Anna Degraff and Sarah Yoder on the steps to the School of Music in Germany.
I will never forget how I felt after 9/11, when I visited Ground Zero. The area was fenced off, but the devastation was still overwhelmingly present. There were candles lit, and fresh flowers around the perimeter. There were signs posted by those who were still searching for loved ones. That is the closest I've ever come to war, and it left me with tears in my eyes and a knot in my stomach that didn't go away for days.
Over a decade later, working on the Britten project, and spending this last week in Germany brought my mind back to the kind of loss that is suffered when battles are waged. In preparing the War Requiem, we had several class presentations and discussions about the circumstances surrounding WWI and on the Wilfred Owen poetry used in the work. It struck me that the sort of anonymity that came from the advent of long-rage weaponry bred the disconnect we feel today. Few of us have lost loved ones, and even fewer have seen battle, so we don't have to come face-to-face with pain, loss and death.
Sitting onstage during our final rehearsal in Detmold, I was now familiar enough with the piece that I really began to lose myself in the meaning of the work. The chorus had just finished singing the Libera me (Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death...), and the tenor began a solo section based on Owen's poetry that depicted a soldier wandering in a dreamy post-battle underworld. There he encountered "encumbered sleepers...too fast in thought or death to be bestirred." One rose up, and after lamenting the loss of his life and hope, told the soldier, "I am the enemy you killed, my friend."
There I was sitting next to people I had never met before, but our ancestors fought on opposing sides of two World Wars. I looked around at the faces of those surrounding me, and felt comforted that we could share the stage for such a profound work, and together make a musical protest against war and death. As we stood for the final chorus, Into Paradise may the Angels lead thee...may thou have eternal rest, I was filled with hope that works like this will lead us all to the kind of peace and brotherhood we desire.
--Anna Degraff, second year doctoral candidate, vocal performance