"In 1997 Chor Leoni Men's Choir (Diane Loomer, C.M., Artistic Director) commissioned Vancouver composer, Rupert Lang, to write a piece that would be featured in our annual Remembrance Day concerts. That commission resulted in Kontakion. The direction was to have some kind of audience sing-along aspect to the work, so Rupert incorporated a refrain that is repeated several times throughout the piece. That refrain is initially stated by a tenor soloist and I’ve been honoured to be that particular singer.
I also sing with the Christ Church Cathedral choir, which Rupert directs. Shortly after the male choir version premiered he re-voiced Kontakion for mixed choirs and it was published by Boosey & Hawkes. The piece has gone on to choral fame around the world. (It’s on the Cathedral Choir’s CD, Celebrate!)
In addition to Chor Leoni’s Remembrance Day performances, Kontakion has been performed at state events such as the memorial service for Princess Diana, the Vancouver service after 9/11, annually for All Souls Day, and at intimate funerals.
Between Chor Leoni and the Cathedral Choir I’ve sung that opening statement countless times. I love its deceptive simplicity (it sits in a fairly treacherous tenor range) and the way the melody lifts to the high G flat on life - which by then does feel like it is everlasting!
I feel privileged to sing it, but what I didn’t count on was that whole “aging thing” and the way the piece has become freighted with meaning as the years layer on experience. Whether it’s from the passing of an admired public figure, the parent of a fellow singer, my best friend, or my father, Kontakion has become layered with memories that are difficult to contain while maintaining any sense of the necessary singing technique to successfully negotiate it well. (One year I lost it completely and ended up singing with tears running down my cheeks.)
Singers learn tricks to get through such emotional moments - I think of doing the dishes - but nothing ever prepares me for the climactic moment where the pipe organ swells, the choral texture thickens, the audience is in full voice singing along, and the solo line echos The Last Post.
I’m proud that Kontakion happened because of Chor Leoni, and thankful to Rupert for writing such a wonderful piece of music. So this year when the opportunity arrives, sing out, even if it’s with a lump in your throat. It’s wonderfully cathartic and everyone around you will understand."