Even When He Is Silent holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. When I was in 8th or 9th grade, The Lawrence Children’s Choir, whom I sang with for a number of years, sang a piece called I Believe by Mark A. Miller. The text, while short and simple, was most profound to me–so profound that I remembered it some six years later when I stumbled across the same text in another piece by Kim André Arnesen with the same title of Even When He Is Silent.
Then, suddenly, in the first week of August, 2018 my maternal great uncle, Ralph Heimburg passed away. I had the occasion to meet Uncle Ralph only once, but found him to be funny, gracious, and eccentric among other things. This was almost a decade ago, unfortunately. Ralph had a very fascinating story with him though, a story from his youth. He was born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1928, and had a harrowing and life defining experience on November 9-10, 1938, when he was only ten years old. He and his family dashed from rooftop to rooftop while Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass” occurred and his family’s business was destroyed by Nazis. Ralph barely escaped onto a train with his life, sitting in complete and utter silence under the guise of being mute, lest the Nazi soldiers on the train discover he was a Jew. Ralph escaped the oppression of the Nazi regime and successfully immigrated to America. However, his family did not, and they all died respectively in different concentration camps.
Upon rediscovering the powerful text of Even When He Is Silent, and Uncle Ralph’s subsequent passing away, I began to reexamine some ironically recent sketches I had produced towards setting these particular words:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I feel it not.
I believe in God even when He is silent.
While the true location of the text remains a mystery to me, finding two conflicting answers in my research: on the wall of a bombed out basement where Jews hid during the Holocaust or inscribed on the walls of one of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, the identity of the author remains an even greater mystery, being left to an anonymous Jewish poet. I felt incredibly inspired to set these words, albeit if it is a tad cliché considering that this text has been set many times. But, under my personal circumstances it seemed a fitting tribute to a person who showed great strength during such a terrifying time.
A unique centerpiece to the text is that while all these bad things are happening to whoever the poet was, there is one constant ideal throughout the three lines: “I believe.” Calling upon my Christian faith, I quickly remember that Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as, “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The poet displays the ultimate acts of faith by believing in three constants that lie in the physical, mental, and spiritual realms respectively: the sun, love, and God, despite these constants being tested with their subsequent absences. The repeated gesture of “I believe,” is for me the most powerful part of the text, as the author still retains their faith despite the current hardships. I ask you to consider this statement of profound faith as you listen to my particular setting, and I hope that you can hear the resonating exclamation of “I believe,” woven into the repeated musical gestures throughout the entirety of the piece.
To the little Jewish boy whose story of flight, bravery, and resilience remains an inspiration to us all
In loving memory of Ralph Heimburg (1928-2018)