War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

SMS interview on BBC World Service, 12 November, 2012

here is the third of Suzanne Steele’s BBC World Service* interviews

as always with the BBC, they produce a gorgeous piece of radio. this is particularly haunting with my collaborator Jeff Ryan’s music throughout. the conductor is Maestro Roberto Minczuk, the soprano is Zorana Sadiq, the chorus is the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by the incredible Timothy Schantz, and the children singing are the CantarĂ© Children’s Choir, conducted by the absolutely miraculous Catherine Glasser-Climie.

*note that the BBC rectified the omission of the composer Jeffrey Ryan’s name in the intro and extro to the interview, by rebroadcasting a section of his fabulous musical score on the 14th November, 2012. “Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation”, while conceived by me, has been a collaboration between many, many people and organizations – the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and One Yellow Rabbit, the Banff Centre, the Canada Council, Cantare Children’s Choir, but with Jeff Ryan primarily. his work has been far beyond what I could ever have hoped for with its beauty, its power and sensitivity, and I thank him for this

the Beeb first interviewed me in 2008 as I was preparing to head to Shilo with 1PPCLI, having just been at Wainwright where I’d experienced “baptism by fire” with the 22e Regiment on my first military exercise. I say baptism by fire because the hardship of those days remains with me. I had left my cosy cottage with the woodstove, the family, the dogs, the cat, the garden, the ocean, and headed into the shock of diesel, long days locked into the back of tin cans called LAVs, early mornings being woken by Rage Against the Machine, or being woken at 0300 hrs out in the field in order to pack up, move for an hour, then return to the same place, weapons, hard metal everywhere, cold rations, sleep deprivation, getting sick (as I did EVERY TIME I went away with the army) and most profoundly, spending time with young French Canadian soldiers whose next stop was to be Afghanistan. I remember those young faces and thinking, “which one won’t come back”

a few hours after the 2008 interview I packed my bags and headed for Shilo, Manitoba, for my first Ex with the Patricias. at Shilo I watched Delta Coy. being born. headed into my first live fire – stab runs, night fire – watched the big prairie moon. and again, that haunted feeling overcame me as I looked around at those beautiful young faces – “which one?”

in 2009, in Afghanistan, having just flown back into KAF from outside the wire where I’d dropped in on D Coy for a short visit, the Beeb interviewed me again. I took the call inside the Patricia’s compound, a nest of razor wire, hescoes, seacans turned into offices, and filled with people I knew. the young visitors’ officer, a bright young Lt. whose greatest wish was to lead a platoon, but who was stuck babysitting me, set me up in his office and suddenly it was London Calling.

after they stopped recording, they asked me to let them know if we could do a followup with any major work that developed from my time with the Canadian Forces. in November, when the press officer, Esther White, from my university contacted the BBC World Service and told them I was in Canada for the rehearsals, promotion of and the premiere of Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, by Suzanne Steele and Jeffrey Ryan, and they immediately asked if we could do an interview. and here it is.

the interesting thing is, true to form, as this Requiem is my last “army gig”, I GOT SICK!!! for old time’s sake I got the dreaded GI as in Suffield. the day of the interview I could barely walk. the assistant from the orchestra actually carried a plastic bag in her purse in case I got sick! I shuffled into the radio studio, put my headphones on, my head on the desk – ever mindful of where the garbage can was – and prayed I’d make it through the interview. 20 years on stage as a performer kicked in the minute I heard “London calling”. I remember thinking, “what the hell am I going to say” when the interviewer asked his first question. I was right out of er as they’d say in the army.

despite being ill and not thinking straight I carried on. because if there’s ONE thing the army taught me, it’s just that. push through. and I did. I made it through, though I hadn’t prepared to read anything and so choosing the Soldier’s Tale from the Agnus Dei was a pretty dodgy proposition, especially as I didn’t know how to pronounce the Pashtun phrases I’d written in (thanks to a soldier who speaks Pashto and two Afghan translators) and so I quickly substituted awkward English translations. the minute I finished the reading the interview was over. I remember thinking, “hey, they didn’t ask details about the collaboration”, but knowing the Beeb, knew they’d intro and extro that important info – well they didn’t, thus the rebroadcast two days later of Jeff’s music with an apology to him for the omission.

after my interview, the CPO assistant took me back to my hotel. I can’t remember taking the elevator, but I do remember opening the door, running for the nearest garbage can and … well, let’s just say, it felt an awful lot like a typical Ex or a day in A’stan for me. how fitting.

a tragic coda to the young visitors’ officer story is that within a month he did get to relinquish his desk job for a chance to lead a platoon outside the wire. you see, the only way that would have happened was if something happened to another young officer. it did. on 23 December, 2009, Lt. Andrew Nuttall was killed by roadside bomb. the young visitors’ officer had to step in and take command of Lt. Nuttall’s unit. he did so in an outstanding manner, from all accounts I’ve heard.

I have written Andrew into the Requiem several times. with kind remembrance. he was loved and admired by his men, his senior officers and NCOs, and of course, is missed terribly by his family and all who loved him. he was superb.

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled SMS interview on BBC World Service, 12 November, 2012. It was posted here on December 27, 2012.


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