Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interview With Composer Robert Moran

Trinity Church Wall Street is only a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan and was perilously close to the terrible events of September 11th 2001. The church commissioned composer Robert Moran to write a piece to mark the 10th anniversary of the national tragedy. The world premiere recording of Moran’s Trinity Requiem, scored for youth choir, organ, harp and strings is now available and Moran took some time to speak with Ariama about his work.

Ariama: You had some concerns about writing a requiem for a youth choir.

Robert Moran: Yes, at first I thought it’s really like Kindertotentlieder and I told Robert Ridgell [Trinity Church Wall Street’s organist and youth chorus director] that I thought it might be ghoulish. So then I visited with his chorus and there were about twenty kids there. Robert asked them, “How many of you were born in 1999?” Nobody raised a hand. “The year 2000?” All the hands went up except one, a child born in 2001. So obviously the attack of 2001 will not make any sense to these kids, so I thought I have to find something that will make sense for us all.

Then I remembered stories of children found in Kosovo, children who had lost everything. What happens to these children when they grow up? Some of them actually lost their power of speech. Children in Haiti, in countries where there’s constant war, children who suffered through Hurricane Katrina, they experienced similar traumas. I also thought of a friend who was sent away during the bombing of London in World War II, when he came back he had no parents. That kind of loss made sense to the children. Loss. That’s what this requiem is about.

Ariama: How was it composing for children?

Moran: I’ve worked with kids back when I was in San Francisco and taught a musical kindergarten that was kind of based on my own concepts of Montessori. The kids always amaze me because they come up with the most dazzling resolutions to their own problems. But having sung in children’s choruses in Denver, I also knew what you could and couldn’t do with them. The music can’t be complex. If there is anything that sounds complex it has to be in the accompaniment, it can’t be in the vocal line or it throws the kids off. That was the sound I was aiming for. I’ve also had the experience of hearing choral concerts in big churches in Munich and think Gregorian chant works especially well in those spaces. The sound is so spacious and ties right into contemporary music. It’s that sound that I think comes out in the requiem from time to time, particularly in the Pie Jesu.

Ariama: Trinity Church experienced the attack in ways that some people don’t realize. The church was right in the footprint of the towers.

Moran: They lost their pipe organ due to the dust and lots of printed music because of smoke. There were small miracles that day though. You know of St. Paul’s Chapel across the street from the Trade Center? Behind St. Paul’s there’s an old graveyard with a tree that had been there for near 200 years. When the closest tower came down it kept pushing debris across the street and towards St. Paul’s. The only thing that prevented the wreckage from moving through the churchyard was this tree.

Craig Zeichner
Ariama Editor

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