instrumentation: wind symphony orchestra
Eight years ago in July 2006, my grandfather passed away. As we buried him near a church in the heart of Beirut, a war broke out that would devastate the country for two months. An inexperienced by very passionate composer, I spent the following few weeks writing my first orchestral piece as I tried to block out the horror happening around me. The piece was juvenile and mostly impractical and could never be played as I had written it. However, the music stayed with me all these years as I lived in North America, went through the stages of my education, and grew as a musician. A few months ago, I decided to revisit this piece by using it as the backdrop to a different work. It’s like using an old painting as a canvas for a new one: painted over entirely at times, while left as is at others. Looking at the old music through my current eyes was a very revealing experience, not only of what I was like at the time, but of how I think now. I spent a few months rewriting the piece, expanding it, reliving the memories of these days through the sketches, the melodies. So much came back to me that I had forgotten: so many smells and sounds, sights, thoughts, some terrible stories that I might have preferred to have left forgotten, others that I’m glad I was able to recall and share with my family. I decided to finish the piece where I had started it, at the same table in the same dining room. Fate had it that as I worked, my grandmother ended up in the same hospital, and I noticed the coincidence with disbelief one day as I sat in the same waiting room, trying to get some work done for a few minutes, only to notice that it was the exact same waiting room, eight years later, with the same material jotted down in front of me.
As I reached the double bar line of the final version of the piece, an overwhelming sense of closure came upon me, mixed with a tint of sadness at the thought that I would have to finally turn that page of my life. Perhaps another way to look at this would be as a foundation that I can now build upon as I struggle to find my sense of identity as a Lebanese with strong French connections living in North America; as a Christian Arab, a minority wherever we go; always carrying around a sense of not belonging. In this piece I initially strove to convey the devastation left by the destruction of war as it is experienced by a civilian with no loyalties. I took no sides during that war but bore its principal cost along with the equally unaligned people living around me. We had no food, no water, no dignity, no voice, and were forced to watch as our country was utterly destroyed by a modern state and fanatics who resolved their agendas and insecurities on other peoples’ backs. The piece features many quotations of and references to the Lebanese national anthem that only a Lebanese would fully grasp, but one is encouraged to listen to the anthem before listening to the piece. That said, my inclusion of the anthem should not be mistaken for patriotism. To me, it is simultaneously a sentimental mourning of the destruction of the country where I was born, and a sardonic sneer at my fellow countrymen’s lack of genuine involvement with the issues, choosing instead to hide behind symbols and superficial stories of reconciliation. My reading of the whole situation is somewhat different today than it was eight years ago, and this layering of various musical approaches, as well as the different sides of my personality that have developed over the years, hopefully enriches the piece and allows it to be a reflection of the world as I see it: never black or white, but always intensely gray, simultaneously the one and the other, forced to leave room for all, for better or for worse, smoothly, or through force and harrowing violence.
Première and only performance, January 12th, 2014 by Northwestern University students, conducted by Joe Higgins, in Pick Staiger concert hall, Evanston, IL, USA.
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