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"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

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"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

WarpoemsCourtesy of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

* “I was in awe…because they were young. They were students, teenagers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was their way of contributing to the civil rights of their people. Having lived the life of a black person who had been segregated always, in my schooling, church, in every way—my neighborhood had no other people who didn’t look like me; my school was completely segregated—so the book, it really struck me…They knew what was happening to black people. And they saw fit to put it in writing.” — Jean Barnes-Peters, West Virginia native, owner of the book “War Poems.”

In the late 1970’s Jean Barnes Peters found a copy of War Poems sitting on a bookshelf in her house in Charleston, W.Va. The authors, Ada (17) and Ethel (18) Peters, were half-sisters to Jean’s husband, Joseph Cromwell Peters. Joseph Cromwell Peters, who is now deceased, never met his two half-sisters and didn’t know anything about them because their mother and his father divorced before his birth. The little book had always fascinated Jean and she would occasionally pick it up and read some of the poetry.

The preface in the book reads:

The sole intention of the authors in writing these poems is to show the Negro’s loyalty to the stars and stripes in the war with Germany and to show the need of unity of all men in the fight for democracy.

Eventually, Jean started to scrutinize their words and she realized she was reading protest, which seemed unusual for teenage girls in 1919 in rural West Virginia. How was it possible to know just after WWI how badly black soldiers were treated?

 The fifth poem in the collection, written by Ada Peters, is entitled "The Slacker." It was this poem that inspired Jean to bring her book to the attention of Joel Beeson, a West Virginia University Visual Journalism and New Media Professor when she was invited to attend an event at the Kimball Memorial for an exhibit his students created on African American World War One soldiers.

JeanPetersExhibitJean Barnes Peters talks to WVU Professors Dr. Joel Beeson and Dana Coester in 2010 at the opening of the Soldiers of the Coalfields exhibit at the Kimball War Memorial. CREDIT A.J. LAWSON / WVU SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM

While looking at the artifacts, she saw a poster that read "The Colored man is no slacker," which made her think about the poem in her book.

It  begins:

God forbid ere man was born

To crush honor beneath his feet

That the light of day should dawn

Upon one, who from duty flees

While on Freedom’s Bleeding Alter,

His Noble Comrades have bled

But he stands idle a slacker

Disgraced before living and dead.

colored man is no slackerCourtesy of Cafepress

When asked about the poems, Beeson said “These young women who are 17 and 18 were commenting very intelligently on their times...and the things they were saying were protest, they were asking for civil rights and this was back in 1919 before the Internet, before television...”

wwone101tBeeson was so impressed, he and his students developed the interactive website, War Poems that allows viewers to page through the book, read the poetry, learn about its history, and hear  Jean Barnes Peters' story about finding it on a forlorn bookshelf in her house.

Beeson hopes that the new and interactive media will reach young people. “That’s the language and that’s the medium that young people use,” he said. “So, hopefully, this is a site where we can get young people enthusiastic and inspired about these two young women whose voices were kind of left in the past and we’re trying to bring that to life.” (Photo, left: courtesy of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History)

“War Poems”  is a window into the African American experience and perspective in southern West Virginia during World War I. Overcoming the persistent obstacles of the Jim Crow era in addition to gender, age, and geography, the women published this volume as bold commentary on the issues of racism in the context of war.

In the process, these young women also opened a window into their time and reached out across history to tell their story. The War Poems site authors hope, as you peer into the Peters' world, you’ll see it connect to yours. Above all, they want you to know this is an interactive experience. It grows with its users as you share your own creativity to their words. For example, the site allows users to craft their own poems using ideas and concepts from the Peters' work. 


About Dr. Joel Beeson and the Kimball/Soldiers of the Coalfield Project

Joel Beeson, associate professor at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at the University of West Virginia says about the larger project on African Americans in WWI:

I became acquainted with the McDowell County memorial and its board members in 2005 while working on “Fighting on Two Fronts: The Untold Stories of African American WWII Veterans” a documentary film about black soldiers in the segregated military. One of these veterans, Board of Trustees President E. Ray Williams, asked me if I might be able to find “a few photographs of black soldiers in WWI” the next time I was doing research at the National Archives. The walls of the memorial building had been bare since the restoration because most of the original artifacts and documents had perished in the fire of 1991. Two weeks at the Archives and 500 scanned photographs

Later, I assigned students in my visual storytelling class at WVU to create a permanent exhibit at the Memorial. What started out as a class assignment evolved into a community project, now known as the “Kimball War Memorial Project.”

Kimball02 FoundUs

The students researched, designed, sought grant funding and curated a permanent exhibit for the Memorial Building in 2010 entitled “Soldiers of the Coalfields,” which includes an interactive website and Facebook page. The exhibit of images and words tells the story of African American veterans in McDowell County, including migration from the rural South to work in the coal mines, their military service to the nation (including contribution of five generals from five segregated black high schools in the county) and places the local history of McDowell in the larger context of African American experience. The project includes a sensitive exploration of the dimensions of discrimination as well as honoring the successes and accomplishments of black veterans. The students’ work in this experimental class was the subject of a PBS MediaShift story, “Teaching New Forms of Storytelling, From Database Narratives to Quantum Journalism.”

From the outset, “The Kimball Project” (as it has become known) was envisioned to support and collaborate with efforts to preserve the cultural history of black military service, and to promote the Memorial as a national treasure and unique destination for historical tourism that will bring benefits to an economically disadvantaged community. We plan to continue interactive web projects, mobile outreach and innovative wearable technology projects to raise awareness of this vital national historical resource.

Brandww1aa620Photo Courtesy of Brandeis University


*Parts of this post were taken and adapted from Cecelia Mason's article, "Forgotten Black Poets Featured on New Website," published on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting site on February 20, 2014. Other text, image, and design come from the site, War Poems, Joel Beeson, Dana Coester, Tim Bleech, Brad Stalnaker, Brianna Swisher, Casey Hoffman, Sarah Felton, Codi Yeager, and Sergio Lastra

Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem. Part 2

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Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem at the Lyon Opera. Part 2

Last week, WWrite featured an interview with world-renowned tenor, Paul Groves,. Groves was the tenor and played the role of the British WWI soldier in one of the most original interpretations of Benjamin Britten's musical masterpiece, War Requiem  at the Lyon Opera House in France. This week, we hear from actor/director/writer, Yoshi Oida, the Japanese director of Benjamin Britten's piece. Oida's discusses his connection with WWI through personal stories about Hiroshima, the experience of children in war, and his latest film with Martin Scorcese. 

8yoshi oida copyright mamoru sakamotoDirector Yoshi Oida copyright Mamoru Sakamoto

WWrite: Why did you decide to direct an opera inspired by Benjamin Britten’symphony for the Lyon Opera?

Yoshi Oida : Since childhood, people around me have gone to war and they have died in war. Even before the Second World War, I remember we were at war with China. So, when Japan lost the Second World War, I wasn’t sad. I was so happy because I could sleep every night instead of going to the underground shelters to protect myself from the bombing by American airplanes. I was so happy because my house was burned by the American attacks twice. My father had a bicycle factory and everything was broken. And when I escaped to go to the bomb shelters, I saw people die by my side. As a child, I was always with war and death.

Fortunately, after several years old there was no war in Japan. But I can never forget my childhood. So, when the Opera of Lyon asked me to War Requiem, I said yes. I also knew that, in addition to WWI, I had to make it a ceremony for my life. In fact, in WWI, the nuclear shuttle was the human being.

Mushroom cloud after bombing of HiroshimaMushroom cloud after bombing of Hiroshima

Every time, somewhere there’s war. There can never be complete peace in the world. Human nature goes to war all the time. So, when you say that human beings are at peace, unfortunately, human beings are the same as animals. We fight all the time. The problem is: how do we live with this aspect of human nature? Yes, if you look for peace, you may find it in a small corner in the world. But it isn’t useful to speak about peace because the human being can’t do peace all the time. This opera is about human nature and about this violence. How we live with this violence?

 In the show, I’m not sending a simple message against the war or against human violence. I wanted to look at how each individual person lives inside this society of violence, which has existed since the beginning of human history. I don’t think religion can help us or that politics can help us, or even that philosophy can help us discover this. But somehow, we must find our own way, like Wilfred Owen  wrote in some of his poems. He has doubts about religion, he has doubts about the war, he has doubts about the nation. So, I am not trying to tell people how to find a solution. I just want them to think in their own way.

WWrite: Benjamin Britten wrote this as a symphony, not an opera. What were some issues or disparities that you had to overcome to transform the piece?

Yoshi Oida: As for the musical point of view, yes, Benjamin Britten wrote this as a complete symphony. And to put this on stage in an opera with characters, I had doubts about the visual aspects because I was worried that I might disturb Britten’s music. He didn’t write this to be visual. But I did it and I was so careful about how not to destroy the music. And, another problem was that was written for the church. So, the public is supposed to come to the church and listen to this music, but I had to do it in a theater. And, the theater is not a Christian church. In some ways, the theater is like church, but there are no religions or a God. A theater is a theater. Theater is about human beings and we are not expecting God. And, I’m not Christian. So, for me, the religious part of the doubled text–the traditional Latin Requiem Mass and Owen’s poetry– is very far away. That was another disparity. I don’t know if I came up with the right solution or not. For me, it’s up to the public to decide.

WWrite: A short interview with you appears in the Lyon Opera program. In it, the interviewer asks you if there exist alternative ways to console oneself in the face of war violence. You responded that only other alternative was silence. You said, “we can’t stop war but we can learn to listen to the silence.” You also made a reference to a role you had in the 2016 Martin Scorsese film, Silence.Could you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by “listening to the silence” and War Requiem?

Yoshi Oida: Silence is not nothingness. When there’s war, you develop inside yourself huge doubts, huge thoughts, and a huge sadness. So, instead of a shout, it’s silence. How to live in this society of violence? We must search inside. I must search inside myself to find ways to live in this society of violence. I must find that small piece inside. Instead of 102 words, 100,000 philosophies or religions, it’s more important look deep, deep inside oneself. That’s where we find the fundamental truth of human beings.

Silence is also about acceptance. And acceptance is not passive. Silence is not a passive state but a very, very active one. How to accept this society? How to deal with this society of violence? Instead of looking at feelings and passion, we must move beyond those louder things to silence, to the deepest thoughts. But I am not saying this is an easy solution. Everybody wants to talk about solutions, but I don’t see very good answers. All I can do is find that small piece of silence inside of myself and listen to it so I can live in this society.

YoshiSilence1648052 fullYoshi Oida in Martin Scorcese's Silence, photo KARRYBROWN@PARAMOUNT PICTURES

WWrite: Poetry is full of silences, and especially the poetry of Wilfred Owen, whose poetry in interweaved into the Latin Mass that is being played and sung throughout War Requiem. Did you find something in the poetry of Wilfred Owen that represented this kind of silence?

Yoshi Oida: Wilfred Owen was writing as a very young artist. And, unfortunately, he died a very young artist. If had continued to live like me until 85 years old, maybe he would have evolved in his thought. But he, at that moment, had the energy to live and he had the passion to live and write in the face of death and violence. I see that in his poetry. As an old man, I don’t think I have that in me anymore.

It’s good to consider the young when thinking about the war. That’s why I think Owen’s poems work very well. In some places, he has no hope and I find that very sad. Too sad. Instead of crying or imitating anger and mourning in War Requiem, I wanted to show life in the face of death. How to live. Acceptance through silence.

WWrite: One of the most interesting parts of the Opera includes the children’s chorus. Throughout the piece, the children are sitting on the side of the stage, as if watching a school performance. Sometimes they participate, but for most of the piece, they sit. However, in one part, the soldiers seem to stop the opera altogether to give a performance of Cain and Abel, a show just for the children. And, in this show, Cain and Abel are not people but puppets.

Yoshi Oida: Yes, this part is very light. Cain and Abel is a familiar, biblical story of death. I wanted the spectators to think about death and this original violence in another way. I wanted them to take a break from the war.  So, they have puppets and they play with Abel’s decapitated head. Afterwards, I wanted them to go back to the war with a different perspective.

WWrite: In your War Requiem, as you did with the puppets, it seems you made a choice not to show dead bodies or at least the flesh of dead bodies. All the dead bodies are shrouded from head to toe or, at times, there is no body at all. Just the death shroud lying on the floor. Or an empty uniform on the floor with no body in it that gets covered in a shroud. Or the rag doll babies that come out of a coffin with no faces. Why did you decide not to show a more realistic interpretation of death? Blood and guts. In general, we tend to think that opera is a genre that lends itself to more elaborate representations of emotions and reactions to death.

Yoshi Oida: For this opera, I had to respect the music. Everything depends on the music and the poetry. I wanted to ignite the public’s imagination. The music, while it may seem to exist in the background, is the live reality of the show. But this background music isn’t the background music of a documentary film. Everything depends on what’s happening inside the spectator’s mind like listening to the music and thinking about the war, thinking about society and violence. I don’t want them to see directly or to hear directly. I want them to feel. The music follows the idea I want to show. I don’t want to present too many intellectual, concrete ideas or too much information because then music becomes less important. I want minimal information but maximum imagination while listening to music.

Everything must be a suggestion. I didn’t want to overfill the eyes of the spectator. So, I will show a hat, but not the head.  What I want the spectator to do is come to the hat first, not the head.

War Requiem, Secrets of Creation: Rehearsal Scenes with Childrens Chorus and Actors

Date: October 5, 2017


Author/artist bio

 YoshiOida5 1Yoshi Oida, copyright David BalickiYoshi Oida was born in Kobé, Japan, in 1933. After training as a traditional Japanese theater actor, Yoshi Oida played in Japanese, television, cinema and contemporary theater. In 1968, he came to France  to work with Peter Brook. In 1970, he joined the International Center for Theatrical Research (CIRT), founded by Peter Brook, and then participated in Brook's most famous shows at the Theater Bouffes du Nord: The iks, The Conference of Birds, The Mahābhārata, The Storm, and  The man who. He also played in Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book and has written three theoretical books on theater that have been translated into several languages. He has directed almost fifty theatrical representations, including the operas Madame Butterfly and War Requiem. For a full bio, click here.




Benjamin Britten's Musical Masterpiece, War Requiem

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Benjamin Britten's Musical Masterpiece, War Requiem
Part 1: Interview with Tenor, Paul Groves


Bigoperawarrequiem46 copyrightstofleth 1 728x486Scene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

The Lyon Opera House in France opened its 2017-2018 season by commemorating the WWI centennial with the powerful, intense WWI masterpiece War Requiem by British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). A pacifist, Britten was deeply affected by the horrors of WWII, by the brutal destruction of Hiroshima and had always wanted to create a musical composition calling for peace among all humans. He finally got the chance in 1961 when he was commissioned to compose the dedication for the new Coventry Cathedral in England, which was reduced to ruins during the WWII bombings of November 1940. Known for both its traditional and innovative writing, Britten organized War Requiem in three layers: the conventional requiem of liturgical mass with a chorus, orchestra, and a soprano; the sound of individual human voices with a tenor and baritone reciting Wilfred Owen’s poetry, accompanied by a chamber orchestra; a chorus of children accompanied by an organ. In the middle of the Cold War, as Germans were building the Berlin Wall, Britten aimed to bring together soloists from three “belligerent” nations: a Russian soprano, an English tenor, and a German baritone.

3operawarrequiem01 copyrightstoflethScene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

Britten is one of the greatest lyrical composers of the twentieth century and, and according to the director of the Lyon Opera, Serge Dorny, Britten's exceptional sense of narrative and drama demanded a theatrical performance. For the centennial performance in 2017, Lyon decided to invite the Japanese actor and director, Yoshi Oida, to lead the performance alongside Italian conductor, Daniele Rustioni. Oida claims that Britten’s War Requiem is not just about WWI; it is universal and speaks to him particularly since he witnessed the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during WWII. In talks and interviews, he encourages spectators to view the work through the eyes of children, who are not only strangers to adult conflicts, but also victims. He says that the young singers of the Lyon Opera play an enormous role in War Requiem’s staging. Unlike the other singers in the show, who wear WWI-era clothing and uniforms, the children who sit on the side of the stage during the whole performance are dressed in modern clothing. They act mostly as spectators as if watching a history lesson, but at times they get up to sing and interact with the soloists and the stage.

WWrite had the opportunity to sit down with Paul Groves, the tenor, and Yoshi Oida, the director to talk about the piece. We’ll hear this week from Groves. Next week’s WWrite’s blog post will feature Yoshi Oida’s interview. Here’s Paul Groves:

4War Requiem 2WWrite: Britten’s War Requiem focuses on the British and German experience of WWI. What did director Yoshi Oida, a Japanese artist, bring to what appears to be a European-centered narrative?

Paul Groves: Yoshi Oida, occasionally, would tell us about Japan. He is from where they dropped the bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he was 12 years old at the time, so he remembers it very well. He explained that after the war, “the Japanese Emperor just said ‘Ok, we lost the war, and now we're just going to everything the American way’ and there wasn’t ever a question. I never saw my mother or any of her friends blame the Americans. We never blamed them for anything. We immediately thought that we had lost and now we’re going to live this way.”

And I never even thought about this.

The argument I’ve always heard was that so many more Japanese and Americans would have died if the bomb hadn’t been dropped. But who knows? I had always heard war stories about Europeans and Americans, but I never thought about the Japanese point of view.

WWrite: While both of you know Europe very well, neither you nor Yoshi Oida is European. He's Japanese, and you're American. What are some of the ways that you, as an American, have made this European–and in some respects, Japanese– representation of WWI meaningful to you?

Paul Groves: So much of what I know about war comes from my family, who were in WWII in Europe and Korea. My mother’s oldest brother flew 35 missions over Berlin. He was a pilot for a B-17. And then he became MIA in Korea, and they never found him. My mom was a teenager at the time. And the biggest problem about his disappearance was never knowing for sure what happened. Ten years ago, or so, my mom's sister sent a picture she had found of people in Korea and thought that it was him. My family is still talking about it, and today my uncle would have been over 100.

Before this opera, I had read several books about WWII but never anything about the Japanese. A member of my sister-in-law’s family was a Pacific Island fighter, and he was in the Bataan death march, and he made it all the way. Then, he was taken prisoner, and when I asked my sister-in-law about it, she said this family member never talked about it. It was only after he died when his friends came to her and said, wow, it was amazing what he went through.

My dad remembers WWII because he was born in 1930. But my parents only came to Europe after I started working there. They took their first trip when I was singing in Berlin, and I took them to Paris and London. But Berlin was their favorite trip. Seeing those same places where that whole regime took place under Hitler was amazing to them. Doing projects like War Requiem for me makes family history come out.

5War Requiem 4Scene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

And, this particular representation mixes up Britten’s original intentions for the soloists. The baritone is supposed to be a German, the soprano a Russian, and the tenor a British man. The soprano is Russian, Ekaterina Scherbachenko. However, the baritone, the German soldier in the opera, Lauri Vasar, is from Estonia, which is a country that was brutally occupied by the Soviet Union for many years.  I am supposed to be an English soldier, but I’m American. I have known a lot of conductors who won’t hire me for this piece because I’m American even though my last name is Groves. So, somewhere along the line, I was English! And I’ve become well-known for my English diction, whatever language I sing in, I try not to sing English with an American accent. I’ve done a lot of English stuff, like Elgar and if you added an American accent to any of it, it sounds like Broadway. So, I try not to do that. I’ve been held back a lot of times from this piece, War Requiem because I’m not English. So, when this casting director asked me about it a year ago, I said yes because I love this piece. And, also my country was involved in WWI. However, for the baritone, it is very difficult to have someone who doesn’t speak English because of the poetry in the piece by Wilfred Owen. Hearing it for the first time, it’s difficult to understand, especially when all the words aren’t very clear. So, the baritone part is never successful for a German person who doesn’t speak excellent English.

And you can interpret this casting in many ways. There's a lot of subtexts just in the choices. Americans and Russians were allies in both world wars and then afterward they became fierce enemies. Lauri Vasar, the baritone, is supposed to be German, but, in reality, comes from a formerly-occupied Soviet country. In many direct and indirect ways, the friend/foe lines are blurred in Oida’s War Requiem. And, Oida puts a lot of references to WWI and the Holocaust into his interpretation.

Like Oida, I’ve always considered this piece neither German nor English. America was involved in this war too. I think it is a comment on all war in general, but I consider that war – any war we’ve ever had – is futile, especially for the people fight them. I did my homework for the show. I read many books to find out what it’s about, what the composer was thinking at the time and, luckily for us, we have a lot of information about what Britten was thinking about why he wrote this. I could say that, as an opera singer, I’m a mimic and the research I did for this was no different than other pieces, like Parsifal. But, in reality, this piece has more meaning for me because I know people who have been in war and who have been affected by it. What’s interesting about this requiem–and that’s hard to say because there have been so many requiems–is that Britten adds two soldiers, war poetry, and war events, which is entirely untraditional. To meld all these things together proves Britten’s genius.

6War Requiem 5Scene from War Requiem, Lyon. Copyright @stofleth

WWrite: Did you have input in the staging?

Paul Groves: Paul Groves: I had quite a bit of input in the staging.  Yoshi Oida is an actor himself, and we've discussed these kinds of things too. He said that he wanted much of what I did to come from me. He didn't want to dictate every move. He gave us pretty clean slates. He would say "I'm going for this in this scene, and I would like to have a crescendo to move to the next point,” but that was it. It was a collaboration.

8yoshi oida copyright mamoru sakamotoYoshi Oida, Copyright Mamoru SakamotoOne of the places in the piece where I had influence happened during the scene when the wife of the dead British soldier comes out and puts flowers on the coffin. I play the friend of the soldier, and I come out to see her. And, at first, we talked about me being bitter about the death and the war, and frustrated. Yoshi said that I was supposed to mad at the whole world. But I told him that I had already done that in some of the other scenes. And, in this scene, I wanted to be more emotional about my friend there and talk about what Wilfred Owen says about the fields of France being home to the dead, about my friendship with him, the things we shared. And I think by not being angry here makes the tragedy more tragic.

Sometimes we have narratives about war that we can’t get rid of. We think it has to only be about anger and violence, but there isn’t just one story of war. There are stories of redemption, beauty, and friendship, but that’s not what we’re used to hearing. Soldiers live on after their deaths.

WWrite: Were you influenced by any other war stories when researching this role?

Paul Groves: Roger Waters from Pink Floyd is one of my good friends. He wrote an opera about 12 years ago called Ca Ira.It’s about the French Revolution, and I recorded for it. It's a proper opera although it's kind of like The Wall, but with operatic voices and the London Symphony. He made a movie of the last tour he did of The Wall–he’s on a new tour now–and 80% of it is the actual concert and 20% of him starting in London and driving to his father’s and his grandfather’s graves. His grandfather was killed in WWI when his father was one year old, and his father was killed in WWII when Roger was one year old. So, he takes his children and talks to them about war and reads the poetry of war as they travel. I went to the opening in New York a few years ago. It’s an hour and 45-minute film and 20 minutes of it takes place at these British cemeteries where they are buried. One is in Italy and the other in France. The music is fantastic, but that extra 20 minutes makes it especially touching.

Also, when I watched Ken Burn’s documentary film on WWII, The War,I was surprised to learn about all the guys that went down to sign up for the Navy because they said it would be less violent than being on the ground. And, when they got down there, they said that someone talked them into joining the Marines. And most of them said that it was the best thing they had ever done in their lives. Then they went away for three years, and it must have been horrible, but now they look back and say it was the best thing they had ever done. It's amazing.

I talk about war all the time with friends my age. I am so glad I never had to go through that. But, if had to, I would have.

9maxresdefaultRoger Waters visits his grandfather's grave. Courtesy of

WWrite: This opera not only involves children in the performance but also includes educational outreach initiatives for children who come as spectators. Opera is not an easy genre for children to appreciate. What are some of the ways you've helped French children understand Britten's War Requiem?

Paul Groves: They do something here in Lyon, which is something I’ve never seen at any other opera company I’ve worked for– there are so many kids. Last week I did a talk after the opera for about 150 high school students. And for a lot of them, it was the first time they had seen an opera or been to a concert for classical music. And they had so many great questions, and they asked not only about singing but also about the story and what we were going for. Last night the first 5 or 6 rows were filled with kids – and they were whistling. It was amusing because the conductor, who is Italian, was very confused because, in the Italian opera, whistling is booing. He came out for his credit call, and he asked me why they were whistling. They’re kids. I’d like to think they liked it as much as a rock concert.

And this is the exciting thing – a lot of my fellow singers say that they were introduced to opera in junior high school. Their teacher took them to the Metropolitan Opera for a performance and they were interested in it then and that’s what sparked them to be singers. Every time I’ve done a dress rehearsal in Europe, it has been for a children’s audience. For me, it’s always our best show because when we interview the kids afterward, we find that, even with Lohengrin or something that lasts 4 hours, they sit there and they're interested in it. They're never bored.


Excerpts from War Requiem, Opéra de Lyon 2017

Date: October 13, 2017


Artist/Author bio

sun groves paul 1 1One of the great American tenors of his generation, Paul Groves continues to enjoy an impressive international career performing on the stages of the world's leading opera houses and most prestigious concert halls.

Paul Groves began his 2017/2018 season in the performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem with Opera de Lyon, followed by performances as Faust in a concert production of La Damnation de Faust with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After performances in Beethoven's Symphony no. 9 with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul will be seen with the Metropolitan Opera as Danilo in Susan Stroman's production of The Merry Widow. This will mark the 25th season Groves has been invited to return to the Met since his debut with the company as Steuermann in Der fliegende Holländer. Later on this season, he will perform with the Prague Philharmonia in Haydn's Creation with Maestro Emmanuel Villaume conducting. Soon after, the two will continue their season's collaboration when Paul Groves travels to Texas to perform as Wilhelm Arndt in The Ring of Polykrates with the Dallas Opera. Finally, to close out his season, Groves will perform in Das Lied von der Erde alongside Sasha Cooke at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Highlights of recent seasons for the American tenor include a rare role debut singing Alessandro Cesare in Cavalli's Eliogabalo with the Opéra national de Paris, his first performances in the title role of Wagner's Parsifal with the Lyric Opera of Chicago led by Sir Andrew Davis, appearances as Admète in Gluck's Alceste with Madrid's Teatro Real, Nicias in Massenet's Thais with the Los Angeles Opera, and Pylade in Iphigénie en Aulide with Theater an der Wien. An avid concert performer, Groves' previous season was filled with debuts and return engagements with symphonies across the United States. Throughout the 2016/2017 season, he was seen performing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphony, Berlioz' Requiem with the San Francisco Symphony under Charles Dutoit, as well as Stravinsky's Perséphone with the Oregon Symphony. For the full biography of Paul Groves, click here.


Native Americans: Soldiers Unknown

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Native Americans: Soldiers Unknown

 by Chag Lowry (Yurok/Maidu/Achumawi)


ChagLowryCoverSoldiers Unknown Book Cover Drawing by Rahsan Ekedal

The World War I epic, Soldiers Unknown, is an original graphic novel written by Chag Lowry and illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal. This special project reveals the untold story of the native Yurok men who fought and died for the United States of America in the Great War. Conscripted from their tribal home in Northern California by a country they barely knew - to serve in a war they could hardly call their own - these young men nevertheless demonstrated immense courage and humanity on the battlefields of France in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Chag Lowry is a historian and writer of Yurok and Maidu descent and has crafted a beautiful and poignant tale that Rahsan brings to life with images. 

LowryWhereareyou goingFrames from Soldiers Unknown. It will be published by Heyday in summer of 2018.


–Father, where did they go, and what did they see, these Yurok Native men who fought in World War One?

–The answers are there for us to find, son.  But the more important questions are how did they return home, and when did they find peace?


Crafting a World War One story with the very talented artist Rahsan Ekedal has been an emotional journey.  We’ve come a long, long way since I first discussed the concept with him back in 2016.  I was raised with many Native veterans from both sides of my family in northern California.  I always remembered the emotions of these men–many World War Two and Korean War veterans– when they told me about their fathers or uncles who had served in the Great War.   

And that’s the story Rahsan and I try to tell– a story about emotions.  As a Native American, I wanted to create a graphic novel that conveys the experiences of the Great War through the sentiments of my people.  I had two Yurok great-great uncles who served in WWI and I’ve looked at their sepia-toned photographs for years wondering what they saw and felt.   

The snippet of dialogue I shared at the beginning of this blog post encompasses the questions I’ve thought about regarding Native American veterans of WW1.  Our story begins in contemporary times with a Father and Son as they begin to talk about their ancestor’s involvement in the Great War.  Can culture help a combat veteran find peace and return to their homeland?  That is another question I’ve thought about, and it’s one I hope readers will discuss after they see our work.  We are using the lens of Yurok culture for this story to try to find an answer.  I’m very grateful to have such a respectful partner in Rahsan for this book.      

The beautiful part of being able to work with a talented artist like Rahsan is that his images allow me to feel the full range of emotions as a descendant of WW1 veterans.  To teach young people about history we must first find ways to help them feel first and after lead them to discuss their emotions about what they are learning.  The graphic novel with its sequential art and impactful dialogue can do just that.  The act of breathing life into our characters in this story is meant to honor all WW1 veterans and their families.  Rahsan will fully color his work and this means our soldiers will be as alive today as in 1917-18.  We can share some of their journeys, and it does not matter what tribe or culture they are from.  We can feel who they are.  To most people, all World War One veterans are Soldiers Unknown.  I hope this work helps changes this.   

TrainingChagFrame from Soldiers Unknown.

To hear more from Chag about Soldiers Unknown, read his interview with WWI Centennial Commission Director of Public Affairs, Chris Islieb, or listen to his talk with Theo Mayer in this recent WWICC podcast.

Author's bio

ChagLowryBioPhotoChag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi Native American ancestry from northern California. He is the author of The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two and has directed numerous PBS documentaries on Native veterans and cultures. He can be reached on Facebook.

In this photo, Chag is standing in his hometown of Susanville, California in front of a memorial tree that was planted in the 1920s to honor the late Thomas Tucker. Tucker was a Maidu man who died on September 28, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne battle. He was in the 91st Infantry Division and was the first man from northeastern California to die in combat in WW1.







Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory

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 Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory

Winter 1914. WWI’s first major battles have stagnated in the trenches. In an icy field in the North of France, French, Scots, and Germans spy on each other until Christmas Eve when the nostalgic song of bagpipes escapes from the underground while the sound of a Berlin tenor’s Lied rises and spreads in the night. Soon the two melodies harmonize, and the soldiers from all sides emerge from the trenches and meet each other in No Man’s Land. Strategic enemies become war brothers.

French director, Christian Carion, captures this battlefield miracle in his 2005 film, Joyeux Noël, now a WWI classic.  As the centennial approaches, WWI has made more recent, diversified appearances on the screen–Au revoir là-haut (The Great Swindle), Wonder Woman, The Light Between Oceans, (and soon Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero)but Joyeux Noël remains the reference for appreciating and understanding the fraternal phenomenon of the 1914 Christmas Truce. In Carion’s film, scenes of fraternity overtake the less-joyous scenes of killing to the point that friendship among enemies appears almost normal; we forget the snow-covered, frozen corpses strewn about No Man’s Land and get lost in music, drink, and football. For the spectators, the return to battle on December 26th feels like a punch in the face, tunneling us back into the terrifying absurdity of this war. It’s no wonder the film was nominated “Best Foreign Language Film” for the 2006 Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

JNfilmingCarionChristian Carion (left) on the set of Joyeux Noel. Photo courtesy

Read more: Christian Carion’s Film, Joyeux Noël: A Place of Memory

The Balfour Declaration: An Alternative History

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The Balfour Declaration: An Alternative History

by Simone Zelitch 

balfour2 e1509023617872Left, Arthur Balfour. Right, the letter introducing the Balfour Declaration


As Mike Schuster, the curator for the blog, The Great War Project, explained to WWI Centennial News, on November 2, 1917, headlines featured the announcement of what became known as the Balfour Declaration. It is letter from the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, to the British Lord Rothschild, the de facto leader of the Jewish community of Britain, expressing support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. (Click here for full podcast).

In the wake of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, we return to the Balfour Declaration with one Jewish American writer, Simone Zelitch:

We’re living in an alternative-history moment.   Given the current political and cultural climate,  it’s no coincidence that many of us are in full flight from the present.   Instead, we look over our shoulders, and endlessly revise the past.

Now, after President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, here’s one more revision:   What if there had been no Balfour Declaration?

Read more: The Balfour Declaration: An Alternative History


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