By D. A. Blackburn
Rackham Symphony Choir presents ‘A Concert for Peace’ March 25
DETROIT – Throughout recorded history, people have frequently turned to the expressive power of music to rally for peace in times of war and civil unrest. While we need think no further back than the Vietnam War era for example – and in fact, artists today continue to produce in this vein – the tradition is centuries old, evolving through time to inspire each new generation with messages of peace and hope.
It’s in this tradition that the Rackham Symphony Choir takes the stage this Sunday, March 25, in its largest collaborative effort to date, “The Armed Man: A Concert for Peace.”
“Every day, you open up the paper and there’s always some concern going on in the world, especially in Iraq, and violence that’s in our cities, and I just thought that this would be a good way to try to build community and send out a positive message,” said Suzanne Mallare Acton, artistic and music director of RSC.
Acton set out more than a year ago to produce this socially conscious concert, but even she didn’t foresee the scope of her undertaking initially. In “The Armed Man,” she had selected an ambitious work by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, a neo-classical mass requiring a sizable orchestra, the vocal strength of a large chorus and a range of diverse soloists.
To meet these challenges, Acton engaged the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings and the Maples Elementary Arabic Drumming Ensemble of Dearborn. To fill the vocal needs of the work, she invited Detroit’s Mosaic Singers and the Birmingham Groves High School Choir, which, along with RSC, gave “The Armed Man” nearly 200 voices.
Soloists, including 11-year-old boy soprano Elijah Rhodenhiser, cellist Gabriel Cabezas – First Place Laureate of the 2006 Sphinx Competition’s junior division – and a host of local professionals would round out the ensemble. But even with the work standing on firm musical legs, Acton wasn’t satisfied.
“I had just done a show last year called ‘Voices of Light,’ and it was with film. The music was composed for the film, a 1928 silent film, and it was a very powerful presentation,” said Acton. “I’d always kept on the back burner of my mind that I’d love to do something again with film.”
After securing a substantial grant from The Cranbrook Peace Foundation, RSC brought filmmaker Robert Cucuzza onboard to create a film uniquely suited to their presentation of “The Armed Man.” Cucuzza’s contribution is a silent allegory of conflict and resolution, portrayed by local middle school students, and interwoven with the concert’s music for dramatic effect. It was filmed completely in Detroit, adding both a local feel and a fresh perspective, perhaps slightly more tangible than a distant war.
Adding yet another dimension to the multi-media experience of “The Armed Man,” RSC created a contest for area high school students, inviting them to submit peace-themed postcard designs. The winning entry, by Leah McKay of Brighton, will be distributed to the audience in the show’s program, providing concert-goers a unique keepsake or the opportunity to send friends and loved ones a message of peace. Non-winning entries will be displayed at the Ford Center during the concert.
Musically, “The Armed Man” is a strong message of peace in its own right. Commissioned by the British Royal Armouries for their millennium celebrations, it is the continuation of a long tradition of peace masses routed in the French song “L’Homme Arme” – a tradition dating back some six centuries.
Jenkins’ creation is written in the format of a traditional mass, but incorporates texts by writers including Kipling, Swift, Malory and Tennyson. The juxtaposition of highly visual, at times jarringly descriptive, texts against classical elements and very traditional sounding music is striking. “The Armed Man” shifts seamlessly from the traditional Latin of a mass into French and English, and from the muezzin’s call to prayer (performed by U-M pre-med student Mohamed Al Saadi in RSC’s production) to biblical text.
Presented in this exceptional collaboration, the work is sure to make a dramatic multi-media statement for peace.
‘The Armed Man: A Concert for Peace’
Rackham Symphony Choir at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 15801 Michigan Ave., Dearborn. Sunday, March 25 at 4 p.m. Tickets: $25-$45. For information: 313-943-2354, ext. 1 or http://www.rackhamchoir.org