Concert During Wartime

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Signal Theatre, in association with John Gzowski and The Music Gallery presented excerpts from “A Soldier’s Tale” on November 17th, 2013 @ The Music Gallery in downtown Toronto.  This event was inspired by the legendary wartime concerts organized by Myra Hess.  http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/history/myra-hess-concerts/the-myra-hess-concerts

The concerts served a hugely important public service, a humanitarian goal.

Concert During Wartime was conceived by Signal’s artistic director Michael Greyeyes and composer John Gzowski to present some of the music that Gzowski had created for Signal’s newest project “A Soldier’s Tale,” a co-production with the National Arts Centre and the Canada Dance Festival.  This work will premiere on Feb. 20th, 2014 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre and presented by DanceWorks, as part of their Mainstage Performance Series.  This hybrid dance/ theatre work examines the aftermath and costs of war.  “A Soldier’s Tale” is a work for 13 performers that emerges from the director’s research into the lives of contemporary soldiers and the disturbing and ongoing trauma that conflict has wrought upon the lives of those soldiers and their families.  Our entire society, in fact, is indicted, as war has become regularized and commodified in our era.  War and the machinery of it are now an integral part of our national economies and our  prejudice against violence is somehow muted in our media discourse, or drowned out by a chorus of voices proclaiming patriotism or xenophobia as sufficient reasons to embark upon such a path.  Every person in the west is embroiled in war–now continual–because of the benefits that it brings to our economies–benefits that we all share, no matter our politics.  Concert During Wartime is intended, therefore, as a simple reminder that we are at war.  Canada is at war, on that November night and as you read this.  Our armaments, our technology, perhaps even our fellow citizens are involved in the destruction that is unfolding across the globe, minute after minute.  We are all downrange is someway and this concert was to remind us, as Myra Hess did in London so many years ago, that people must always gather together and in so doing we  affirm our humanity.  Hopefully, we will also gather to question our national politics in some way, and examine the costs of war in a harshly critical light and question whether or not we are doing enough to end it.

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Background

Gzowski’s music emerged from the demands and narrative of the larger theatre work.  “A Soldier’s Tale” spans a number of generations of soldiers, from WW II to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The music presented in concert is part of Act 2, which is set on a roadside in Iraq, circa 2003.  In this act, a young female soldier awakes to find herself alone in this foreign land, brought to vivid life by Gzowksi’s score.  As the action unfolds, we find ourselves bombarded by images from those conflicts, transitioning between the deserts of Iraq to the homefronts of the West.  Act 2 is meant to provoke and demand from our audience a new awareness of the ongoing trauma in the lives of these soldiers, with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and suicide at record levels.  The effects of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), known previously as shell-shock and combat fatigue, are increasingly coming to the forefront of our consciousness.  War has come home.  And the statistics imply that this is only the tip of an iceberg.

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Ana Groppler, as the soldier in Act 2

(Photograph by John Lauener)

After the concert, one of audience members asked John and myself how the original work, “L’historie du Soldat,” composed by Igor Stravinsky factored into our creation.  Clearly that musical work and the libretto behind it bares little connection to our current work.  This is purposeful.  In 2010, a conductor from the United States asked me to conceive of a new iteration of “L’histoire du Soldat,’ based upon a new score created by Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate.  I told the conductor, I was not compelled by the original libretto, with its Judeo-Christian parable of selling one’s soul for financial gain, but told him I was quite interested in examining the lives of real soldiers and their families.  Unfortunately, this production did not come to fruition, but it did sow the seeds for the upcoming production.

“A Soldier’s Tale” is supported by The Canada Council for the Arts and The Ontario Arts Council.  “A Soldiers’ Tale” is written by Tara Beagan, dramaturgy by Yvette Nolan, with movement dramaturgy by Nancy Latoszewski, with music by John Gzowski, lighting by Elizabeth Asselstine, set and costumes by Shawn Kerwin and sound design by Andy Morrow.  Choreographed and directed by Michael Greyeyes.

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Photograph from Signal Theatre’s 2013 workshop production.

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