A clarinet melody. Staccato octaves on electric piano. Drawings. Poetry. Children.
If this doesn’t sound like an average symphony piece, then you’re absolutely right — and that’s what makes Eternal Light special. Forged into a cohesive, sparkling whole from rough diamonds of poetry, art, and music by Tacoma’s young people, the multimedia piece premiered by Symphony Tacoma on YouTube last weekend isn’t just a pretty gem. It’s 10 minutes of a vision into a hopeful future from a troubled present, of a new musical order where classical instruments fuse with electronica and voices, and where light triumphs.
Eternal Light came into being from a call to Tacoma youth to submit music, dance, poetry, or art on the theme of “eternal light,” inspired by the ethereal “Lux Eterna” movement from Mozart’s Requiem. Predictably, symphony director Sarah Ioannides, whose creative idea this was, and who directed the project, received a stream of work that on the surface seems difficult to weave together (the prelude is a literal collage of these raw submissions over a pulsing beat).
But throw in some talented adults and the picture comes into focus. Electronic composer Will Scharnberg helped sculpt teenager Kevin Kernie’s percussive octaves and rolling minor 9ths into an arc of hope, minimalist but intriguing. Orchestrator Kim Scharnberg wove in simple parts for eight symphony musicians: violin, cello, oboe, clarinet, flute, horn, percussion, harp. Singers from the Tacoma Youth Chorus added backing.
Meanwhile, filmmaker Fernanda Lamuño took all those green-screened home or studio recordings, some stunning paintings and drawings by Audrey Hartman (Ioannides’ daughter) plus soaring poetry by Holly Pierce, and wove them into a luminous, dreamlike whole.
“Burning with words, called from the oceanside cliff” floats over masked friends on a beach, then a time-lapse of the artist herself. “Whisper words, said again, carried along by roaring winds, grown from lungs that breathe a saving breath” flows into actual singers, their breath supporting the music, alone yet together. Through all comes visions of Ioannides conducting, wreathed in a smile and a swirling, green-blue background.
The theme of “music…replacing what I lost” drives with the fast, fluid rhythm against images of stars wheeling high over Tacoma and through the outline of a human face. Finally, the eternity ends with a pinnacle of a staccato piano octave and finger cymbal, and a feeling that yes, we will get past this present time into something better, more innovative, as yet unimagined except maybe by these imaginative young people in our midst.
But don’t stop there. The beauty of online concerts is the chance you get to explore the context behind them. Side by side on the YouTube channel is a delightful behind-the-scenes video, playfully edited, showing the creative process (lots of Zoom sessions), Ioannides coaching her young singers (more Zoom), recording bloopers and triumphs, and some very thoughtful reflections by everyone involved on what they learned from this project.
What would Mozart, making a cameo visual and musical appearance in the prelude, have thought of all this? Probably sheer delight that other young people like him were pouring out, some 250 years later, that same eternal musical light.
Eternal Light can be viewed on the Symphony Tacoma YouTube channel.