Having worked at Green-Wood Cemetery over the past four years, I dreamt of playing music in The Catacombs. Every time I stood in its presence, it felt like it was calling me to bring music to it.
In the summer of 2017, I was finally given permission to host concerts there. For the first concert I took inspiration from the Memento Mori Art Movement. In Latin it literally means “Remember Death.” Its purpose is to remind you not to take your life for granted and remember that one-day you will die. I wanted people to come to The Catacombs to reflect on their death, but to also feel inspired to live their life to its fullest.
Memento Mori exists mostly in physical art and I wanted to interpret it with music. I put together a female orchestra that I called “Women of The Veil” (whom I made veils for) to be the jewel of the evening.
Beginning the concert, Carolin Pook composed an immersive piece that had each musician slowly emerging from the vaults of The Catacombs. I rang a bell to summon each player to come fourth and as they played a motif composed by Pook. The work went from solo to orchestral as musicians made their way to the stage. Once assembled, The Women of The Veil played Suma by Arvos Part and A Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughn Williams.
Surprising everyone, renowned opera singer Abigail Fisher entered The Catacombs with two women holding candelabras. Abigail made her way down the isle sing two 13th Century Laudas and ended with the orchestra singing, Dido’s Lament.
The first part of the evening was about taking a moment to reflect on mortality and the second part was a celebration of life. Keeping with the theme of the evening, Raya Brass Band (a Baltic brass band) played a hauntingly lively set in The Catacombs. At the end of the evening they marched everyone through the dark cemetery, back to life / back to reality.
I think everyone there, including myself could feel how special that night was. The space brought out a meaning to the music that doesn’t often get to emerge.
I did a lovely interview on WFMU where you can hear me talk about the evening as well as hear some of the music, Concert In The Catacombs starts around the 32 minute mark.
Thank you to Atlas Obscura for helping me put on this concert together and to Green-Wood Cemetery for opening up The Catacombs.