In out, in out …
May our lungs
Fill with air
Without care …
Let us breathe
Ominous opening notes are sung by the choir and swell into Laurie Auditorium on March 4, 2023. One hundred voices combine to remind the audience that breathing is something innately human—a phenomenon bigger than any individual. It is the premiere of “Requiem, for the Victims of a Pandemic," composed by Yvonne Freckmann ’10.
Freckmann, who majored in piano and composition during her time at Trinity University and now works as a freelance composer, experienced the first 51 days of the pandemic locked down in Madrid, Spain, where she lives with her partner.
COVID-19 directly inspired the 30-minute choral and orchestral piece. She explains, “The isolation really marked me. The desire for this piece came from that feeling of all these opportunities we lost, these moments of singing together, playing together, and connecting with others through music.” The work serves as a memorial for the despair felt amidst the height of the pandemic and as a joyful reunion.
Freckmann began work on Requiem in January 2021 and spent the year writing the first poems and recruiting choirs. She quoted her former Trinity professor Timothy Kramer, D.M.A., that “80% of the work is choosing the text.” Then in 2022, she completed the text collage, including students’ words, and composed and orchestrated the work.
“I looked for some old poetry about pandemics and things like that, but I felt like we needed something of this time,” Freckmann says. “That's when I got the idea of including words by the choir members.”
She contacted Gary Seighman, D.M.A., the director of the Trinity University choirs. “He jumped on board right away. It was really great,” she says.
Then she enlisted the help of the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) Choir (conducted by William Gokelman), the Young Professionals Choral Collective (conducted by Danielle Steele), and the Trinity Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Joseph Kneer, D.M.A.), who co-commissioned the work. For the premiere, UIW and Trinity combined their students for nearly 150 musicians onstage.
“I wrote a series of questions and made a Google form where musicians anonymously submitted,” Freckman explains. She began to interweave their phrases and memories with her own and felt the opportunity “to include their words and to hear back about what they had experienced made the text so much richer.” In the end, about half of the piece is comprised of students’ words, which are denoted in the score with italics.
Many of the lyrics focused on the darkness students felt. Other lines expressed relief in slowing down and rediscovering themselves despite the terrible circumstances. The powerful role music plays in our daily lives was a theme commonly expressed among submissions.
One student wrote,
Music was the thread that worked to patch us back together.
Now as we sing together,
we aren’t mending things back the way they were,
but are adding new pieces of fabric to who we are.
After setting the text, Freckmann built out the accompaniment and then expanded to the orchestration. She then submitted the initial scores to the orchestra directors to continue sculpting the piece. “The orchestration went really fast because, as I was writing the sketch, I was already imagining the different colors that I want,” she explains.
One of her favorite pieces of composition was the fifth movement in the piece titled “Fine.” “It is in part a rant about the word fine,” she explains. “What does it really mean, to be fine? The word fine kind of has this frenetic anxious feeling while also being a mechanical response.”
In this piece, vocal parts overlap in a series of questions and answers:
How are you?
How are you doing?
How’s your family?
The response throughout the whole movement is always the same:
I’m fine. We’re fine.
Fine. Could be worse.
Settling on a title for the work was one of the more difficult steps in the creation process, Freckmann remembers. She describes the piece as a “ritual gathering and lifting of voices in remembrance,” not unlike a traditional catholic Requiem mass, which pays homage to lost souls.
“I spent a year thinking about the title, and I went back and forth a lot. It’s not actually a Catholic mass, like a traditional requiem, but it is sectional,” she says. “This title signals in one word both the intent of the piece and the style of instrumentation.”
As a listener, you can hear the section's progress. This movement through the piece was intentional, she says. “We’re kind of starting very prayerfully and dealing with grief and suffering, paying homage to those whom we have lost,” but then the music builds to a more joyful place. “I wanted to celebrate that we can come back together finally. It's really a wonderful, happy thing. I wanted to end with hope.”
While watching the piece come together live, Freckmann was overcome with the magnitude of this achievement that did not seem possible just two short years ago. Like any good composer, she still had a few notes. “The score for me isn't finished until at least it's been premiered,” she says, laughing. “You have to go back and make tweaks; it's kind of like fixing typos.”
Freckmann had her start as a musician playing piano at the age of seven in her father’s hometown of Braunschweig, Germany. At age 11, she moved to her mother’s hometown of Poteet, Texas, where she played piano for the United Methodist Church and clarinet in the Poteet Marching Band. In high school at the Northeast School of the Arts, she admired her friends who wrote musicals, but it wasn’t until she got to Trinity and began her studies that the world of composition was within her grasp for the first time.
“I was still open to going into journalism or something like that, but I was always signing up for all my music classes first. I started to clue in that maybe this is what I want to do,” Freckmann says.
Once she started composing, she never looked back.“I just got hooked on it, you know? That feeling of preparing a piece and sharing it or writing something and watching your colleagues play it, there’s no comparison,” she says.
Freckmann credits her decision to pursue a career in music to many of her instructors at Trinity, including her piano teacher, Carolyn True, D.M.A.; composer Timothy Kramer; wind ensemble director James Worman, Ph.D.; and clarinetist Stephanie Key. She drew inspiration from their desire to regularly perform new music. “I learned that music is alive, and it’s still being created right now.”
Freckmann has completed two master’s degrees in composition and a Fulbright grant to study in the Netherlands. When asked about what’s next for her career, she mentions looking towards building a new network in Madrid and a project with the Composers Alliance of San Antonio, writing a “Carnival of the Animals” in partnership with the San Antonio Zoo and Youth Orchestras of San Antonio. She is also composing a new work with fellow alumna Katherine Schmitz ’11 for the organ dedication in Flower Mound, Texas. Most of all, Freckmann is excited about spreading the word about Requiem. She emphasizes, “I'm looking for any and all choirs and orchestras who would be interested in sharing this piece.”
Her advice to students pursuing music is to “go to concerts, perform as much as you can, and play music your peers have written. I learned so much from my peers. Look for those future collaborations starting as a student.”
Freckmann believes those who write music have a unique privilege. “Artists feel deeply what goes on in the world,” she says. “We have to ask ourselves, what can we do? What can we compose for our future? Through music, we can remind people to really think about these experiences that we live through and begin to heal.”