Eternity Passing Over – An Arctic Requiem

SATB soli, SATB choir (divisi), SA semi-chorus, and Inupiat drum


Recording credit: Premiere performance by Seattle Pro Musica,
conducted by Karen P. Thomas in St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA; May 9, 2015

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TEXT

See score above for text and translation

PROGRAM NOTES

This work was commissioned by Shannon & Peter Polson for Seattle Pro Musica “To the glory of God and in memory of Richard and Katherine Huffman,” Shannon’s father and stepmother, who lost their lives in Alaska in a grizzly bear attack in June 2005 in the midst of their beloved Arctic landscape. Like her father and stepmother, Shannon shares a profound love of the Arctic and had to face the fact that it was that very environment and one of its most majestic and revered creatures that led to the death of her father and stepmother.

In Shannon’s deeply spiritual book, North of Hope, she chronicles her pilgrimage along the route of her father’s and stepmother’s last days, drawing together many different themes, including her process of grieving and healing, the beauty and terror of the Arctic, and the indigenous peoples of the region; all tied together through her deep faith, the sacred nature of creation, and our connection through it to God. Most unique is her use of six interludes in the book based on sections from the Latin Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead) based on her involvement in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem by the Seattle Symphony Chorale, which served as an important part of her grieving and healing process.

The structure of the chapters in Shannon’s book—especially the use of the “requiem” interludes—served as an inspiration for the formal structure of this work, which might be termed a “Missa brevis pro defunctis” (an abbreviated Mass for the Dead), much in the vein of the traditional Missa Brevis. As with Shannon’s book, Eternity Passing Over juxtaposes a variety of textual sections: descriptions of the grandeur of God’s creation—specifically the Arctic—which create a geographical context specific to the deaths of Richard and Katherine Huffman, which in turn co-mingles with portions of the Requiem text that are juxtaposed with sacred poetry befitting the themes of the Requiem text, including eternal rest, grieving, eternal light, and entry into Paradise.

The primary title of the work is taken from the last line of Robert Service’s poem Heart O’ the North: “Eternity passing over.” The subtitle—An Arctic Requiem—places this requiem in the geographical context of the Arctic, making the work specific to the deaths of Shannon’s father and stepmother during their journey down the Hulahula River. This single-movement work is organized in the following three sections, which correspond to several sections of the traditional Requiem Mass.

  1. Introit – God’s Grandeur
  2. Requiem aeternam – They are at rest
  3. Lux perpetua – They are all gone into the world of light