Requiem for Fourteen Roses: Music for the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, composed by Elise Letourneau
Requiem for Fourteen Roses blog
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Ottawa Citizen article by Peter Hum
Ottawa Jazz Scene article 1
Ottawa Jazz Scene article 2
University Affairs magazine article
CBC Ottawa Morning
I spent over a year creating the “Requiem for Fourteen Roses” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre that occurred on December 6, 1989, in Montreal QC. It’s my largest single creative work to date, at about 85 minutes worth of new music for choir, soloist, 8-piece chamber ensemble, and audience. It is a multi-movement concert-length work that combines sections of the traditional European requiem mass, including the Kyrie Eleison (Lord have Mercy), the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the Sanctus and other movements, with 14 instrumental miniatures for chamber quartet - one for each of the young women who were murdered. It also incorporates choral and vocal movements based on texts from two poets: Rabindranath Tagore, who was a Bengali poet, musician and artist, and was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913; and Jelaluddin Rumi, who was a 13th century Persian writer and spiritual leader, and has been translated into many languages. The Requiem also includes the Eishet Chayil, which is a song of Solomon, and the traditional song honouring a woman's strength and worth that a husband sings to his wife each week at the Sabbath meal. It was very important to me to include multiple traditions within an overarching framework that honours the departed.
In creating the Requiem, I wanted listeners to remember fourteen young women. I wanted to sing their names. I wanted listeners to be empowered, to connect with and honour their own goodness. I wanted to highlight a case of terrible wrongdoing, and at the same time I wanted to complicate the simple hatred of a young man who was obviously disturbed. All of society needs to take responsibility for these kinds of actions. I also wanted to show compassion for Monique Lépine, who was demonized by the press, and carries with her not only the pain of her son’s horrific act, but also the pain of burying not one but both her children. I wanted people to walk away with a sense of the healing power of music and the strength we can draw from it.
I was thrilled to receive a Corel award from the Ottawa Arts Council. This gift of $1000 seed money emboldened me to stare down the $18,000 production budget. I am so grateful to the 75+ individuals and organizations who supported my fundraising initiative to the tune of about $10,000. I took on the personal risk that the rest would be covered by ticket sales, which turned out to be the case.
“Requiem for Fourteen Roses” was premiered on December 6, 2014 - 25 years to the day after the tragedy occurred - at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ottawa ON, conducted by Rachel Beausoleil. About 50 performers took the stage, including Juno award-winning vocalist Sienna Dahlen as soloist, and CBC’s Adrian Harewood as host emcee. An audience of about 450 offered multiple standing ovations. It was an incredibly moving event for performer and audience alike. View the concert program HERE.
The Requiem continues to spread its wings. A second performance took place in December 2015 to launch a CD made from the 2014 premiere concert, available HERE. The final edited version of the full score and parts will be deposited with The Canadian Music Centre so that the work may be accessed by all Canadians. The miniature chamber pieces to the fourteen individual women have been re-edited as piano pieces and will be released as a piano folio in Fall 2016, and the vocal soloist pieces have been released as art songs.
This project has significance for me as a composer of vocal music, but also as a Canadian woman. Like many of the young women who were lost, I was born in the second half of the 1960's. I have often stopped to wonder what they might be doing now had their lives not been cut short. As a creative woman, I mourn the loss of the things these bright women were denied their chance to build. The 25th anniversary is significant because 25 years represents a generation of Canadians, and a generation is long enough to forget. For many, the event and its memorials have come to represent violence against women, and though this is important, I view this music project in larger terms. There are so many forms of violence in our society: against women, children, men, animals, the Earth, our very selves, and more. Simply put, we must learn to be good to each other. In addition to the fourteen young women who lost their lives on December 6 - 1989, “Requiem for Fourteen Roses” is dedicated to the good that resides in each of us.