Music in war and in peace
One moving musical performance I watched during this time while Russia is raining bombs on its neighbor Ukraine on orders of Russian despot Vladimir Putin was the choral rendition by the Hiroshima Adventist Academy Choir of Paulo K. Tiról’s composition, “Still, We Sing Alleluia.”
The young Japanese singers are wearing robes in yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The music video begins with a message in Japanese and English from the students and leaders: “We pray for the current situation in Ukraine. May God be with them in this difficult time and give them peace.”
The song begins with “Through flowing tears, Alleluia, through growing fears, Alleluia.” One cannot miss the fact that the school choir is based in Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped during World War II and where an estimated 150,000 civilians and soldiers were killed.
I’ve known Paulo Tiról since he was a boy, the second son of my friends Vic and Lorna K. Tiról, both known in the field of journalism. Paulo is now based in the US, where he did advanced studies in music and where he continues to compose for stage and other musical occasions and venues. An Ateneo graduate, Paulo has been a longtime member of the university-based Hangad Music Ministry group. “Still, We Sing Alleluia” was published by Oregon Catholic Press.
Paulo has many compositions under his belt, Mass songs among them. He composed the music and additional lyrics of “Saint Peter’s Mass” commissioned by St. Peter’s University for a mixed choir. I have the CD. He wrote the stage musical “On this Side of the World.”
Indeed, music and musical talent go a long way and that in war and in peace, music can penetrate all sides and corners of this world. Another music video going the rounds features Ukrainian children singing the much-loved “You Raise Me Up.” It ends with the stop icon with “Stop war” on it.
There are music compositions that are specific to war, like the “War Requiem” by Benjamin Britten. Completed in 1962, it was performed for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in England. The 14th-century one was bombed by the Germans in World War II. Latin and war poems by Wilfrid Owen are interspersed in the “Requiem.”
And there is Russian composer Tchaikovsky’s famous hit, “1812 Overture” with its cannon effects and hints of the French and Russian anthems, which, last I heard, had to be dropped in concert halls for now. It might send a wrong message while the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.
But without doubt, it is Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” with its rousing orchestral and choral culmination (“Ode to Joy”) that continues to endure in all climes and times. It was inspired by German poet Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode an die Freude.”
I did write, some time back, a column piece (“The Power of ‘The Ninth’”) about the award-winning documentary by Pierre-Henry Salfati on Beethoven’s famous symphony. It was shown by the German Embassy. I was so smitten by the story that I gushed: What is it about “Ode to Joy” that movements and leaders who hold divergent beliefs and ideologies have claimed it to be the anthem that embodies their quest? (It is the official anthem of the European Union, by the way.)
Pacifists, fascists, religious, communists, Nazis, romantics, tyrants, humanists, revolutionaries, despots, freedom fighters—what do many of them have in common? They have felt inspired by Beethoven’s “Ninth,” particularly its fourth and last movement.
The documentary answers the question “who” — who have been drawn to it with documentary evidence — from Lenin to the Eskimos in their snowy universe. A lot of archival research and great historical footage from different eras where “Ode to Joy” was played went into the documentary.
As to the “what,” it could be anybody’s guess — the grandness of its totality, but also the simplicity of the melody, the lyrics. But methinks there is a divinely infused ingredient there that even Beethoven himself wouldn’t have been able to pin down. Beethoven (1770-1827) was already totally deaf when he composed “The Ninth.” In his dark night in a world that had fallen silent, he harkened to music only he could hear and sat down to share it with the world. It was, I would say, his desiderata on freedom. It is a symbol of our collective longing for a joyful, free, and peaceful world.