Songs Of War And Peace

Sub-editor and alto Mary-Jane Richmond (left), and reporter and bass Mark Peters performed with up to 3000 others from around the world in an epic production of Karl Jenkins’ powerful choral work, The Armed Man, in Berlin recently. Picture by Liam Clayton

Among the up to 3000 singers from around the world who performed Karl Jenkins’ modern mass to peace, The Armed Man, in Berlin recently were Gisborne Herald reporter Mark Peters (bass) and sub-editor Mary-Jane Richmond (alto).

To mark the centenary of the end of World War 1, Jenkins conducted the army of thousands accompanied by the World Peace Orchestra at Berlin’s massive Mercedes Benz Arena.

Made up of 13 songs that arc through the experience of war from the romance of marching to battle, the charge, horror, apocalypse and aftermath, the epic work rounds off with hope for peace. The Armed Man is based on the Christian mass but has wide secular appeal. It features traditional elements from the mass such as the Kyrie, Sanctus and Benedictus, the words of which are the same from mass to mass, but other songs are made up of phrases from texts and poems from around the world and across the ages.

Jenkins’ choral work opens with a song based on 15th century French folk song L’homme Arme (The Armed Man). Sung in French, it goes, “The armed man must be feared/ Everywhere it has been decreed/ That every man should arm himself/ With an iron coat of mail.”

Intoned in Arabic by a solo performer, the Muslim Call to Prayers follows, while the apocalyptic, haunting Kyrie is sung in Latin. For the Berlin concert, parts of Hymn Before Action, based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1896 poem, will be sung in German as will be a section of the final song, Better is Peace. The words in Better is Peace are drawn from 15th century Welsh poet Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Tennyson’s poetry and Revelations.

A solo singer will perform, in Japanese, Angry Flames, a song based on Sankichi Toge’s poem that reflects on the effects of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War 2. Although sung in English, another of the most disturbing texts to lend themselves to Jenkins’ composition is taken from the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic of ancient India in which the fate of animals and people caught in the conflagration is described in horrific detail.

“Others leapt up in their thousands/ Faces disfigured/ And were consumed by the fire/ Everywhere bodies squirming on the ground/ Wings, eyes and paws all burning/ They breathed their last as living torches.”

Godlessness is written into the journalist’s job description says Peters who enjoys the literary aspect of the work, its concept-album theatre and its emotional power. He first encountered The Armed Man when Gisborne Choral Society (GCS) musical director Gavin Maclean ambushed him with a pamphlet at the supermarket.

Publicising an upcoming performance of the work, the pamphlet featured a white dove and the concert was to be held in a church.

“It didn’t look promising,” says Peters.

“But I went and was powerfully moved from start to end. When the choir performed Kyrie I nearly fell off my pew. I thought if they ever did the work again I wanted to be part of it, to climb around inside the work’s architecture.”

That opportunity came for the non-singer the following year, then again when the GCS, school choir singers and press-ganged volunteers were accompanied by the Gisborne Civic Orchestra in a production to open the rebuilt War Memorial Theatre on Anzac Day in 2015.

Peters says he found involvement in the work a near spiritual experience. With regular rehearsals he was pleasantly spaced out afterwards, he says in his blog.

“I put this down to the concentration on breathing patterns regulated by repeated phrases lifted by musical passages and their harmonics.”

Deeper down was the atavistic (ancestral) connection with ancient languages from his European heritage, the ritual of the mass which he knows nothing about, with his mother, a cellist who often performed in churches, and with his great-grandfather who had been a sniper at Ypres.

Richmond has performed in three GCS productions of The Armed Man.

Unfamiliar, modern compositions can be a challenge for the GCS, “but in The Armed Man there was enough content we could recognise. The words were familiar from other masses. There are some fantastic, powerful things in it that are lovely to sing. It’s very moving.”

Rehearsals can often focus on interpretation of the score and the mechanics of making the parts fit together so the emotional power only really kicks in during live performance.

“It’s often not till the last few practices I start to think it’s a wonderful thing. When I’m standing there, and the performance starts, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I think ‘what a wonderful thing to be part of’. Not just the music; you have learned and prepared for performance with a lot of people. It’s thrilling.”

The melodic parts of Jenkins’ composition particularly appeal to Richmond.

“I like the punchy rhythm in the ‘pleni sunt coeli et terra” bit in the Sanctus. It’s quiet then builds into the strident Hosanna. Jenkins has used the words in the traditional mass and set them in his own setting but he’s interspersed that with songs like Charge! and Now The Guns Have Stopped.

“The chorale at the end is quite emotional. I love the words — and the alto lines are fantastic.”

The son of an organist and choirmaster, Karl Jenkins studied music at Cardiff University and then at the Royal Academy of Music. After learning the oboe he took to the saxophone, becoming a jazz musician. In 1973, Jenkins was part of in a live-in-the-studio performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells for the BBC, then in the early 1980s he performed with jazz-rock band Soft Machine.

The Armed Man was commissioned by the Royal Armouries to mark the millennium and texts for the work were chosen by the composer and the then Master of the Royal Armouries, Guy Wilson. The work reflects on the passing of “the most war-torn and destructive century in human history” and was dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo conflict, whose tragedy was unfolding as Jenkins composed his mass to peace.

Among the up to 3000 singers from around the world who performed Karl Jenkins’ modern mass to peace, The Armed Man, in Berlin recently were Gisborne Herald reporter Mark Peters (bass) and sub-editor Mary-Jane Richmond (alto).

To mark the centenary of the end of World War 1, Jenkins conducted the army of thousands accompanied by the World Peace Orchestra at Berlin’s massive Mercedes Benz Arena.

Made up of 13 songs that arc through the experience of war from the romance of marching to battle, the charge, horror, apocalypse and aftermath, the epic work rounds off with hope for peace. The Armed Man is based on the Christian mass but has wide secular appeal. It features traditional elements from the mass such as the Kyrie, Sanctus and Benedictus, the words of which are the same from mass to mass, but other songs are made up of phrases from texts and poems from around the world and across the ages.

Jenkins’ choral work opens with a song based on 15th century French folk song L’homme Arme (The Armed Man). Sung in French, it goes, “The armed man must be feared/ Everywhere it has been decreed/ That every man should arm himself/ With an iron coat of mail.”

Intoned in Arabic by a solo performer, the Muslim Call to Prayers follows, while the apocalyptic, haunting Kyrie is sung in Latin. For the Berlin concert, parts of Hymn Before Action, based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1896 poem, will be sung in German as will be a section of the final song, Better is Peace. The words in Better is Peace are drawn from 15th century Welsh poet Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Tennyson’s poetry and Revelations.

A solo singer will perform, in Japanese, Angry Flames, a song based on Sankichi Toge’s poem that reflects on the effects of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War 2. Although sung in English, another of the most disturbing texts to lend themselves to Jenkins’ composition is taken from the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic of ancient India in which the fate of animals and people caught in the conflagration is described in horrific detail.

“Others leapt up in their thousands/ Faces disfigured/ And were consumed by the fire/ Everywhere bodies squirming on the ground/ Wings, eyes and paws all burning/ They breathed their last as living torches.”

Godlessness is written into the journalist’s job description says Peters who enjoys the literary aspect of the work, its concept-album theatre and its emotional power. He first encountered The Armed Man when Gisborne Choral Society (GCS) musical director Gavin Maclean ambushed him with a pamphlet at the supermarket.

Publicising an upcoming performance of the work, the pamphlet featured a white dove and the concert was to be held in a church.

“It didn’t look promising,” says Peters.

“But I went and was powerfully moved from start to end. When the choir performed Kyrie I nearly fell off my pew. I thought if they ever did the work again I wanted to be part of it, to climb around inside the work’s architecture.”

That opportunity came for the non-singer the following year, then again when the GCS, school choir singers and press-ganged volunteers were accompanied by the Gisborne Civic Orchestra in a production to open the rebuilt War Memorial Theatre on Anzac Day in 2015.

Peters says he found involvement in the work a near spiritual experience. With regular rehearsals he was pleasantly spaced out afterwards, he says in his blog.

“I put this down to the concentration on breathing patterns regulated by repeated phrases lifted by musical passages and their harmonics.”

Deeper down was the atavistic (ancestral) connection with ancient languages from his European heritage, the ritual of the mass which he knows nothing about, with his mother, a cellist who often performed in churches, and with his great-grandfather who had been a sniper at Ypres.

Richmond has performed in three GCS productions of The Armed Man.

Unfamiliar, modern compositions can be a challenge for the GCS, “but in The Armed Man there was enough content we could recognise. The words were familiar from other masses. There are some fantastic, powerful things in it that are lovely to sing. It’s very moving.”

Rehearsals can often focus on interpretation of the score and the mechanics of making the parts fit together so the emotional power only really kicks in during live performance.

“It’s often not till the last few practices I start to think it’s a wonderful thing. When I’m standing there, and the performance starts, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I think ‘what a wonderful thing to be part of’. Not just the music; you have learned and prepared for performance with a lot of people. It’s thrilling.”

The melodic parts of Jenkins’ composition particularly appeal to Richmond.

“I like the punchy rhythm in the ‘pleni sunt coeli et terra” bit in the Sanctus. It’s quiet then builds into the strident Hosanna. Jenkins has used the words in the traditional mass and set them in his own setting but he’s interspersed that with songs like Charge! and Now The Guns Have Stopped.

“The chorale at the end is quite emotional. I love the words — and the alto lines are fantastic.”

The son of an organist and choirmaster, Karl Jenkins studied music at Cardiff University and then at the Royal Academy of Music. After learning the oboe he took to the saxophone, becoming a jazz musician. In 1973, Jenkins was part of in a live-in-the-studio performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells for the BBC, then in the early 1980s he performed with jazz-rock band Soft Machine.

The Armed Man was commissioned by the Royal Armouries to mark the millennium and texts for the work were chosen by the composer and the then Master of the Royal Armouries, Guy Wilson. The work reflects on the passing of “the most war-torn and destructive century in human history” and was dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo conflict, whose tragedy was unfolding as Jenkins composed his mass to peace.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.