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  • Jonathan Widran

Michael Hoppé, Peace & Reconciliation: Choral Music

If you’ve ever experienced the majesty of Sedona, Arizona first hand, you’ve no doubt felt it. As breathtaking as all the natural red rock outcroppings and sculptures are, you know there’s much more there than meets the eye. As we learn from the Visit Sedona website: “Beneath the endless beauty beats a healing heart. Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful. It is a cathedral without walls. . People travel from across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes.”

Simply defined, a vortex is a swirling center of energy conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. All of those powerful elements manifest and coalesce with eloquence and deep transcendence on the extraordinary new age/classical recording Peace & Reconciliation: Choral Music. In addition to being the latest crown jewel in Grammy nominated composer Michael Hoppé’s three and a half decade recording career, the lushly produced ten-piece collection offers a supreme showcase for two of the region’s most cherished (and sacred mainstays): the Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers (the choir in residence at The Church of the Red Rocks) and the well-traveled, internationally renowned Tetra String Quartet.

Now in their 11th season, the Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers under the direction of Founding Artistic Director Ryan Holder, gives undergraduate and graduate voice and choral students from around the Southwest an opportunity to experience singing in a semi-pro choir. Among their accolades, they have served as the backing choir for Josh Groban and opened for vocal jazz/a capella ensemble The Real Group.

With a divinely inspired beauty and soothing blend of strings and voices that draw the listener in from the first elegiac string notes and vocal intonations of “Introit” through the hopeful and reflective choral finale of “I Am The Moon,” the listener might surmise that perhaps Peace & Reconciliation was created in response to the anxiety ridden, socio-politically fraught events of 2020. But it starts in a much more personal place for Hoppé – the extraordinary discovery of a long-held family secret. He recently learned from a family friend that his father was not his biological father. “I decided to come to terms with this profoundly shocking discovery with music, by dedicating my ‘Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation’ to my parents and unknown father,” he says. “The catalyst was my family discovery and the opportunity to dedicate this work with love, forgiveness and gratitude to my parents. The music is, for me, like a soundtrack to my story.”

The Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation draws on the same Latin text once used by Mozart, Verdi, Faure, etc. It is the Catholic Mass for the dead. Eight of the pieces were originally composed for keyboards, soprano, baritone, cello, violin and clarinet and released in the same sequence on his 2006 album Requiem. He had always wanted the work sung as a choral piece, and hired master arranger Richard Bronskill to arrange the songs for an SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir with a string quartet accompaniment for the new presentation.

In line with the sanctuary sensation and aforementioned spiritual energy, Hoppé believes a true miracle sealed the deal. That was when Holder invited him to perform at the church in Sedona in June 2019. The composer mentioned he had a new Requiem. Holder studied the score and decided to record the piece (and two other Hoppé works) with the SACS and Tetra String Quartet. A couple from the church underwrote the entire recording.

As fascinating as the back story is, the listener need not know about the spark and serendipity to feel the rush of healing, emotional power and soul uplift that happens when you focus, close your eyes, ease into a meditational state and let the swirl of the compositions, vocals and strings to take over all the way through. If you don’t know Hoppé’s amazing story, you’re invited to insert your own – or simply clear your mind so that the music can inspire personal peace and reconciliation.

The tracks are full of dynamics, intense swellings and gentle compressions that run the gamut of human emotions, building a journey towards an eternity where present earthly concerns seem far behind. Like the compositions and arrangements themselves, most of the titles invoke solemn, sacred and ultimately hopeful, peaceful thoughts – “Kyrie” (The Lord in Greek), “Sanctus” (which opens with a gorgeous vocal solo), “Pie Jesu,” “Agnus Dei,” “Lux Eterna” (meaning “Eternal Light”) and “In Paradisum” (“Into Paradise.” The final two tracks “Safe To Port” and “I Am The Moon,” which feature the full brilliance of the choir without the quartet, also invoke elements of a spiritual adventure - and perhaps the journey’s glorious end.

Though conceived and recorded before the age of COVID-19, Peace & Reconciliation is a universal theme and, in Hoppé’s eyes, “certainly applies today more than ever in these extraordinary times.”

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