Well, today is Day 4 of the Music and Social Justice Marathon, and I will admit that I am more than a little tired. Add the fact that, a class that goes until 9 pm and then has a 30 minute commute attached to it takes me way past my normal “kennel-in” time to the intensity of the emotions that arise as we listen to the subject matter in the course, and I am just wiped out.
As we were listening and pondering last night, first the Ralph Vaughn Williams Dona Nobis Pacem (the majority of the text by Walt Whitma) -and then Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, I again pondered the pain and suffering that humanity creates for itself against itself, I was pretty sure that I would be unable to sleep again last night. And then, we came to a most amazing work of music that I only knew by name: The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins. The work was a special commission by, of all organizations, the Royal Armouries of Great Britain. Even they want to see war stop.
The music is the latest in a six century old tradition of “Armed Man” masses that take the fifteenth century French song “L’Homme Armé” as their starting point. Like Britten’s War Requiem, it is a mass sung for the death of War itself, as much as in remembrance of those who have died in war.
We had the honor of watching the performance by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra and the John S. Davies Singers, conducted by the composer himself. Visuals of just what the music prayed would stop –war–projected on a large screen above the performers. And just at the moment when I thought that I could take no more we reached the final movement: “Better is Peace”, which begins with:
Better is peace than always war,
And better is peace than evermore war,
always war, always war,
better is peace than evermore war,
and better and better is peace.
And ends with a most beautiful and unexpected chorale:
God shall wipe away all tears
And there shall be no more death,
Neither sorrow nor crying,
Neither shall there be anymore pain.
Praise the Lord,
Praise the Lord,
Praise the Lord.
It was a brilliant musical and emotional moment, because you see, “Better is Peace” is set to the same music as the opening of the work, a very, very military medieval French tune, “ L’homme armé”, and carries all of that marching verve into its statement of peace. But then, suddenly, the chorale intercedes, as if to say — peace will only come when God enters in.
I would invite you, when you have about 10 minutes, to listen to a this performance. As I searched through YouTube, I was struck by the number of different kinds of choirs from all over the world who have performed this work in its short, 10-year life.
I wil not soon forget this music.