Reimagining the Requiem Mass with Rachel Wilhelm
As the Minister of Music and Worship Arts at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, Rachel Wilhelm understands the significance of lament. In the midst of a pandemic, Rachel wrote Requiem, an album setting the traditional requiem mass to the more contemporary sounds of folk music. Releasing in March of this year, Requiem guides and invites the listener to bring all their sorrows to our Lord and to lay them at His feet. Rachel graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the album itself and the place of the arts in the Church.
Requiem and Rachel’s other music can be found on Bandcamp or most streaming services.
This album grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our usual routines were disrupted, and many of our relationships became distanced. Can you speak to the importance of making space for lament? How can Requiem help us keep this practice as a staple in our Christian lives well beyond this particular COVID season?
Corporate lament is really important in our church life so members of our community don’t slip through the cracks and we fail to bear their burdens as it is said we should do. In the Anglican Church, we already have times of lament in penitential seasons like Advent and Lent. We should try to make the most of those seasons to heighten the others. In my own experience as a music minister, I try to create an “atmosphere” of lament by choosing minor keyed songs, contemplative instrumentation, and songs of confession and identification with Jesus as the Man of Sorrows. If the environment is created, we can show that it is safe to be sad in church if we are sad—or come alongside others and bear their sadness with them.
What I love about the mp3 or the compact disc is that they are portable atmospheres for us. Music takes us to a place or invites us to enter into a place. My 2017 record, Songs of Lament, and this last one, Requiem, are very intentional albums. They wait until you are ready to settle into lament and become a tool to bring you into a vulnerable place before the Lord. This is for devotional life. I think when we think of devotional life, we think reading our Bibles and praying through a list of items. Those things are good. But the kind of devotional life I mean is where you feel comfortable enough with God to tell him how you really think with no fear. Life is hard. God wants to hear it all. What I hope to accomplish with Requiem is to provide an environment for mourning loss from the pandemic, like the loss of loved ones. Many were not able to hold memorial services or funerals, so I brought a funeral to them. They just need to know it’s out there!
Requiem dresses the bones of a traditional requiem mass in folk-style musical clothing. Although there are no grand choral arrangements, the subtlety and quiet emotion are no less powerful. What are the benefits to this kind of stylistic alchemy for music in the Church?
I love classical and choral music, but some people are not there. I’m sure there are many reading this who don’t know what a requiem even is. By making the requiem a little more accessible, I hope to create a means to mourn without the daunting and grand arrangements that others simply cannot relate to. My friend Amber Salladin, a choral arranger, is actually making choral arrangements for all the songs—for those chief musicians that could minister well with it with a regular church choir. The album itself is a template for those chief musicians in my camp who want more of an artistic license if they want to perform any of it in church.
I know collaboration is so important to you. Tell us a bit about how collaboration with other artists affected this album.
I love collaboration so much! I collaborate in pretty much everything that I do musically. On Sunday mornings I am much better with my team of musicians than I would be on my own, and the same with this album. With any album there are droves of people involved, and Requiem is no different. I just had all my friends collaborate with me! One specific collaboration I am especially excited about is my songwriting partner, Kate Bluett. She wrote or co-wrote the lyrics to 6 of the 10 songs. She’s a Catholic poet who lives in Dallas, and I met her at a songwriting retreat, but knew her from a Facebook group called Liturgy Fellowship before that. She’s incredibly gifted and writes prolifically. She also knows her Bible backwards and forwards because she writes poems based off the readings each Sunday. This album would not have happened without her. It was her idea!
Cast your vision of the arts for me. What are some ways Christians who make art can best serve the Church and the wider world?
The Church cannot be served or serve the world with the arts and her artists without the Church embracing the artist and placing value on beauty and the artist’s role in that. Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” This should originate in the Church because the Church shows the beauty of Jesus to the world. How is beauty shown to the world? Through art. I think one of the devil’s biggest triumphs is separating the Church from the arts, causing such division that its people can’t understand why we need something beautiful at all—everything has to be utilitarian or of some use in order to be approved. A vision I have for art in the Church is for artistry (music, fine art, craftsmanship, etc.) to be valued and patronized, for artists in the Church to be honored by giving them a place to hone their craft and use it for God’s glory.
Are there any other exciting projects on the horizon for you?
I love the local church. I just moved to Knoxville, TN, and started serving Apostles Anglican Church this past January. I am really excited to dig in and become a part of the artistic life of the church and build relationships within the community. There are some murmurings of a possible Appalachian hymns album on the horizon in the future, but nothing too soon. My other job is traveling the country for the ACNA ministry called United Adoration, which helps the local church build creative community right where they are. Pre-pandemic, I led songwriting and worship arts retreats. But for now, I’m just trying to glorify God where I am, masks, social distancing, and all.
by Meagan Logsdon
ADOTS Communications Associate