). This encapsulates the story of the Requiem—from crying for mercy, to mourning the dead, to finding peace.
 
Finally, Communio leads us directly into communion with a request for God to shine His eternal light on them. It concludes with the same words with which we began—“grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” This time, it is in a major key, signaling the hope we cling to in Jesus, but ends with the carrillons ringing seven times on the fifth note of the scale, which represents the idea that while we have hope, the promise of peace is not yet fully realized—spurring us on to work fervently in expectation of that most elusive promise.
 

Q. What do you hope the Requiem will mean to others?

Gomez: I am praying that God will use it to bring a message of peace to those who enter feeling the weight of living in this imperfect world pressing in on them.