Peacing in Transition
The notion of “peace” drives this week's discussion. We explored how choral singing creates an alternative space for peace-making. While we acknowledged peace is worth protecting and pursuing, I am particularly intrigued by how different definitions of peace create tensions and conflicts. In the podcast, Micah mentions the word “peace” has become a word with negative connotations — that the concept of peace is now associated with much eye-rolling.
In response to these puzzling reflections about peace, I designed this week’s creative response based on a simple chant-like hymn tune from “Prayer of St. Francis” — which was also mentioned in the conversation with Micah Hendler. I encouraged participating musicians to improvise with reference to the Prayer, both musically and textually. The recording process itself was a space for musicians to engage in a dialogue with the tune and the lyrics, as the hymn says, “make me a channel of your peace”. This hymn tune is intertwined throughout this work in different forms. From its original form, E - F - G - E as a cantus firmus, as a base for improvisations, and a base for chord structures.
Beyond “Prayer of St. Francis”
In our dialogue, we explored how peace elicits various emotions. We dug deep into the positive and negative effects of peace. Within the layers of improvisations, you will hear sounds from our daily lives, everyday activities at home, and field recordings of things like public transportation and social activism. You will also hear other hymn tunes and spoken words in different languages, such as Arabic, Cantonese, French and Hebrew. Each musician freely expressed their reactions to peace. You will hear materials from other peace-related hymn tunes embedded in the creative response. “This Land is Your Land”, a piece VOICES 21C sang in Jerusalem in a joint concert with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, and “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”, a Taize chant captured in the field recording of Hong Kong 2019 protests, where violence was temporarily paused because of singing. You will also hear a prayer song for peace in Hebrew, “Osse Shalom" (He who makes peace), and a Salawat in Arabic, a chant with special memories and connection to the VOICES 21C community.
The absence of peace as a transition
I did not intend to search for an ultimate answer to what peace means or to advocate for a peaceful and harmonious community. Instead, I designed this creative response as a happening space for dialogues, where different visions, notions, and interpretations of peace are laid out in a calm and non-violent manner. The ambient sounds suggest the happening space is also in our daily lives in action. The creative response ends with a statement in whisper, “make me a channel of”. I replace the word “peace” with silence. I ask, how does the absence of peace in its rigid form may open new dialogues and imaginations of what it means to be living in a community with mutual understandings. For this reason, I named this work, Peacing, in Transition.
-Magdelena Tang, Voices21C
VOICES21C contributors to this project:
Chris Clark - Jesse Colford - Elise Felker - Michael Genese - Olivia de Geofroy - Krystal Morin - Ofri Tanchelson - Magdelena Tang
Lee Cheng (Sound Artist, Hong Kong) - Ambient sound with Cantonese dialogues
*I was a member of VOICES 21C in 2016 during my time in Boston. After I relocated back to my hometown Hong Kong, I travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2017 with the choir, and continue to collaborate with the choir virtually and remotely. I am grateful for these collaborations as they are sources of reflections on how choral arts nurture a deeper understanding of the aesthetic qualities in social activism.