7 Questions for James Aikman about Peacemakers


As April 15thgrows closer, the ICO is preparing for Peacemakers: a world premiere by our Composer-in-Residence, James Aikman. The composition honors nine individuals who dedicated their lives to creating peace: Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter. In anticipation of this premiere, I asked Dr. Aikman a few questions about his work and how he decided to write it.

What inspired you to compose Peacemakers?
Initially, it struck me during an inspiring walk on a Lake Michigan beach how ironic it is that many of the great peacemakers of history have been assassinated. Rather than focus on this aspect though, I felt it more important to share their most needed wisdom, the ideas of those inspired, brave souls in search of peace. For that is what our time on earth needs and should be, ever more peaceful and secure, with empathetic views of one another.
Did you know from the beginning which historical figures you would be honoring, or did you pick and choose after deciding to write the piece?
From the outset, I knew several of those who would be featured, and focused on individuals who had lost their lives during public service. However, after further thought and conversations about the project, the idea of devoting one’s life in service of peace expanded. For instance, it became obvious to me during a conversation with George Shirley that Nelson Mandela should be featured. This train of thought also led to Eleanor Roosevelt, who in spite of being extraordinarily wealthy, chose not to insulate herself from the problems of the world, but rather devoted her life to improving the lives of the poor. There are many other peacemakers who deserve a place among these.
Were there any peacemakers you were originally considering that didn’t make the cut?
There were a number of peacemakers who will be featured in a sequel. I’ve thought to ask the audience, and those reading this as well, for their input on peacemakers they would like to include, and why. Bishop Desmond Tutu, Malala, Thomas Merton, Karol Wojtyla, Mother Theresa, President Eisenhower, and Maya Angelou all are incredible and should appear in Peacemakers II. Honoring such souls and learning a bit about their extraordinary contributions to their fellow human beings seems important to me.
How are the individual people portrayed in your composition?
The great words of each peacemaker are truly inspiring. Each individual made such great contributions, in vastly complicated scenarios, that even to partially portray them is impossible. So that a glimpse into the lives of each peacemaker could inform the audience, a brief summation will be narrated at the beginning of each section. Further, I set a sentence or two of their original words to music, such as a few words from interviews contributed by Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, and four poems by Jimmy Carter (the only former president to ever publish a book of poetry). J.S. Bach used to choose relatively few words to set to music within a given movement, and would repeat those same words, emphasizing their importance in various ways. I felt this was the best way to get various points across, rather than using long stretches of text. If I can point others to the vast, incredibly interesting contributions each of these peacemakers made in their speeches and writings, introducing their ideas for further exploration by even a few audience members, then I will have accomplished my intent. Within their words and lives are ripples of hope, and needed guidance for our society!
What is the instrumentation of your piece, and how is it significant?
The piece is written for chamber orchestra (Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra), chorus (Ensemble Vocal Arts Chorale), children’s chorus (Indianapolis Children’s Choir), narrator Steven Stolen, mezzo-soprano (Kathryn Krasovec, Met winner), soprano saxophone soloist (Indy Jazz Hall of Fame: Rob Dixon), sitar virtuoso (Robert Spalding Newcomb), electronic musical media, and video imagery (Mike Halerz), including photographs and actual speeches of the peacemakers. To me, a striking feature involves the movements where the children’s voices highlight the wisdom of the peacemakers. In other words, the children are giving simple yet powerful directives to the adults. Our society is in true need of sincere contemplation of the importance of seeking peace at every level. Having children address this need makes the peacemakers’ points all the more significant, and emphasizes the urgency of their message. As many of the Peacemakers point out, children are the future generation; they are the ones who benefit or suffer due to our actions or inaction.
What was your favorite part of the composing process for Peacemakers?
My favorite part of the composing was getting to know each of these remarkable individuals by studying their lives, and reading their inspiring words of wisdom. That, and the joy of the composing process! The music wrote itself.
What’s the most important thing that you think a concertgoer should listen for in Peacemakers during the world premiere of the full work?
I would suggest relaxing and enjoying both the variety among these 10 individual pieces, and the unity within each. That was my goal, to reach across the usual spectrum of a classical music performance and enrich the total concert experience via expanded performing forces, stylistic variety throughout the work as a whole, and enhanced visual imagery. All combined, this should make the sonic spectacle of attending a live performance worth the time it takes to get there and attend. It might also touch the mind, heart and soul, creating something positive for humanity. That was how Handel learned to evaluate the importance of music, and I have acquired the same view myself in my mature years.

Questions? Comments? Let us know!
Friday, April 15, 7:30 pm
tickets and info at icomusic.org or call 317-940-9607

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