A requiem is historically a mass for the dead, but composer Steven Sametz says "A Child's Requiem" is something different. It's a musical message of consolation. The work is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and premieres this week in Connecticut.
Sametz weaves in words of American writers and poetry and short lines of text written by children.
"I thought it was important to give voice to that peer group most affected at Sandy Hook," he said. "I got terrific responses from around the country, some incredibly touching about how children grieve. And I wanted that to be the center of this child’s requiem."
Sametz grew up 20 miles from Sandy Hook. He said the words written by children growing up in tough communities in Philadelphia re-shaped his vision for the piece.
"These were short lines like, 'I went out and I saw my father shot,' or 'I ran from a teenager who had a gun.' It quickly became apparent to me that this kind of violence was possible everywhere," Sametz said. "It opened up the piece to start thinking about his the larger issue of how do we keep children safe?"
Gabriel Lofvall directs the children's choir Chorus Angelicus, which will perform alongside an adult choir, orchestra and soloists. He says Connecticut has been affected by a terrible tragedy, "and we need to talk about it. While the children in our choir are lucky that they have not dealt with gun violence themselves, in reading these lines, they are thinking and talking out something that I think is vital and very important."
Composer Sametz said he was careful to distinguish between the child’s world with its pure tonal harmonies, and the adult world with its more complex, sometimes harsher harmonic passages. "How those things are inhabiting the same space is really the dialogue of the piece," he said.