MEMORIA: Commemorating the Armistice Through Words and Music

November 12, 2018 at 4:43 pm 1 comment

There have been many conflicts, large and small, in the century following the end of World War I, and today, battles still rage in different parts of the world. Yet the devastation that was the Great War remains unparalleled in history, and for students in the Penn State Concert Choir, its magnitude took on a new meaning yesterday with MEMORIA, a choral cantata performed for the centenary of the Armistice.

Christopher Kiver, director of choral activities, commissioned the piece from composer Scott Eggert, professor emeritus of music at Lebanon Valley College, who set his music—scored for 11 instruments in 11 sections—to poems written during and after the war, each one carefully chosen to reflect its length and breadth, from start to finish and beyond.

“The students have been touched in a very deep way by this,” says Kiver, who believes strongly that music should be taught, felt, and performed beyond the notes and the rhythm. In preparing MEMORIA, he says, choir students had many discussions on the war—why and how it began: They watched documentaries, discussed visual art and poetry, looked at how the media reported the war, and the role played by women.

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For the Concert Choir, preparing and performing MEMORIA was a moving experience.

“The process of learning this piece was very different from pieces that I have performed in the past because we did so much outside research so that we understand the context of what we’re singing about,” says sophomore Ellie Farber, a history major. “Although WWI was 100 years ago, I have been able to understand the emotions of the various people involved in the war, from soldiers to families and friends, through the poetry and the music itself, and I have been able to use this new understanding to perform the piece to the best of my ability.”

For senior Alex Cooper—who, like many young people his age, did not know much about World War I—preparing and performing MEMORIA was a particularly moving experience, not least because “many of the young people who served were my age,” he says, “and were forced to endure unspeakable atrocities.”

Around 15 million people died in World War I, and many, many more were wounded. Soldiers from across Europe—many of them below the age of 18—fought, as did soldiers from countries under colonial rule such as India and Nigeria. The conflict claimed the lives of numerous Americans, including Penn Staters like Levi Lamb (the subject of our September/October cover story), a star athlete who was killed in July 1918, on the first day of the offensive stage of the Second Battle of the Marne.

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Star athlete Levi Lamb was one of the many young soldiers who never came home from the Great War.

Although the guns were silenced on the western front on November 11, 1918, the effects of the Great War continued to impact the world for many years to come.

“Many societies had been mobilized to fight this war, they had been pushed to their limits not to lose the war,” says associate professor of history Sophie de Schaepdrivjer, a World War I specialist. “Economies were in tatters, there were huge casualty rates, there were refugees and displaced people everywhere, so the war cast a really long shadow, and the dislocations it created—economic, cultural, social, psychological—would last for a long time.”

Historians will discuss the aftermath of the Great War and its effects on society today and tomorrow at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, during a colloquium entitled “Dislocation: November 1918 and the Unfinished Business of the First World War.” It is sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute and the Institute for the Humanities.

MEMORIA was performed in the new recital hall of the School of Music, where audience members also got to browse a lobby exhibit of pictures and posters from World War I, supplied by the Palmer Museum of Art and the Eberly Family Special Collections Library. Keith Forrest ’69 EMS lent a uniform belonging to his maternal grandfather, Roy Clarke, a captain in the U.S. Army, who was stationed in France during World War I.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Gary Dunning  |  November 27, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Very commendable! Praise to all who brought this about. Learning history is very valuable.

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