Washington University in St. Louis: ‘Requiem of Light’ COVID-19 memorial in Forest Park Oct. 2

To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 670,000 in the United States, including more than 3,500 in the St. Louis area. In many cases, the pandemic has prevented loved ones from visiting the sick and from gathering afterward in remembrance.

Forest Park will host “Requiem of Light: Memorial for Saint Louisans Lost to COVID-19” from 7-9:30 p.m. Oct. 2. Conceived and organized by Rebecca Messbarger, director of medical humanities in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, the memorial will feature original music, community testimonials and words of condolence and healing by interfaith leaders. It will culminate with the lighting of 1,500 lanterns around the waters of the Grand Basin.

“Public grief rituals or memorials are an ancient and near-universal response to death that proclaim the loss of life in order to help individuals and communities heal,” said Messbarger, a cultural historian of early modern medicine. “For many of the recently deceased and grieving in our community, their stories remain untold, the agony of their loss unrelieved. History reminds us that silence is another affliction of deadly contagion.”

Messbarger, with St. Louis composer and “Requiem” artistic director Philip A. Woodmore, set out to create something that would help the city remember and celebrate those who have died during the pandemic. This is the first in-person public memorial planned for the region.

Woodmore, who previously scored the celebrated off-Broadway show “Antigone in Ferguson,” has created a full program and written a number of original compositions — many inspired by COVID-19 stories collected in partnership with the Missouri History Museum and Nine PBS — which will be performed by artists from around the region. Performers will include jazz singer Denise Thimes, Broadway veteran Duane Foster, soloist De-Rance Blaylock and members of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Woodmore (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“Music shares things that go beyond the realm of language,” Woodmore said. “The arts are transformative and can be used to change people’s thinking, in a positive way, and be used as a healing agent in times of strife. Being able to use this gift of music and lifelong passion of mine to give back to our diverse community is an honor.”

Rene Knott, “5 On Your Side” anchor and host of “Today in St. Louis,” will act as master of ceremonies. Speakers will include Mayor Tishaura Jones; Deon K. Johnson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri; Traci Blackmon, senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant; Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St Louis; and Thong Tarm, president of the OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, among others.

Institutional support for “Requiem of Light” is provided in part by AON, Clayco, Edward Jones, Enterprise Holdings, Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, Gateway Foundation, Husch Blackwell, William T. Kemper Foundation, Lewis Rice, Maxine Clark and Bob Fox’s Fund, Pershing Place Foundation, Saint Louis University, Tarlton Corporation, United Way of Greater St. Louis, U.S. Bank, Washington University, Washington University Institute for Public Health and Washington University Women’s Society.

“Requiem of Light” is open to all. Seating is first come, first served on Art Hill; guests should bring their own chairs or blankets. The event starts at 7 p.m., with a welcome from Jones at 7:30 p.m. The requiem will conclude with the lantern lighting ceremony and moment of silence at 9 p.m.

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