CHORAL - A Child's War (2005) Program Notes
A Child's War is a collaboration with my father, Albert Bermel, playwright and translator. The three lyrics are remembrances of his childhood in London during the bombings of World War Two. They were particularly traumatic years for his family, because his own father a shoe salesman in South London died only 10 days after the war was declared.
During the London bombings, most kids were evacuated out of the city. My dad stayed in a small town on the Atlantic Ocean called Torquay. On school vacations he took a train 200 miles home to London, and when he got there he went to the air-raid shelter with his mother, brother, and two sisters. Each night, and sometimes during the day, German planes flew by and dropped bombs in a relentless assault known as the "Blitzkrieg". Many of his memories from those years are recounted in a memoir, "A Child's War". These three songs are dedicated to his mother (my grandmother) Rae, who died in 1991.
In the first song, 'Small Red Tree', a boy and his brother wander through the war-torn streets of London; stopping at a crater, they marvel at the sight of a tiny red tree growing in the very place where the destruction occurred. The second song, 'Blast', recounts the chaos wreaked by falling bombs. A crowd gathers around the body of a dead woman; they feel mixed emotions sadness and relief as they discover that the corpse is that of a stranger, not someone they knew personally. In the third song, 'Eyes on the Road', the narrator rides his bicycle through the crowded streets of London, avoiding the pitfalls of city life during wartime. He describes the miniature scenes that fly by as he pedals homeward.
My dad taught me to beware of politicians who claim that wars will be easy and painless. Wars may begin with lots of promise: "the war to end all wars", "the war to keep the peace", etc. But those who live through the violence, especially children, don't experience war in that way; to a child, war is confusion, trauma, deprivation, and loss.
A Child's War was commissioned by the Young People's Chorus for their Transient Glory Series, and premiered in New York City on April 29, 2006. Special thanks to Linda Golding, Fransisco Nuñez, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation.