Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Concert for Peace

My good friend Paul LaPrade, a humble genius, presented a program on September 10th (note, not September 11th) entilted "A Concert for Peace" in Rockford Illinois at the historic Coronado Theater. Paul’s intention was to avoid the painful date of the 11th and focus on peace and how we all must strive to achieve it.

Paul worked in cooperation with the Rockford Interfaith Council in this large undertaking, as it involved speakers from seven faiths plus eight choirs (thus the creative title Yet despite the size of the undertaking it all played out in a relaxed, wonderfully creative and introspective way. Of course that would be the LaPrade touch- always a fine grace beneath the action taken.

I also must assume that most of my blog readers do not know much about Rockford. It is an aging city in NW Illinois which has struggled for years with rust belt problems- high unemployment, street gangs, poor schools, etc. To witness such an amazing event within a city with these chronic problems is hope embodied. It speaks volumes about the Interfaith Council and the fine people of Rockford who care for their city and about peace.

The speakers, representing the Native American tradition, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha‘i, for the most part stayed away from referencing 9/11 imagery and pain. Of course we all knew it was a subtext- yet their message for September 10th was of peace and what insight each religion, in its best hours not its worst, could share with us in our quest for peace. I enjoyed the opening short speech by Native American speaker Dennis Dillard, about visiting “Miracle” the white bison (symbolic of peace and unity to virtually all Native Americans), born in Wisconsin in 1994.

The speech which I enjoyed the most, and which necessitated audience participation was by Buddhist leader Xuan Dinh. Dressed in traditional orange Buddhist monk garb, he simply told us we must, as an audience, breathe. Well of course we were going to do that- but now he was gently imploring us to be conscious of our breath-- that which keeps us alive and connects us constantly to the ether of the world. And as he encouraged us to breathe and close our eyes, he intoned for us the Buddhist chant (alternating between the chant and telling us the translation) “May I be Happy”. It was a very sweet and touching few minutes and quite delightful in its simplicity. Please read below for more about this text.

Mixed between the speakers’ messages were performances of wonderful music by Rockford area choirs- a wide variety of dedicated amateur groups plus Paul’s new semi-pro chamber group ”Elysian Voices”. The groups were the Rock Valley Children’s Choir, directed by Leah Baskin; the Rock Valley College Concert Choir and Elysian Voices, directed by LaPrade; A Classic Chorale, directed by Larry Runestad; the DeKalb Festival Chorus, directed by Jennifer Whiting, and Kantorei, the Singing Boys of Rockford, directed by Joel Ross.

Al of the choirs acquitted themselves nicely and the repertoire choices were strong- not a clichéd piece in the entire evening. To me the highlights were the two youth choirs. The Rock Valley Children’s Choir featured some of their youngest voices on the main melody- a very sweet touch. When the older singers entered in two and three part harmony the tone quality was simply gorgeous. Leah Baskin’s direction showed a great enthusiasm for working with young people, I’d like to get to know this director! Joel Ross’ boy choir was also wonderfully expressive, and how great is it to see an all-boys choir thriving in 2011, when most moms and dads think their boys should only be playing sports an never do anything artistic. Bravo, Joel and singers.

The Rock Valley Choldren's Choir

The program ended with the massed choirs performing “Grant us your Peace” by Mendelssohn. When the music ended there was no great standing ovation, because we sensed the message of the evening in a deep way and there was no need for that kind of overt response. Everyone who attended will remember the words spoken that evening and the hopes that those words and the heartfelt music implored us to act upon in our daily lives as citizens of the world. Sherri and I, plus a sleeping Aidan in my arms, made our way to the stage to congratulate Paul and others- it was a beautiful evening and a great achievement by Paul and all the people involved.

Note about the chant “May I Be Happy”

I was actually familiar with this chant (and loved hearing its inclusion that evening), as I had used the English translation as a text for a piece recently commissioned by the International Christian School of Hong Kong directed by David Baldwin. I used a gentle Christian text (somewhat pantheistic) to open the piece and then moved to an up-tempo setting of the “May I be Happy” words, with my own melody. It was my way of joining Western and Eastern textual elements for that commission. The piece will be published soon by Roger Dean.

What I love about this chant is the hope for all to be happy and peaceful- including our ”enemies”. Here is the text:

May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free.
May my friends be happy, may my friends be peaceful, may my friends be free.
May my enemies be happy, may my enemies be peaceful, may my enemies be free.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be free.

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