A Child’s Requiem

Scoring

*alto flute/piccolo,*Bb clarinet/Bb bass clarinet, *french horn, *harp, *percussion (1 player)(timpani, marimba, vibraphone, high/low suspended cymbals, tom-toms, tam-tam, bass drum,
snare drum, triangle, orchestra bells), *piano (toy piano), strings

*these instruments are digitally delayed at various times

 

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Details

45:00
2014

A Child’s Requiem was written for the University of Connecticut as part of the Raymond and Beverly Sacker 2013 Music Prize.
The premiere is scheduled for March of 2015 with the University of Connecticut Choir (Jamie Spillane, director) and the Chorus Angelicus children’s choir (Gabriel Lofvall, director).

University of Connecticut as part of the Raymond and Beverly Sacker Music Prize

pending

Program Notes

A Child’s Requiem
Oratorio in ten movements
Dedicated to the those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, December 14, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut

Texts by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, H.D., Steven Sametz and school children, administrators and teachers.

1. Prologue (Orchestral)
2. Introit:Voices (Treble, Soprano and Tenor solos, Children’s Choir and Chorus)
            Interlude: Six Children Speak
3. Hearts’ Love (Tenor solo and chorus)
4. If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking (Treble Solo)
5. A Gift  (Children’s Choir)
           
Interlude:Three Children Speak
6. When You Were Gone (Chorus)
7. Not In Our Time (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep) (Tenor and treble solos)
8. Child Of Song (Soprano solo, Children’s Choir and Chorus)
9. Will There Really Be A “Morning”? (Treble solo, Children’s Choir and Chorus)
         
   Interlude:Four Children Speak
10. Epilogue: From My Window (Treble, Soprano, Tenor solos, Children’s Choir and Chorus)

Notes on “A Child’s Requiem”

Sorrow makes us all children again,– destroys all differences of intellect.
The wisest know nothing.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (Journals, Jan 30,1842 on the death of his son)

On December 14, 2012, images of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut dominated the news. Chief among them was the photograph of a line of children being out of the school to the nearby fire station. From the time I considered writing a piece to commemorate these children and their teachers, three lines suggested themselves and haunted me recalling that picture:
     “Stay in line…”
     “Hold hands…”
     “Keep your eyes closed…”

I knew these would be the first intoned words of A Child’s Requiem.

Twenty children and six teachers and administrators were slain that day. Sandy Hook pointed to basic human fears we carry within us: the fear as children that our world is not safe, and the fear as adults that we can’t keep the world safe for children.

Deciding to compose a work in memory of those killed in Newton was not easy. Foremost, I did not want to intrude on the grieving process of the families and community. But as artists, we are hopeful that what we create may offer healing to those who mourn.

The journey of writing A Child’s Requiem was unique for me. The compositional process is usually private: the composer, a pencil, a piano. But I knew from the outset that I wanted to give voice to the peer group most affected at Sandy Hook. So very early on, the process went public as I reached out to elementary schools across the country asking for children’s responses to tragedy and loss. I was aided in this by a number of inspiring school teachers,administrators and parents.Hundreds of stories and drawings were submitted from schools across the country.

From these, I selected texts and combined them with the poetry of Emerson, Dickenson, H.D. and some poetry of my own. The former would create the world of the child; the latter the grieving, violent, conflicted world of the adult.   Harmonically, the child’s world is more tonal, the adult world harsher.

It was important to me not to abstract the collisions of these two worlds in some academic way. How to approach the suddenness, the violent assault on innocence and wonder, the sorrow of families robbed of their children? As I wrote, characters began to emerge: the tenor, the grieving father; the soprano solo, the mother singing a lullaby to her departed child; the children’s solos offering comforting words from the beyond or child-like prayers for peace.

There are three musical quotations in A Child’s Requiem. The first, the Gregorian requiem chant, is woven into the opening choral movement, a thread in the tapestry of murmuring voices. Several times in the work, Bach’s first prelude from book one of The Well-Tempered Clavier is used to represent the purity of the child’s world. In writing for the soprano solo, I considered the great mother-child connections in the choral repertoire, and thought of the fifth movement of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, with the voice of the mother speaking words of comfort as she departs: I will love you as a mother loves you; I will see you again.” In “Child of Song,” the eighth movement of A Child’s Requiem, these lines are quoted but reversed, so that it is the child’s voice speaking to the grieving mother: “I will see you again.”

School children submitted not only texts, but drawings with their ideas of loss and afterlife.   One of these images, a picture of angels holding hands on a cloud in heaven, was given to me at the very outset of writing and guided some early choices in the piece. I knew it couldn’t only be about loss and mourning. Requiem settings are for the living, to provide solace and comfort. Without being asked ­– because they are children – some of the texts expressed sorrow turning to joy. “I am being taken away to a happier land of flowers and rainbows… to the land I was once from,” to a land “made out of stars.” Many requiem settings close with “In Paradisum.”   In A Child’s Requiem, the last movement also has a sense of ascent to paradise. Emerson’s poem, asking if there is “no star that could be sent” to grieve for the “most beautiful and sweet of human youth” which “has left the hill” is answered by the child’s text: “from my window, there is a hill to the stars.” The last movement brings together the soprano’s lament, the tenor’s hopeful query, the child’s prayer, and the final choral statement: Hearts’ love will meet thee again.

Synopsis of Movements:
1. The opening orchestral Prologue introduces the main motive of the work, with a set of four pitches derived from Sandy Hook: S-(the German Es or Eb)-A-D-H (the German B- natural). The language is the octatonic set of the adult world, touched by occasional tonal moments of the child’s realm.

2.The opening chorus (Introit: Voices) continues the main motive. A crack of gunfire breaks the sounds of a children’s music room as the children file on whispering, “Stay in line…Hold hands… Keep your eyes closed…”. Soloists introduce the lines of Dickinson, “Will There Really Be A ‘Morning,’?” that will be developed later to introduce the final apotheosis of the work.   The larger chorus responds with an unmeasured choral recitative, layering texts of children, teachers and administrators in twenty-six sections, representing the twenty-six victims of the shooting. The tumult of words –not meant to be distinctly heard– create a litany of loss over a timpani “heartbeat” ostinato, rising to an outcry: “You wonder why God had to end their lives.”

3. Hearts’ Love. The third movement is preceded by spoken words of loss by children. The father’s grieving voice is heard in the lines Emerson wrote for the death of his son in a continuous variation of the Sandy Hook motive (S-[Eb]-AD-H [B]). The response by the men’s chorus will be developed in the last movement:
Hearts are dust
Hearts’ love remains.
Hearts’ love will meet thee again.

4. If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking. Movements three, four and five form an internal unit within the requiem. The most intimate soliloquy of the requiem, lightly scored for treble solo and harp, gives voice to the “little pilgrim,” or an angel voice. Dickinson’s poem suggests consolation from the departed child, an idea which will be further developed in the eighth movement.

5. A Gift. The central piece of the work, it brings internal focus to the child’s world. The use of the Bach Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier suggests a purity, an innocence. The scoring for toy piano melds with the grand piano, a union of child and parent. The text expresses comfort to the living and an appreciation of the life lost. The young man who wrote the text explained to me that, after hearing so much about the violence of Sandy Hook, he wanted to refocus the discussion on the positive contribution, the “gift,” that the children gave during their short lives. The scoring for children’s choir evokes the “angel bands” of Emerson’s poem, watching over us.

6. When You Were Gone. Preceded by spoken words written by children of the inner-city Philadelphia school system who are well-acquainted with loss through violence.   The movement begins with the “Sandy Hook” motive, this time in a ghostly scoring, then moves to the c# tonal center associated with the child’s world throughout the requiem.   Though the text for the movement is written by a schoolchild, the choral response of grief is from the adult world. This not only allows the adult access into the “child’s world,” but also locates the “child” in the adult. At the close of the movement we hear main melody of the fourth movement ,“If I can keep one heart from breaking,” in the solo violin. It is a wordless response from the departed, this time to the adult community, a message of consolation.

7. Not In Our Time for tenor and treble solos, is the most direct contrast of “real” and “child’s” world. H.D.’s text from her Tribute to Angels elicits the violence of our time as both a lament and a voice of outrage. The answering child’s bedtime prayer pleads for peace but points to our helplessness: Can we truly protect a child in this world?

8. In Child of Song, the mother sings a lullaby to her departed child, praying that she will be comforted by their reunion in her final hour. The quotations from the Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem provide words of solace, spoken from the child: “I will comfort you and see you again.”

9. Will There Really Be A “Morning”? In Dickinson’s poem, the “little pilgrim” asks the adults–scholars, sailors and wisemen–will there really be a “Morning”, is there such a thing as “Day”? The use of quotes in the poem points to the metaphor of the “Morning” and “Day” being not of earth. The adult choir joins the children’s choir wondering, as we all must, what comes after this life, and hoping for a scholar or some “Wiseman from the skies” to tell us.

10. Epilogue: From My Window. Child speakers introduce the last movement. The children’s texts express ideas of passing to a different realm. The orchestra enters with the octatonic set turned to a fanfare opening: the beginning of a final transfiguration. Ascending chords from the Prologue return, and the tenor and treble soloists – the father and child– introduce the main motive of the movement accompanied by a high, “starry” ostinato played by toy piano. While predominantly tonal (the language of the “child’s world”), there are some sudden harmonic shifts to “hidden” places (where “nobody sees it but me”) that are the same harmonies evoking the “angel fanfares” heard as various times in the piece: so the place the child is seeing is a hidden realm of the angelic band.

The interplay of the tenor and soprano solos brings the parental presence to the final movement of the work and of the child’s life. The “Sandy Hook” motive brings back the last lament from the mother and father (“Child of Song”and “this most beautiful and sweet of human youth has left the hill”) before going from the window, up the hill, to the stars.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A Child’s Requiem was written for the University of Connecticut as part of the Raymond and Beverly Sacker 2013 Music Prize.   The premiere is scheduled for March of 2015 with the University of Connecticut Choir (Jamie Spillane, director) and the Chorus Angelicus children’s choir (Gabriel Lofvall, director).

I am so grateful to so many for help in creating A Child’s Requiem. First to the children who wrote the texts and made drawings that inspired the writing of the work. While many schools were involved, principle among them were the Hamilton Disston School in Philadelphia, where music teacher Katherine Young and Principal Kári D. Hill facilitated writing and drawings of hundreds of children, and The Swain School of Allentown, Pennsylvania (Todd Stansbury, principal), where poet-in-residence Marilyn Hazelton mentored young students to produce beautifully lyrical works.   I am also grateful to the teachers and students at the Quakertown (PA) Friends School (Nancy Donelly, principal), the Moravian Academy Lower School (Susan Parent, principal), Minna Kim and her students at P.S. 32 (Flushing, NY), Jessica Lura and Tracey Mumford at Gabby Gifford’s Hands of Hope Project (Bullis Charter School, Los Altos, CA), Warren and Robin Heydenberk of the Lehigh University College of Education; Joseph Primo, Executive Director of Good Grief (Morristown, NJ); and to the people of Newtown, Connecticut who took time to speak with me and help guide the project: Lauren O’Neill, (Sandy Hook Promise), Yolie Moreno, (“Embracing Newtown”) and Jennifer Johnson (Newtown Cultural Arts Commission).
Special thanks to Sean Herbert, Executive Producer at CBS Evening News and Sally Gilotti at the Lehigh University Office of Communications and Public Affairs for following the development of the work.
-S.S.

 


Lesson Materials

Marilyn Hazelton, the Swain School, Allentown, PA

Katie Young, Hamilton-Disston School, Philadelphia, PA

Text

A CHILD’S REQUIEM

texts by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Steven Sametz, H.D.,
school children, teachers and administrators

1. Prologue (Orchestral)

2. Introit:Voices
Treble, Soprano and Tenor solos, Children’s Choir and Chorus

Chorus (whispering)
    “Stay in line…”
   “Hold hands…”
   “Keep your eyes closed…”

Tenor Solo
This most beautiful and sweet
Of human youth has left the hill
            Ralph Waldo Emerson (from Threnody)

Tenor, Soprano and Treble solos
Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Please to tell a little pilgrim…
[Who is lost upon the way…]
            –Emily Dickinson (additional words by SS)

Chorus
When you first hear, your heart disappears in a sad world
And you’re just a little boy or a little girl.
You start to cry cause you didn’t get to say goodbye
And you wonder that happened
How did they die
And you ask yourself “why”?
            –Tyana B. (age 11)

Sorrow is a crow in the sky
Flying over me
            –Alex B. (age 12)

Sorrow is a woodpecker
Flying around,
But so lonely.
            –Nicholas L. (age 12)

It’s so sad to lose someone…
It’s like a bomb went off in you.
            –Azoriah N. (age 9)

One day, my dad went missing
the cops found him dead…
I don’t want to go missing….
­            –Nieam S. (age 13)

My uncle, my aunt, my great grandma
… got shot out of nowhere
            –Brianna M. (age 10)

I was frozen in time…
            –­Caitlyn M. (age 12)

You wonder why
God had to end their lives
            –Norman B. (age 12)

If sadness was math, it would be division
Because sadness divides you from happiness
            –Raymond Y. (age 11)

If sadness was a sound,
It would be a broken record
            –L. Q. (teacher)

If sorrow was a landscape it would be filled with leafless trees
            –R. A. H. (school counselor)

If sadness was earth, it would be the rocks because they are unmoving and heavy.
If memory was a material, it would be slippery stones, because we try to hold on to them as hard as we can
            –Ben K. (age 12)

Losing someone feels like a piece of your story had been taken out
            –Nazed M. (age 13)

I feel like a puppet with its strings cut
            –Jenny C. (age 13)

Interlude (speakers):

Child Speaker 1:
sadness is a kind of math
so very hard
we can never figure it out
            – Jonathan S. (age 10)

Child Speaker 2:
sadness is a kind of weather you don’t understand
            ­– Reilly H. (age 11)

Child Speaker 3:
if sadness was a landscape it would be the ocean
because tears flow down your face like a river
            ­­–Harrison J. (age 11)

Child Speaker 4:
if loss was an empty hole,
it would be the deepest hole
            –Thomas C. (age 13)

Child Speaker 5:
loss
is hard
… like a stone
outside in the cold
            ­–Clara G. (age 11)

Speaker 6:
if loss was a kind of math,
it would be subtraction
            ­–Noel Y. (age 12)

3. Hearts’ Love
Tenor solo and chorus

Whispering Chorus:
Loss leads to pain, 
pain to sorrow,
sorrow to sadness,
sadness to grief,
to grief to anger…
…what do memories lead to?
            –Claire H. (age 14)

Tenor:
This most beautiful and sweet
Of human youth has left the hill.
Born for the future
To the future lost!
Nature… cannot remake him
…Fate let him fall.
Was there no star that could be sent,
No watcher in the firmament,…
Could stoop to heal that only child,…
And keep the blossom of the earth?…

Chorus
– Hearts are dust
Hearts’ love remains.
Hearts’ love will meet thee again.

Tenor
The eager fate which carried thee
Took the largest part of me:
For this losing is true dying;

Chorus
Hearts are dust
Hearts’ love remains.
Hearts’ love will meet thee again.

Tenor
…Star by star his world resigning.             ­
            –Ralph Waldo Emerson (from Threnody)

4. If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking
Treble Solo

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain
            –Emily Dickinson

5. A Gift
Children’s Choir

a tree is tall.
a branch is small.
a heart is huge of joy and love.
don’t grieve for the lost, love what they left
            ­–Harrison I. (age 14)

Interlude (speakers):

Child Speaker 1:
My Dad was about to go outside with me and someone had a gun and shot my dad…
            –Rahzier D. (age 9)

Child Speaker 2:
When my friend died, I ran from the teenager…
So I ran to the store… and they started crying.
            –Jose V. (age 10)

Child Speaker 3:
I lost my nine-year old cousin because some man shot him four times.
You will never be forgotten          
            –Mirlenis G. (age 10)

6. When You Were Gone
Chorus

When you were gone
I couldn’t breathe anymore
You took one step into my life
And now you’re gone
So now it’s all different
For us all

You were there for me
And now that you’re gone
I cry every day

I feel like hope is gone
The sunshine fades away
It’s all darkness for me.
            –Morgan S. (age 12)

7. Not In Our Time (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep)
Tenor and treble solos

Not in our time, O Lord,
The ploughshare for the sword,

Not in our time, the knife,
Sated with life-blood and life…

Not in our time, O King,
The voice to quell the re-gathering,
Thundering storm.
            –H.D. (from Tribute to Angels)

Now I lay me down to sleep, 
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Angels crowding ’round my bed,
Faithfully watching overhead…
 
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Now until the dawn’s first light
Angels guard me through the night.
 
Now throughout the darkening night
Bands of angels burning bright,
Angel knights, though banners torn,
Keep me safe until the morn.
            –Traditional children’s prayer
            (expanded, S.S.)
 

8. Child Of Song
Soprano solo, Children’s Choir and Chorus

Child of song,
oh, Child of prayer,
Child I held,
held now beyond all care.
Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit    (You now have sorrow)
Child I held,
oh, hold me now.
Traurigkeit, Traurigkeit    (sorrow, sorrow)

Child,
age is not for you,
Child of my song:
Oh, my Child, keep trust with me
until we sing again,
my Child.

Child that I held
sing me your song,
cradle me now
in my final hour.

Child of mine,
Child I held,
Child of Song,
hold me now.

Ich will euch trösten.                           (I will comfort you)
wie einem seinem Mutter tröstet    (as a mother comforts you)
Ich will euch wiedersehen                  (I will see you again)

           
–S.S. and Biblcal words from John 16 and Isaiah 66

9. Will There Really Be A “Morning”?
Treble solo, Children’s Choir and Chorus
 
Will there really be a “Morning?”
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!
            –Emily Dickinson

Whispering Chorus:
memories to joy…
Joy to gratitude….
Gratitude to love…
Love is like the shining sky,
It is endless...
            – Claire H. (age 14)

Interlude (speakers):

Child Speaker 1:
we feel alone and forgotten
yet we are not alone or forgotten
            –Tyler S. (age 13)

Child Speaker 2:
happiness
catches us by heart
runs around in the field
meets us every day and sometimes
passes us by
and goes to a better place
            –Ryan L. (age 13)

Child Speaker 3:
The sun is fading
I am fading
I’m being taken away
To a happier land
Of flowers and rainbows
and my memories fading away
to the land I once was from
            –Peggy S. (age 13)

Child Speaker 4:
love
it’s the moon
in the night sky
with a heart
made out of stars
            –Clara G. (age 11)

10. Epilogue: From My Window
Treble, Soprano, Tenor solos, Children’s Choir and Chorus

Children’s Chorus
From my window there is a hill to the stars
The hill is not that high, but the stars are not that far
And for some reason nobody sees it but me
From my window there is a hill to the stars.
            –Adam Y. (age 10)

Tenor
…of this
[the] most beautiful and sweet
Of human youth has left the hill…

Soprano
Child of song,
oh, Child of prayer,
Child I held,
held now beyond all care.
 

Tenor
Was there no star that could be sent,
No watcher in the firmament,…
 

Children’s Chorus
From my window there is a hill to the stars
Tenor
Star by star, his world resigning…
 

Treble                                                      Chorus
Now I lay me down to sleep            Hearts are dust
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,      Hearts’ love remains.
Now until the dawn’s first light      Hearts’ love will meet thee again.
Angels guard me through the night.