J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Stephen Edwards’ Requiem for My Mother

Film composer Stephen Edwards scored the original Scott Adkins Ninja, as well as Bloodsport II and III. That is what we call some serious movie magic, but it maybe isn’t his most personal work. For obvious reasons, the Catholic requiem he composed for his beloved late mother is the piece Edwards hopes to be remembered for. Edwards and co-director David Haugland explain its inspiration and document its world premiere in Requiem for My Mother (trailer here), which airs this afternoon on many PBS stations.

First-generation Sicilian-American Rosalie Edwards was sort of the Sophia Loren of Michigan. In between winning local beauty pageants, Edwards earned a master’s degree in education and commenced a long career as a music teacher and chorale director. The entire Edwards family took her loss hard, but it was especially devastating to Edwards. However, he was able to channel his grief into her mass.

The stakes increased dramatically for the cathartic project, when his friend and colleague, conductor Candace Wicke arranges for a world premiere in the Basilica of St. Ignatius of Loyola to be broadcast on RAI television and Vatican Radio. Suddenly, Edwards is arranging logistics schlepping both an adult and children’s choir to Rome, where they will have only one full rehearsal with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Meanwhile, he continues to struggle with the requisite Dies Irae movement (you’ll recognize Verdi’s thunderous version, for a point of comparison).

Throughout the doc, Edwards comes across as an earnest and genuine person, while his talent is undeniable. In contrast, Wicke often seems like stern taskmaster, but Edwards probably needed someone like that to realize his project. As a work of cinema, Requiem has the feeling of a “making of” special, but it translates well to the small screen. Frankly, it is exactly the sort of programming PBS should schedule more frequently. It is a nice story and a soaring piece of music that will not get a lot of coverage from the rest of the press release-transcribing entertainment media.

It is also cool to see Edwards and his body of work get their due. It turns out we have quite enjoyed his work in the criminally under-rated Shanghai and Close Range. Whether a film about a requiem for a dearly departed mom is all that fitting for Mother’s Day is rather debatable, but many PBS stations are going with the theme anyway. Recommended for those who appreciate classical music and film scoring, Requiem for My Mother premieres this afternoon (5/14) on WNET and NJTV, so check local listings. Happy Mother’s Day.

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