World premiere choral work celebrates lives not lived

December 13, 2022

HOUSTON — Chris Bearer had been toying for years with writing a concert setting of a requiem Mass, the traditional Mass for the dead. He calls it divine providence that he was able to land on a subject for the piece: the millions of babies not born because of abortion.

He started on Requiem for the Unborn before the Dobbs decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, which legalized abortion in 1973. And he’d always planned to have the premiere of the work to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Roe. But, when the court overturned the case earlier this year and sent the issue back to the states, Bearer’s work somehow took on more meaning.

“With all that hoopla surrounding the decision, it crept into the idea of the work and gave it a different depth,” he said.

Bearer, director of music at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, has always been partial to the soaring requiem Masses composed by Mozart, Verdi and Faure. In Paradisum, the conclusion to Faure’s Requiem, served as the foundation for Bearer’s own.

The work itself follows the traditional Mass for the dead, with some exceptions.

“I based the piece on Gregorian melody,” he said. “I left out the Dies Irae, but I kept the last lines of Pie Jesu and used the offertory text and that for communion.”

Listeners will also recognize the Kyrie and Sanctus, as both are often used in vigil Masses throughout the year.

Bearer has a background in music, having earned his bachelor of music from the University of Texas at Austin and a masters of sacred music from the University of St. Thomas. He’s been composing for years, and commissions of his have been performed at schools and churches around the country.

“But I’ve never written anything on this scale,” he said. Requiem for the Unborn is written for choir and orchestra. It will premiere at St. Thomas More Church, located at 10330 Hillcroft St. in Houston, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2023.

Above the act of creating the work, however, Bearer is dedicated to the cause behind it.

“The fight [over abortion] is definitely not over,” he said. “And this work brings awareness to what the struggle is. It’s important that we have these kinds of discussions.”

He believes that the arts can offer a window to help people understand thorny issues. The arts, he stresses, can be an influencer.
“We have to speak to those who are not necessarily part of our circles,” he explains. “Music can do that.”

Requiem for the Unborn shouldn’t be construed as a pop music approach to a traditional form, however. It is, at its heart, a sacred piece.

“The requiem is our vessel for using these words and sharing the importance of this issue,” he said. “I’m trying to use my humble talent in bringing — and keeping — the abortion topic in the forefront of our culture. We are Catholics, and we will not stop this fight. We will keep at it.”

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