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Album Review – Rachel Wilhelm: “Requiem”

The Context

Rachel Wilhelm is no stranger to writing songs of lament – her first full-length album from 2017 is Songs of Lament, and she produced and contributed to 2020’s Daughter Zion’s Woe. Requiem, released in March 2021, follows a similar trajectory. She is a Minister of Music and Worship Arts and singer/songwriter based in Knoxville, TN. Wilhelm has also poured her time and energy into equipping songwriters and worship artists through United Adoration, a project of the ACNA. Requiem was written during the quarantine of 2020 for the purpose of helping families grieve when funeral and memorial services and other gatherings were unavailable. Not only to mourn loved ones, it is also an album to grieve the loss of a whole year of life as usual.

 

The Content

From the perspective of congregational singing, this album alternates between songs suited for reflection and songs suited for congregational participation. Wilhelm’s previous songwriting fit a more folk/americana style, but Requiem beautifully utilizes strings, piano/keys, and layered harmonies to create a very different musical backdrop for her raw and plaintive vocals. The songs follow a liturgical structure, with versions of the Kyrie, Offertory, Sanctus, etc., including a string postlude that draws melodic themes together.

Musically, this album creatively engages with melodic themes and minor keys in ways that serve the songs and develop the appropriate moods of grief and lament. On songs that are congregational, Wilhelm includes choral accompaniment in ways that invite the listener to sing along. On the songs that are more reflective, Wilhelm elaborates on the melodies in simple yet interesting ways, and sometimes the string arrangements take the center stage.

Lyrically, Wilhelm uses Scripture and passages from the Book of Common Prayer in ways that are engaging and refreshing. All of the songs are clear, even when dipping into biblical language, and phrasing on congregational songs is very singable.

Songs that are most appropriate for congregations include: “Lord Have Mercy,” “Lamb of God,” and “Holy.” Each of these songs has a chorus or anthem that rang in my ears long after the song ended, and these are the songs I plan to adapt for my local church.

The Conclusion

Requiem accomplishes its goal of being a resource for grief and lament. In addition to its original intent for grief during COVID, this album provides rich, textured songs for reflection and response for the season of Lent or for Holy Week. With careful re-arrangement, churches of any size or musical capability could recreate some of these songs for corporate use. Otherwise, this album evokes a wonderful mood of lament, contemplation, and longing for the risen Christ and the resurrection of the dead—an important resource for worship leaders and worship planners/liturgists working with limited capacities in response to COVID-19 or during the Lenten season.

 

To listen to the album, go to: Apple Music Album Link

 

Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

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