cecilia

Armistice: The Journey for Peace

by Benjamin Perry

Boston Cecilia’s first concert this season is entitled Armistice: The Journey for Peace. The concert includes music and poetry that explore war and sorrow, death, and the response of hopefulness even in difficult times. Humans have been known to wage ruthless wars and harden their hearts, but it is also in human nature to seek peace and understanding. Throughout history there are countless stories of soldiers putting their weapons down, even for a moment, to honor love and peace even in the midst of war. Our music is a celebration of those moments, where our more evolved and compassionate consciousness shines through.

Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars, will take place on Sunday November 11, 2018, the centennial of the 1918 Armistice. In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice, or temporary cessation of World War I hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany. World War I was known as the “war to end all wars.” Both sides suffered an immeasurable loss of life, but at least the fighting was over. When news of the Armistice broke out in London, the streets were full of people exclaiming the end of war and, not surprisingly, singing - something we have done for millennia to celebrate peaceful times. One year later after the armistice, in 1919, November 11 was declared “Armistice Day" in America.

On November 11, 1921, an unknown soldier, who had already been laid to rest at a cemetery in Europe, was placed aboard a ship to Washington D.C. It was to fill the new "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier". News of the event was broadcast far and wide causing thousands of people to flock to see the body and pay their respects. There was a funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue and each state sent in floral arrangements to adorn the tomb. Taps was played and the casket was placed into the tomb at 11:00 am. The President requested that all flags be flown at half-mast. That single unknown soldier not only symbolized America’s losses, but the losses of the world at large and the blood shed on Earth’s soil. The music played at the occasion symbolized the rest and peace of the nation after war, music that was fought for by those who died.

It seems fitting that we make music 100 years later that responds to this moment, fully acknowledging war's inevitable existence and working to learn something from it. The music we make wields a power that, if we let it, can work to conquer fear in our world. Music inspires peace, and the immediacy of our need for music is ever present. Armistice Day serves as a reminder that war and violence can end. And the music in this program is a reminder that, amidst the pain and suffering of the world, there is hope. Among the pieces performed in this concert is Howell’s Requiem, a work which beats its heart in direct acknowledgement of the mortality of our world. Another piece on the program, Jeffrey Van’s A Procession Winding Around Me, sets the Civil War poetry of Walt Whitman to music for choir and classical guitar. These works, along with the others on the program, serve to awaken our hearts and minds in times of deep despair and look for peace; indeed, they promote an almost “armistice-like” spirit. We hope you will join us in this meditative experience as we explore through music a Journey for Peace.

Benjamin Perry is the Assistant Conductor of The Boston Cecilia

AND IT WAS GOOD: Reflections on 20th Century American Choral Music in a 21st Century World

There is little doubt that the advance of technology, international communications, and access to educational opportunity has changed the complexion of musical composition during the 21st Century. There is much beautiful music being written these days. Maybe too much. And boundaries, styles and trends have been blurred more than ever before. None of this is surprising, given our 21st Century world, and it will be interesting to see what the world's 22nd Century population surmises as they reflect on the current musical landscape. As an Englishman, born in the late 1960s, my first exposure to American Choral Music was, predictably enough, hearing Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1973. For the decade or so after that, I was basically unaware of American Choral Music, as I became steeped in the Anglican Choral Tradition.

WHERE DOES DOUBLE-CHOIR MUSIC COME FROM?

Choruses and audiences LOVE double-choir music, most famously the Bach motets Komm, Jesu, KommFurchte dich Nicht, and Singet dem Herrn. But most of us have only the most general idea where this kind of choral composition originated.

The standard one-line answer is that the balconies in the magnificent St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice allowed for two separated musical forces, and that choirmaster Giovanni Gabrieli fully developed the impressive effect of alternating or echoing choirs.