A new requiem for the Halifax Explosion tells the story through vocals

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Mary Knickle, a Lunenburg based composer, has written a requiem for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. It will debut, on the anniversary of the event, at St. Matthew&#8217;s United Church in Halifax.</p>

The moment of 9:04 a.m. December 6, 1917, is one that Halifax, and Nova Scotia, has never forgotten.

It was that day, that moment, and that devastating aftermath, composer, vocal instructor, singer, and Lunenburg native Mary Knickle has aimed to capture in an upcoming requiem she wrote for the 100 year anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

"I've been working on it all year and I'm extremely excited about it," said Knickle.

A requiem or a requiem mass is a traditional Catholic ceremony to honour the dead. The ceremony has been the inspiration for famous, large pieces of music including an unfinished one by Mozart.

In contemporary times, some requiems have notably focused on war or the need for peace while one was once written for Che Guevera and another on the reaction of the public to the death of the Queen Mother. They have also become more secular in style and can be quite lengthy.

This isn't Knickle's first requiem. In 2014 she launched one for people lost at sea - the Seafarer's Requiem, which also is soon being mounted in Prince Edward Island.

"It's going to be a multimedia event, it's mainly a choral event," said Knickle regarding her piece on the Halifax Explosion.

Knickle's piece is 15 minutes long, although Knickle says she probably could have written an opera if she had told all the stories she wanted to tell.

The requiem is composed for a five part choir - soprano, alto, tenor, bass and youth - and has five distinct movements starting with the city before the devastating event.

"There's the busy Halifax Harbour, I've written all these people together and it sounds chorally like a huge busy harbour," she said.

There will also be an acting scene to commemorate Vince Coleman, the telegraph dispatcher who lost his life sending signals to trains to stop them from entering the city when he realized the explosion was imminent.

The piece then moves from that scene into the explosion, the aftermath, and then finally, the rebuild of Halifax.

"It's a combination of my own text and found text, text taken from the public domain," said Knickle.

Knickle described a "powerful" part of her composition where the explosion will be followed by a single voice that turns into a chorus of voices singing a prayer. It's a stark contrast to the noise and bustle of the city highlighted in the first part of the performance and it builds into something bigger.

"The rebuilding scene ... is really triumphant," she said.

Knickle was particularly touched by the children's stories from the explosion, which is why they have such prominence in her piece. Photos of surviving children will be shown during the performance.

The piece will debut alongside a 40-minute traditional funeral mass requiem - the Fauré Requiem directed by Wayne Rogers, a long time choir director and former director of music at Memorial University of Newfoundland. This is all a part of a full requiem mass being held on December 6, 2017 at St. Matthew's Church to commemorate the anniversary of the explosion.

However, more singers are still needed for the event. Rogers is providing the adult singers but Knickle is looking for young people on the South Shore to take part in the youth choir.

The age range needed is 12 to 18, but Knickle says she is flexible if someone looks younger or if a participant is more mature, able to read music, and keep up with older singers. Males however have to have unchanged voices or they are welcome to contact Rogers in Halifax to take part in the tenor and bass parts of his choir.

If you are interested in joining Knickle's youth ensemble for the requiem, email her at quinte@ns.sympatico.ca

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