February 23, 2016

 
 

It isn’t your typical weapon, music.

It doesn’t physically deal blows or graze skin or break bones.

But as I sat in Oak Bay high school’s new theatre, pondering the power of music at the reading of Dr. Peter Gary’s oratorio for his musical composition, A Twentieth Century Passion, I wondered if something as harmless as notes strung on a staff could carry a power of its own. Not the physical kind of a round of bullets, but an entirely different type altogether.

A Twentieth Century Passion is not your typical composition, and neither is its composer, Dr. Peter Gary. Gary is a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and his composition, to debut in Jerusalem on April 16 (Gary’s 92nd birthday) has been a lifelong dream. The piece is a musical representation of the story of the Jewish people from the end of the First World War, through the Holocaust, and up until the Nuremberg Trials which saw Nazi war criminals tried at the end of the war.

As fascinating as it sounded, I was curious as to Gary music, of all mediums, to express his people’s experience.“That is my real language,” Gary explained simply, his words richly imbued with his accent, after I finally managed to corner him in the bustling foyer. “Human language is very limited. Music has the nuances that the good, bad, beautiful, the ugly, are so well represented [in].”

At this time Gary leaned in closer, taking his time to choose his words.“It is an international language; you don’t need to take lessons. If you have a heart, a mind, you can listen, and it approaches you.”

As always, Gary’s words were weighted with wisdom, with which I could only agree. The oratorio provided the background information to the meaning of the composition, but the actual music, would be the propelling force which would bring the message to life. 

A Twentieth Century Passion is not a history book. It may not detail facts or figures or statistics, but it conveys something else – emotion. And it’s that emotion, coupled with a message, such as the experiences of the Jewish people and the importance of ending hatred, which holds a power all of its own.

Instead of just hearing the message, you feel it, because as Gary so eloquently explained, music is a universal language. All you have to do to understand it is wait for it to approach you.

Theresa Wong is a Grade 12 student at Spectrum Community School.February 23, 2016