Today in San Francisco, the Grace Cathedral performed Faure's "Requiem," a familiar offering on Veterans Day. But the church used the mass to honor those who died for any reason, not just in the service to the country.

We have a report now from Nathanael Johnson of member station KALW.

NATHANAEL JOHNSON: In 1887, when Gabriel Faure wrote his "Requiem," his music to honor the dead, he decided to break with tradition. He had played the organ at burial services for years, hammering(ph) up bombastic melodies that made much of power and judgment. He said, I wanted to write something different.

(Soundbite of song, "Requiem")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Latin)

JOHNSON: Faure called his "Requiem" a lullaby of death. But he didn't stop at changing the tone of the music.

Dr. JEFFREY SMITH (Canon Director of Music, Grace Cathedral): He picked and chose among the traditional Latin texts.

JOHNSON: Jeffrey Smith is director of music at Grace Cathedral. The thing about a requiem - it's supposed to take the liturgy, the words to be recited in church and set them the music, not change them around. But Faure didn't follow the rules. He took a whole section called Dies Irae, or wrath of God, and just cut most of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Requiem")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Latin)

Dr. SMITH: And that's the movement which has most to do with hell and with judgment and the terror. And he has but a few lines from that and then he moves on.

(Soundbite of song, "Requiem")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Latin)

Dr. SMITH: The other interesting thing that scholars would debate about is in one text, the original text, in Latin reads: Deliver the souls of all faithful departed. And Faure eliminates the word faithful, so deliver the souls of all departed, somewhat say that wasn't an oversight. He meant to make a statement by that.

JOHNSON: That certainly the statement the church means to make. November 11th is Veterans Day here in the U.S. and celebrated at Episcopal Churches around the world as a day to remember the casualties of war.

This service, however, is a requiem for all souls - soldiers, insurgents, people with AIDS, people killed by murderers and those condemned to death by the courts.

The Episcopal Church makes a point to honor them all, and sometimes that doesn't sit well with authorities says Alan Jones, the dean of Grace Cathedral.

Reverend ALAN JONES (Dean, Grace Cathedral): And during the Falkland's War when Mrs. Thatcher want a triumphful service, it wasn't a "Requiem" but the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Alan Webster, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, insisted on praying for all the dead - the Argentine dead as well as the British.

(Soundbite of song, "Requiem")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Latin)

JOHNSON: A dozen boys in purple robes and white ruffles are rehearsing their big moment in the Faure "Requiem," "Pie Jesu."

Dr. SMITH: Can you go oi-yoy-yoy(ph) for me?

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oi-yoy-yoy.

Dr. SMITH: Now, can you go (Singing) oi-yoy-yoy-yip(ph).

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oi-yoy-yoy-yip(ph).

JOHNSON: At the moment, Jeffrey Smith is absorbed by the technical details of music.

Dr. SMITH: I'll sing (Singing) pee(ph).

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Pee.

Dr. SMITH: That's exactly the tone we'd like. That's just right.

JOHNSON: But when it all comes together, he expects the piece to be moving, especially given the context.

Dr. SMITH: One of the things that is special about this service is the quality of the music - yeah - that it's great music but also that people come ready to be moved by the music rather than impressed by the music.

JOHNSON: Its sacred music performed not as a concert but as a religious ceremony. Nonetheless, the Dean of Grace Cathedral, Alan Jones, said the music can speak to anyone.

Rev. JONES: The atheists, Christians, non-Christians, half-believers, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, people of goodwill with an open heart, always and absolutely welcome.

JOHNSON: On this Veterans Day, U.S. troops are fighting a war that polls say the majority of Americans think is a mistake.

Alan Jones says the "Requiem" won't fix that. It won't end wars. It's simply designed to honor the dead. But, he says, that's a good starting point.

For NPR News, I'm Nathanael Johnson.

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