Listen to the CBC Recording of "Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation" (with précis).
Jan 22, 2013
Steele’s words were often beautiful to hear, ranging from the sublime to the disturbing, and always maintaining an intrinsic sense of poetic metre … richly symbolic …beautifully sonorous narrative poetry ~ Stephan Bonfield
Jeffrey Ryan and Suzanne Steele’s emotionally powerful Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation ~ Stephan Bonfield
Listen to the CBC Broadcast of Jeffrey Ryan and SMSteele’s Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation
A very short video from the premiere of Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation
Here is the third of my BBC World Service interviews
Please note that the omission of Jeffrey Ryan’s name attributing his music was corrected by the BBC World Service with an apology to the composer the next day on air and a broadcast of more of his gorgeous music.
All music and text is copyright Jeff Ryan and SMSteele respectively. Requests for performances, scores, or copies of the text, may be made through Jeffrey Ryan or SMSteele or her representative Ian Arnold of Catalyst TCM Inc.
Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation
was commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic in partnership with One Yellow Rabbit. The world premiere took place during the orchestra’s War and Peace Festival on the eve of Remembrance Day 2012, at the Epcor Centre, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Roberto Minczuk Conductor
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus (chorus conductor Timothy Schantz)
Cantare Children’s Chorus (chorus conductor Catherine Glasser-Climmie)
Zorana Sadiq soprano
Rebecca Hass mezzo-soprano
Benjamin Butterfield tenor
Tyler Duncan baritone
production credits for the CBC recording
Catherine McClelland Producer
Bob Doble Recording Engineer
Ute Schaffland Assistant Recording Engineer
With a special thanks to my collaborator Jeffrey Ryan, a super thanks to Ann Lewis, CPO president, Heather Slater, CPO, Erin O’Connor, One Yellow Rabbit, their boards and supporters, the CBC, the Banff Centre, the Canada Arts Council, the Canadian Forces Artist Program (Dr. John MacFarlane) and all the thousands in the CF (and their families) who welcomed me (and even the few who didn’t!!), and to 1PPCLI for keeping me alive and opening the back hatch of their LAVs! This is for you. Finally, to family, friends who believed, and to our Northern Artistic Magus Michael Green – a national treasure.
I Requiem aeternam – Prologue Elk Island, Winter Solstice
The opening is a call to prayer to the land by a Medic (Soprano) after the war. “Winter moon, winter starts/seeded like pomegranate/White phosphorus flecks Elk Island sky/stars frag silver, gold, winter’s night/deep lapis lazuli”
A soldier, Soldier 1 (Baritone), returns home from Afghanistan but cannot. He suffers. He and his lover are out on the land at winter solstice in the snow and ice. This movement, and the requiem, are choppy, confused, disjointed, reflecting the jumpiness, the jaggedness of war and war injury.
The Medic and the Soldier’s Lover each ask of that which is greater than us all, “Who made this, You?/ How could You turn a hand towards them, then against? What happens in your desert Afghanistan?/Black storks, children, wild roses, mothers/These two new lovers/Afghanistan …”
The chorus begins the Latin rite asking for eternal rest for those who suffer. The Latin rite is a low rumble at times, ever-present as the engine of war.
Soldier 1 wants his dead back, is confused, fragmented, “An axe, my life, it splits my skull/ is bashed, a rusty axe and/Christ is in the seasoned wood”. He suffers the loss of his men, “I want them back”. His fire-team partner, his comrade, Soldier 2 (tenor), tells him to see the wolf on the horizon, “Un loup” crossing the lake. He urges Soldier 1 to see patience, faithfulness, beauty in the landscape of Elk Island.
The chorus chants, “Break icy/trail patrol/the stroll/the heat/the IEDs/the RPGs/ambush/ambush/ambush/ alley/martyr hill”, bringing Afghanistan into the landscape of home, bringing the inescapable war back to Soldier 1 even though he is home.
The Lover reassures Soldier 1 that she is “tracking him/I won’t abandon you … love, silent as wolf tracks in new snow, winter solstice … through the longest night I bring you home/from the dead/ love, our bodies/generous, so generous is love, after war …”
Soldier 1 shakes his head, sees a raven and believes it to be his dead officer, Andrews, alive. There is the beginning of hope.
Soldier 2 sits by a smouldering fire in an outpost outside the wire in wintery Afghanistan. He is writing home, “Dear Mom, cher papa, Cold, I’m cold …we hunker here, the food, our heads, nos coeurs sont froid … we’re missing home … the only heat is on patrol, the stroll, et maintenant le danger est notre feu …”
While Soldier 2 writes, the adult chorus laments, “O son o son can you/hear me o my daughter … can you hear me? O mon fils, o ma fille …”. It is as if they are singing through the thick layer of ice, a “pre”-grief, of the de profuno lacu, desperate to hear and be heard by their children at war. It is the impossibility of a clear connection with a Sat phone call from the desert to home.
The children’s choir, representing Afghan children sing in Pashto, “I’m so cold”.
The Latin rite invokes the Kyrie. Hear us.
III Dies irae – Days of thunder
A soldier is critically injured by a roadside bomb and a 9-line [emergency evacuation call] is radio’ed in. As helicopter rotors sing through the space, his comrades urge him to “hang on son/ breathe/over the red desert [being flown in a Chinook]/you’re almost gone/we will you to live/will you live/you’re almost gone/breathe son/hang on”.
The Lover [or mother] sings of the bottomless black lake of grief for all who die in body in spirit. She begs grief to “hold me down … drown me grief, force my face beneath this icy sheet/God have mercy that I live without you … O were I dead with you in this death”.
The Chorus are parents, loved ones, trying to bargain for the life of their beloved dead. They sing to their beloveds, “If we could give you two days, just two days … Si nous pouvions te donner deux jours, seulement/Ces deux-là … Car sans toi il ya trop de jours [because without you there are too many days]/we have so many days/ what are two days to us/without you.”
The children sing, “If metal rain made blossoms/Then desert birds would sing again”.
After the body of a dead soldier returns home, the Medic sings, “He’s come home again … Sweet sting, prairie Spring … Moon-dust Afghanistan washed from his body, his face/A fine Chinook blessed him with soft rain … New born Pasque, brown hawks circling … His left right left into wire spider trap/Afghan winter his last/That boy tried so hard to inhale, breathe … Now comes their [his beloveds’] shattering-season forever emptying./ Now comes the never shall be.”
VI Agnus Dei – Reccie
Two reconnaissance soldiers sitting in a bar after the war remember an experience they had in the desert far outside the wire in Afghanistan. On a mission for several weeks and without hot food or a shower, their uniforms “stiff with salt and sweat”, they bargain with an old Afghan farmer for a lamb and have “The best damned meal I’ve ever eaten”. A raven lands, watches them, then takes off again without disturbing them.
VII Lux Aeterna- Fly Little Birds Fly
The children’s chorus are Afghan birds who fly one by one towards “Lux”, circle it, then one by one leave. A raven begins the flock of bright coloured birds, and is the last to leave this movement.
VIII Libera me
The Medic, overwhelmed by casualties asks “Which one … tell me, which one” should she save – the injured child, the woman in labour, the Afghan, “our boy” … “which one … I love them all you see … Help me/free me.” The Medic’s terrible dilemma of triage.
Soldier 1 begins to heal, starts searching for himself (“somewhere I am”). Still fragmented, he starts seeing, hearing, feeling again. “Somewhere the wolf is free/Somewhere the stacked wood/Somewhere the wind sweet is free/Somewhere I am, somewhere I am me.”
His lover assures him, “Que tu es beau comme la patience … la fidélité … comme le loup” [You are beautiful like patience, faithfulness, like the wolf].
The Medic pleas for release, “Libera me [Help me/free me]”.
IX In Paradisum
The children sing, “In paradisum deducant te Angeli [May angels lead you to Paradise]”
The adult chorus remind the soldiers to remember them as they are packing to leave for the war. They ask them to remember the lilacs they cut for vases, “your last spring before you go over./Hammer stalks, draw jars of cool, clean water. /Place lilacs on all wish altars/that your portraits might inhale colour … bring you home safe … remember love/Our winter fire waits for you patiently/to come home to us, to come home to me.” They hope the scent of spring lilacs will embed like lodestones in the soldiers and bring them home safe and whole [of body and spirit].
Over this the soloists chant or sing all the major battles of the last century beginning with “Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele … Kapyon, Medak Pocket … Moshtarak, Kandahar, Kandahar.” With this we remember all who have left us, especially those who never came home in body or spirit.
Finally, the children and adult choruses and the soloists sing “Chorus angelorum te suscipiat et cum Lazaro/quondam paupere, aeternam habeas requeim/Donna nobis requiem [May angels lead you into paradise; and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest].
The requiem ends with the plea “Dona aeis requiem/dona nobis requiem” [Grant them eternal peace/Grant us eternal peace].
All text is copyright 2012, Suzanne M. Steele, and may not be reproduced without permission in any form. For permission or enquiries, please write SMSteele through this website, or through her agent Ian Arnold, Artist Representative, Catalyst TCM Inc. #310 – 100 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4M 3H3, 416-645-0935 ph. 416-645-0936 fx., firstname.lastname@example.org www.catalysttcm.com