American composer Eric Whitacre wrote this choral piece, based on a single sentence from the Bible, II Samuel 18:33 –
When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!
When David Heard was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Arts for the Brigham Young Singers, and is dedicated with love and silence to Dr. Ronald Staheli.
It received its premiere on March 26, 1999, and is one of the most emotionally charged pieces of music I have ever heard. Full of a desperate, desolate beauty, found as much in the silence between the notes as in what the voices are singing, the piece is about grief, regret and love.
Do you ever have those days when you just feel sad? Those moments when it feels like you are absolutely all alone? For me, this song is perfect for those times. First of all, because it’s over 15 minutes long it requires me to stop what I’m doing and be still for a bit, which is always a good thing.
Secondly, it focuses my attention. Eric’s weaving of silence and sound, his repetition of the text and his masterful use of dynamics (loud and soft) create an experience that never releases its hold. My attention is not allowed to wander, but is instead intensely focused on what is happening.
And thirdly, because of that intense focus, because I am so compellingly urged to not turn away from the difficult feelings within the song, I am brought into alignment with my own sadness, grief, loneliness, regret. And I sit in the stillness with my pain, not denying it, but holding it. And I am safe, cradled by the gorgeous swells of music, as I release the pain’s hold on me as David does.
It is, at its essence, mindfulness. A non-judgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment as opposed to denial and repression, and acceptance of it as a valid part of who we are and our experience. For me, this gentle examination allows me to release any fear of the challenging feelings, thus releasing their power over me.
But all that metaphysical psycho babble aside, When David Heard is just a breathtakingly gorgeous piece of music, performed to perfection by the BYU singers, so give it a listen.