Cantata explores violence, seeks healing, peace

More than 100 singers from 20-plus Baton Rouge area church choirs will raise their voices together in “Waging Peace,” a cantata to be premiered Sunday afternoon at Broadmoor Baptist Church.

The composition, a five movement, 40-minute work, blends the words of area residents describing how violence has affected their lives, both personally and communally, into music written by composer Robert Kyr, a music professor at the University of Oregon.

It is the latest in a series of compositions Kyr has written, in collaboration with groups of peace-minded citizens, addressing peace and violence issues from the Holocaust to the attacks of 9-11.

“I believe that music has a very significant role in the healing of violence, the healing of so many of the social challenges that we face,” Kyr, 61, said. “Music connects us deeply, internally, with what matters most to us. It is a catalyst that allows people to participate in a journey of self-discovery that leads to a journey of community discovery.”

There is no charge for the 23rd annual Sounds of CommUNITY Concert, sponsored by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge. It begins at 4 p.m.

This project began, explained Kyr and the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, director of the Interfaith Federation, when they met in Santa Fe, N.M., at a 2011 peace conference. Kyr had wanted to visit Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina, but had not been able to until McCullough-Bade invited him to speak at the federation’s prayer breakfast last fall.

Kyr had the 250 in attendance write down their thoughts on violence, and he also met with several other local groups, including school children. Over the following months he sifted through 400 pages of comments to weave many of them into the cantata.

“When he finished reading it all, he said he wept,” McCullough-Bade said.

“I have to say it is the most moving and powerful first person witness testimony of a community that I have ever read,” Kyr said. “The witness of the people of Baton Rouge of the violence in their lives, the effect on themselves and their loved ones, on friends, on the community in general was something that unless one has lived through that you don’t know that is going on right here in our country.”

Following Sunday’s concert Kyr and McCullough-Bade will host focus group meetings on Monday, “where people can discuss what they can do to address the issues of violence, so meaningful action will result,” he said.

The cantata is divided into movements that include solos, duets and the larger choir accompanied by six instruments: violin, viola, cello, flute and two clarinets, explained McCullough-Bade. In between the movements male and female actors will speak the words of local residents.

The first movement is “Listen” and includes such words as, “My brother was murdered last week, my father was killed last year — a terrible darkness, a jarring darkness,” McCullough-Bade quoted. “Someone else wrote, “My mother was abused and then murdered. I mourn for her. I grieve. I weep for the life she did not live.”

The second movement, “Understand” comprised of solos and duets, is deliberately not in unison with the instruments, she said.

The third movement, “Forgive” becomes more of a prayer, McCullough-Bade said, where “we look to God how to move on. It is very poetic with a theme of hearts of stone becoming hearts of flesh, light, truth, love and hearts of peace.”

The fourth movement, “Collaborate” is where the singers begin to harmonize with the instruments and the choir.

And the fifth movement, “Proclaim,” declares how “we are commissioned to go and proclaim and bring peace to our community however we can,” she said.

This is the 23rd annual “Sounds of CommUNITY Concert,” McCullough-Bade said, an idea first suggested by the late Rev. Charles T. Smith, longtime senior pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. “He so loved music, and he believed music had the capacity to bring people together.”

Smith and the other 38 founders, from across the denominational spectrum of Baton Rouge, will be honored at a Saturday reception with Kyr and at the concert.

“This composition is not only a tribute to the founders of the Federation but also in tribute to peacemakers of the future and how do we pass on that torch to wage peace to one another,” McCullough-Bade said.

Everrett Parker, music director at Shiloh Baptist, has been involved in the CommUNITY Concert since the very beginning and said he is excited about the cantata and how the choir has developed and blended, both racially and denominationally, over the years.

“The CommUNITY choir is a way — is an opportunity — for us to unite as a community,” Parker said, explaining that which was one of the aspirations Smith in the first place. “Music clearly offers an opportunity to focus on both our diversity and our commonality.”

David Shaler, director of the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus and director of the music program at Broadmoor United Methodist Church, said, as did both McCullough-Bade and Parker, that the music was more complex than what many local choirs are used to performing.

“It is very, very modern (with) harmonies, with changes of meters and unpredictable melodies; it is quite challenging,” Shaler said. “Church music is ancient, but this is hot off the press and very imaginative and is presenting big challenges.”

McCullough-Bade, Parker and Shaler all said they are honored to have such a well-known musician as Kyr be involved in the project that they also acknowledged how it is stretching everyone’s abilities.

“As people have said from day one at the prayer breakfast — this is ambitious — but so is waging peace,” McCullough-Bade said. “Of course the music would be complex, because we are dealing with complex issues.

“This is not an easy thing to be about, peace.”