Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

November 18, 2012

Forum: A piece of music does not make peace

On Nov. 10 at First Congregational Church, halfway into the dress rehearsal for a performance of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, the choir, soloists and orchestra were informed that the second movement, "Call to Prayers," would not be performed due to Pastor Walls' objection that "Muslims worship a different God, and as Christians, they couldn't abide a profession of belief in Muhammad within their church."

Bigotry aside, the decision by conductor Jeffrey Cobb to go ahead with the performance also raises the question of artistic integrity. Karl Jenkins composed The Armed Man as a thirteen-piece movement dedicated to the victims of Kosovo, which at this writing is nearly 97% Muslim. What does the censorship of "Call to Prayers," then, do to the integrity of Jenkin's message? The answer lies in the opposite of "integrity," which is "hypocrisy."

The Armed Man is essentially an anti-war work, specifically targeted at the Bosnian War, a conflict between Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, and Catholic Croats. It's the tension between the religions that makes The Armed Man so powerful, because those tensions are present in the content and order of the movements. The first movement, for example, begins with a 15th century French song, also called "The Armed Man." Although the lyrics are cheerfully bellicose, we think Jenkins chose the song for another reason, that it was the secular song most often used as the melody for the Latin mass during the Renaissance.

The second movement, the one that was omitted from the performance, is the Adhan, or the Muslim "Call to Prayers." What makes its exclusion particularly meaningful is the fact that it was only when Muslims and Christians banded together during the war, were they able to repulse the Serbs.

But that's not all: the third portion of is the "Kyie Eleison," meaning Lord have mercy, and one of the most popular prayers in both Eastern and Western Christian liturgy. The historical significance of this in The Armed Man comes from the origin of the words, which are Greek. Greek volunteers took part in the massacre of Muslim Bosniaks at Srebrenica and hoisted their nation's flag after the town fell to the Serbs.

So you see, The Armed Man, like all works of art, is not a random collection of pieces that can be taken apart or rearranged. Just as cutting the chapters of a book or removing a color in a painting would change the artist's intention, so does the exclusion of the "Call to Prayers" alter the significance of The Armed Man. In the case of the recent performance at First Congregational, it became not a Mass for "World" Peace, as the composer intended, but a Mass for Peace "Among People Like Us."

While Mr. Cobb may have felt that it was expedient to go ahead with the censored program, we feel that the result, however well intentioned, made hypocrisy of the time, money, and effort that went into it.

About the authors: Heather Shaw is a freelance editor and former Managing Editor of Spirituality & Health magazine.

Duncan Moran has been teaching language arts and social studies at Pathfinder School for the last 21 years.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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