Better is Peace than always War – A contemporary choral work by Karl Jenkins at the Bellapais Abbey
By Heidi Trautmann
L’homme armé doit on douter
On a fait partout crier
Que chacun se viegne armer
D’un haubregon de fer.
A marching drumbeat – I can hear masses of soldiers approaching ... a call to arms...and a war to follow. I am attending a rehearsal evening of the Kyrenia Chamber Choir high up in the mountains, and this is the first song sung by 33 members of the choir, 13 sopranos, 12 altos, 2 tenors and 6 basses, among them Fikri Toros. George Ward is at the piano…. “Stop – stop!…why do you cut?” and George explains in detail how the song and its words should be interpreted. “Repeat … Now … that is fantastic now… “, and with utmost concentration George Ward leads the choir through the different stages of war, out of despair to hope ...
I am outside on the terrace facing the choir with the sea behind me, and I can feel the music sweep me up as I watch the mime of the singers, their voices passionate, while the message is carried down the foothills.
The Kyrenia Chamber Choir was founded in 2001 by Maggie Woolcock. It was a small beginning, but the choir made swift progress in performing concerts. When Maggie left, George Ward who was already a member of the choir took over. George Ward has retired twice as a mathematics teacher but he is too active and energetic to sit back and relax. He has again taken up teaching at the English School of Kyrenia in Bellapais. He came to Cyprus in 2005 and was happy to join the Chamber Choir in 2006, his life’s passion being music, back home in England and now here. Having been attending some of the performances since 2001, I must say that there is an enormous improvement.
I asked George how it came about that the Gloucester Choral Society was invited – a famous 160 year old choral society – to join them in Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man Mass. “I had been talking with Fikri about the progress of the Kyrenia Chamber Choir. We concluded it was so good that we could embark on a ‘challenge’, I considered a range of works and the appeal, relevance and level of difficulty of ‘The Armed Man shone out as a work within our capability as a choir, and as there are Muslim and Christian songs included, we thought that it would be an appropriate choral piece for Cyprus, now being right in the middle of peace talks again.
When we first started to discuss the project they suggested that GCS became involved and augmented our choir. And now they are also in the middle of rehearsing singing with us on September 28 and 30 in the Bellapais Abbey.” What an undertaking, I think, 90 performers on the stage in Bellapais excluding the orchestra (Lefkoşa Municipality Orchestra) and the local soloists Erkan Dağli (tenor), Ayşe Güler Akin (soprano), Dilşad Asadova (contralto) and Evren Karagöz (bass).
Karl Jenkins dedicated his Mass for Peace to the Kosovo victims. When I first listened to it on a CD a while ago, I was moved, and curious to learn more about him. I thought it worthwhile to copy some of my findings, also from a text already given to me by Liz Moses, a member of the choir and responsible for publicity work, as the more you learn about the background, the more you can appreciate this wonderful music. Also the soloists and the Gloucester Choir require an introduction which I will do later.
Both performances, I was told, will be to raise funds for the International Red Cross/The Turkish Cypriot Red Crescent Organisations who care for those injured both through conflict and natural disaster. Conflict situations are never too far away from us here and it is also for them that we all join in with the concluding chorale, Better is Peace than always War. The melody is the same as the call for arms but joyful with the encouraging words by Tennyson urging a new beginning.
The choir members meet twice a week for rehearsals and they will be well prepared for meeting the Gloucester choir for a joint dress rehearsal.
I leave them to their rehearsal, and the soft melody of the Kyrie Eleison stays with me for the rest of the evening.
Tickets are available at TL 30,00 (Euro 15,00) at Toros Homestore in Girne and the Toros Centre in Lefkoşa. Guests from the South may buy their tickets via email: email@example.com
Erkan Dağli. Born in Famagusta, he studied music in the Department of Music at Gazi University. On returning from Ankara, he began teaching in Famagusta and performed his first recital in 1992. He has represented the TRNC as a soloist in Türksoy Opera Days and acted on stage as a soloist in the government Symphony Orchestra and Chorus as well as participating in the Utrecht Music Festival, Holland.
Ayşe Güler Akin has become an accomplished Soprano. Born in Lefkoşa, she sang from an early age and was the soloist with her school orchestra. Whilst studying at the Marmara University Music Education faculty she also received vocal tuition at the Istanbul University State Conservatory. During her studies Ayşe took part in many concerts around Turkey and after graduating in 2000 taught music for three years. The choir that she led won the ”Choir of the Year” award for three consecutive years. Since returning to North Cyprus, Ayşe has given concerts and is also working as a teacher in Lefkoşa School of Arts.
Dilşad Asadova lives in North Cyprus but originates from Azerbaijan and has participated in many international competitions and worked as a soloist with the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet. Dilşad won the ‘Best Voice of the Year’ competition and also the International ‘Bul-Bul’ in Azerbaijan and has participated in many concerts as well. She is currently a voice instructor in the Department of Music of the Eastern Mediterranean University, Lefkoşa.
Evren Karagöz now lives in North Cyprus but originates from İstanbul. Evren studied vocal music at the School of Fine Arts in Istanbul and has subsequently performed in Germany and various other countries. He currently is a music tutor as well as bass vocalist for ‘Group Akademia’ and singer with the ’Expromte Trio’.
Nicholas Deletaille (cello)
Nicholas was born in Brussels in 1979 and studied at the Conservatoires Royaux de Musique in Mons and in Brussels. After graduating he became a student in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium College of Music and finally at the Julliard School, New York.
After finishing his musical education, Nicholas began his career as a concert performer. He has recorded works from the standard repertoire including the Bach cello suites, the Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano, the Kodaly cello suite and chamber music by Schubert, Dvorak, Frank and Tchaikovsky. He has collaborated with composers from all over the world and has also earned distinction as an arpeggione player, having recorded the Schubert arpeggione sonata.
Nicholas is currently cello faculty member of the Eastern Mediterranean University, living part time in the TRNC.
Karl Jenkins and the Armed Man – A Mass for Peace
The work is dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis and was commissioned by the Royal Armouries of Leeds, (Yorkshire, England), to celebrate the new Millennium. It is a contemporary choral work which draws on material from many different sources. The composer Karl Jenkins is a Welshman, educated at the University of Wales, Cardiff and the Royal Academy of Music, London. Having followed a classical musical training he then became involved in the jazz scene of 1970’s London, founding two groups, Nucleus and Soft Machine and playing at Ronnie Scott’s famous club. He achieved world-wide fame in 1995 with the release of “Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary”. This album and the subsequent Adiemus projects have consistently enjoyed global success with 17 gold and platinum awards. The music of Jenkins is known to many people in Great Britain and the USA as it has been extensively used in advertising campaigns on commercial television.
The starting point for The Armed Man-A Mass for Peace is a 15th Century anonymous text:
“The Armed Man must be feared;
Everywhere it has been decreed
That everyman should arm himself
With an iron coat of mail.”
Guy Wilson, Master of the Royal Armouries, states “The theme that ‘the Armed Man must be feared’ which is the message of the song seemed to me to be painfully relevant to the 20th Century and so the idea was born to commission a modern ‘Armed Man Mass’. What better way both to look back and reflect as we leave behind the most war-torn and destructive century in human history, and to look ahead with hope and commit ourselves to a new and more peaceful millennium”.
The Armed Man is a profoundly moving work and yet very accessible. Jenkins interpolates a number of different texts within the usual Christian Mass format. He draws on several English poets: Dryden, Malory, Swift, Tennyson and Kipling, as well as using extracts from the Hindu Mahabharata, the Koran and the Bible. The build-up to war, the call to arms, and the subsequent descent into the hell of conflict with all its terrible consequences, becomes very real as the music unfolds. One of the most moving passages was written by a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima, Togi Sankichi:
After the harrowing experience of the explosion and aftermath of the atomic bomb, Jenkins juxtaposes a sacred text from the Mass, the Agnus Dei, asking for God’s mercy and peace. The full horror of conflict, the loss of loved ones who do not come home is then explored through an emotive modern poem, written by Guy Wilson. “I have survived all, I who knew I would not. But now you are not here - I shall go home alone…. For you, my dearest friend who should be with me now, not cold, too soon, and in your grave, alone.”
From the depths of despair rises hope in the form of the beautiful Benedictus, introduced by a haunting cello solo. This can be translated into English as: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest”. The theme of hope continues into the last choral movement of the Mass, “Better is peace than always war”. Although the melody is that of the opening movement, it is now in the major key and unfolds to a climax where bells ring out to herald the end of war. The final chorale expresses the vision from the book of Revelation in the Bible, which surely must be shared by all, regardless of colour, creed or race- ‘God shall wipe away all tears, and there shall be no more death, Neither sorrow or crying, Neither shall there be any more pain. Praise the Lord’.
Gloucester Choral Society
Gloucester Choral Society began life as a “Choral Meeting” in 1845, comprising both sacred and secular music. A second meeting took place the following year with 90 people in the chorus and by 1849, leaders for each section had been appointed. The Society currently has 125 members.
Since 1856 the Society has been conducted by the Cathedral Organist and Director of Music. Celebrated musicians of the day have become conductors, including Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion and John Sanders. Adrian Partington succeeded Andrew Nethsinga to this position in January 2008.
Since the Second World War, all concerts have been given in Gloucester Cathedral. Initially only sacred works could be performed and applause was only permitted after a vote by members in 1984! Many well known soloists have performed with the GCS over the years, including Jenny Lind, and Dame Janet Baker.
The GCS has a broad repertoire and within the last decade composers featured have ranged from Monteverdi and Gabrieli through J S Bach, Handel, Brahms and Elgar to Poulenc, Tavener and Karl Jenkins. Next season’s programme includes Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The GCS also participates in the annual Three Choirs Festival with its counterparts from Hereford and Worcester.
The Society has pioneered a number of outreach projects over the last few years, inviting Gloucestershire singers from primary school age upwards to join them in making and performing choral music, singing in hospital wards and assisting in the Three Choirs Plus Mindsong project, helping those with dementia. The Society also has a strong tradition of supporting local charities.
This year’s visit to Northern Cyprus will be the first ever overseas tour by members of the choir.