Thursday, May 3, 2012

Drum Taps: PLU performers sing and string 9 poems of compassion for victims of war and injustice

By Kelsey Hilmes, A&E Reporter

After years of patience, Professor of Music Gregory Youtz will finally witness his 2006 composition performed on stage.

“The wait has been worth it,” Youtz said.

Lagerquist will resound with "Drum Taps: Nine Poems on Themes of War" 8 p.m. May 15. The vocal and orchestral performance composed by Youtz is roughly one hour long and features two choirs, an orchestra and four soloists.

Politics, the depths of war and humanity also aren’t topics addressed at the typical music performance at Pacific Lutheran University.

Inspired by the U.S. engagement in the Iraq war, Youtz began the piece in 2003 as a set of three songs that Senior Lecturer of Music Janeanne Houston later helped him record. Over time, Youtz said he realized he wanted to say more in his piece.

“Every now and then artists as members of society feel compelled to contribute in some way to the conversation,” Youtz said.

The piece begins with four poems by Walt Whitman, an American 19th-century poet and Civil War author. Youtz chose four poems that move from the initial enthusiasm and excitement of war into the shock and horror of its cost.

Between Whitman’s pieces are poems from other countries, including a poem by a Vietnamese woman watching her husband go off to war, an eighth century Chinese poet describing war, a French poet's war letter and an Arabic poem.

Youtz noted these all represent places where the U.S. has somehow been involved in war.

“The texts explore many aspects of the culture of war: patriotism, honor, sorrow, sacrifice, loss of children, cruelty and torture and, in the end, a deep longing for peace,” Houston said.

The poems are dispersed throughout the nine movements of the piece and the choirs and soloists sing them.

Baritone soloist Barry Johnson said the music will take you through a series of emotions that end in a very different place than it began.

“The piece has moments of chaos, violence, heightened emotion,” Johnson said. “It really stretches the bound of twentieth century music.”

Houston, who sings the soprano solo, said the piece is important to the PLU community because of the relevance of war in the U.S.

“I believe that the PLU community is one that prays for peace,” Houston said.

War and compassion, often become a cycle, Youtz said. Sometimes compassion is the reason for war, which created compassion for soldiers and victims of the war.

Drum Taps is the music department’s contribution to the SOAC Focus Series on compassion. A panel will be held in MBR 334 at 7 p.m. before the performance to discuss art, war and compassion.

“This piece is essentially both a chance to kind of think about society sending people off to war, not just ours but lots of people’s societies, and to realize that these are very old questions and problems,” Youtz said.