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Welcome to the Front Page, the digital cover of the Wayne Press.  Here we will share with you things that can't be captured in our newsletter--videos, music, color photographs--as well as articles that reflect on faith and life.  


Dona Nobis Pacem

This weekend, October 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm, the Wayne Oratorio Society will sing Ralph Vaughan William’s oratorio, “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”).  The story surrounding its creation is quite interesting.

In 1936, the Huddersfield Choral Society asked Vaughan Williams to compose a work for the choir’s centenary.  A cloud of renewed fear hung over the British people that another “great war” loomed again just over the horizon. Dona Nobis Pacem was borne of this troubled time.

In 1912 Vaughan Williams wrote: “We must cultivate a sense of musical citizenship. . . The composer must. . .live with his fellows and make his art an expression of the whole life of the community”.  In composing this work, Vaughan Williams acknowledged the horror and grief renewed war would visit on his country.  Dona Nobis is a cry and a prayer for peace.  It was first performed in Huddersfield on 2 October 1936, with Renée Flynn and Roy Henderson as soloists, the Huddersfield Choral Society and the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Albert Coates.

The composer drew his text primarily from scriptures and from the poetry of Walt Whitman.  The sheer musical art of Vaughan Williams and the regrettably timeless and relevant nature of its text has ensured the work’s continuing performance.

One might wonder why a British composer would choose to set a text by an American poet regarding the American Civil War.  In the early years of the twentieth century, British composers were very much fascinated by the poetry of Walt Whitman.  Vaughan Williams first set a Whitman poem to music in 1904, and again in 1911, and following the successful premier of his Sea Symphony, began working with another Whitman text, “Dirge for Two Veterans”, from the American Civil War poem “Drum Taps”.  He set this work aside for unknown reasons.  Twenty-five years later, the movement reemerged as the fourth movement of Dona Nobis Pacem.

The Wayne Oratorio Society last performed Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem twelve years ago.  At the time, we were all struggling with the implications and raw emotions of the events of 9/11/2001.  The message of Dona Nobis Pacem struck too close to home, and many were uneasy with the emotions it evoked. These twelve years later, we are only now getting out of the wars America took on in response to the events of that day.  Thousands have paid the ultimate sacrifice giving their very lives to defend decisions made by leaders isolated from wars’ personal horror, a war executed on behalf of an American citizenry never asked for sacrifice.  Many young Americans served their country nobly, but for many who have returned home, life has changed in often painful and debilitating ways. The sacrifice of these men and women is impossible to grasp.  One of the ignominious ironies of 9/11 is that the hijackers too gave their lives for what they believed.  Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem embraces such tragic irony.  

Posted by Jeff Fowler at 1:00 PM
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