Requiem for Peace
thoughts from the composer in 2005
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THE REQUIEM MASS for the souls of the departed has been set to music on a grand scale hundreds of times since the days of Dufay and Ockegem. The Requiem is intended to honor the deceased and give comfort to the living.

Last summer my wife, Edna, and I visited Rupert Jeffcoat, the music director at Coventry Cathedral. We spent quiet moments in the bombed out shell of the former structure, reflecting on the monument to peace. Britten’s War Requiem had been premiered there. I’ve been inspired and motivated by his dramatic epic for several years.

With encouragement from Bruce Pullan and under the gentle guidance of Steve Chatman, I’ve undertaken this Requiem project as my doctoral dissertation.
Requiem for Peace honors the suffering civilians of this world who have been caught in the cross fire between warring nations, circumstances they have little control over. Integrating poetry in twelve languages, it is an international call for forgiveness and reconciliation. Just as Wilfred Owen wrote so poignantly about man’s inhumanity to man, poets from every country have cried out the same sentiment. Requiem for Peace includes texts in Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Dutch, Russian, German and English. I found that juxtaposing pacifist poetry from Jewish and Islamic writers (for example) creates wonderful irony.  Continuity for this work is provided by the traditional Latin liturgy. In Hiroshima Lacrimosa the choir sings “Dies Irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla”, (the day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes) while the soloist sings in Japanese, “How could I ever forget that flash of light!”

I visited Rabbis and Priests; I was on the phone to Holland and Zurich; I e-mailed contacts in Hong Kong, Hyderabad and Jakarta. Colleagues Ekaterina Yurasovkaya, Yinan Song, Zohreh Bayatrizi, Dr. Maya Yazigi, Alexandra Henrique, Peter Rohloff, Farshid Samandari, Sandy Tang, Michiko Kato, Grace Chan, Ivan Tucakor, Gaku Ishimura and Tissaphern Mirfakrai, to mention a few, have been invaluable resources for this project: providing suitable poetry and then painstakingly helping me with transliteration and pronunciation. I have made a CD, which features each of the poems being recited slowly/carefully and then at a normal pace, by people who actually speak the language. This CD should be helpful to the choir and soloists. The daunting task of singing a Requiem in eleven languages is mitigated in the way the soloists share the brunt of the verbose sections. The choir often sings a refrain or echoes phrases delivered by the soloists.  The men alone sing
Bêtise de la Guerre and the women sing Liber Scriptus.

Faced with representing many cultures, music style became an issue from the start. For example, I realized that any effort to write Chinese music (for example) would likely sound like a poor parody. Including instruments from that country, such as the the Pipa or Erhu, (even though we have students at UBC who play those instruments well), would leave the listener expecting the other countries to also be represented with ethnic instrumentation. Fortunately, Bruce Pullan advised me to write for the standard classical orchestra, to make the Requiem an approachable project for choirs and orchestras elsewhere. As a result of these deliberations, the mandarin piece,
Bing Chuh Shing, includes Chinese musical idioms, such as pentatonic passages and parallel open intervals, integrated with my conservative choral style. With an extended percussion section, the harp, pizzicato strings, piccolo, double reed woodwinds, etc. it is possible to at least emulate the desired timbres. I spent many weeks listening to music from these countries before starting each piece. It was so refreshing!

I have found myself in tears many times, while writing this music.  Remembrance, regret, remorse, repentance, reconciliation, redemption, renewal, requiem (rest); these are the themes that run through
Requiem for Peace. It is a message of hope. I believe that the city of Vancouver is an excellent model for unity in diversity. There are restaurants from 10 different ethnicity's within one block on Denman Street! This multicultural attitude of tolerance and brother/sisterhood is well demonstrated within the UBC Music Department. It will be so exciting to see many of the countries, which are represented by the texts of Requiem for Peace, also represented by our singers and instrumentalists.

Larry Nickel