Rehearsals are underway for the first performance of my choral symphony at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. I am saddened to hear that some students are boycotting my work since they consider it “blasphemous.” I believe a Canadian university must be a safe place to discuss controversial topics and respect differences – a haven for critical thinking, experiment and inquiry – and I hope every student pouring their hard work and musicianship into this project can feel safe and proud performing my piece. I post this open letter not to judge, but to invite reflection and reconciliation.
Love and respect to you from Toronto.
I am very sorry to hear that you will not be participating in my piece “Babel: a choral symphony.” I understand your religious beliefs are in conflict with my creative work. I don’t imagine my words can change your mind, but like the Shepherd who returns to find the one lost sheep out of ninety-nine, I feel compelled to coax you back into the fold, and hopefully shed light on the text which brings offence.
My music certainly does not attempt to divide people, but rather to bring them together in a spirit of cooperation, creativity, questioning and working together to solve the larger problems of our world. Hopefully by discussing challenging texts, we can find solutions that benefit the whole, not just the self.
My sister’s text “Babel” is a masterful, poetic reflection on a Biblical story that grapples with our great human problem – we can’t understand each other. Our cultures and languages divide us, and hinder our understanding of “the other.”
The despair and anger expressed in my sister’s poem, which you find disrespectful to God, is also Biblical: the same anger that drove Job to curse the day he was born, the same despair that caused the Psalmist to beg God to cease relentless punishment, or brought our Lord himself, when faced with the ultimate anguish of the cross, to cry out “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me.”
Despair and anger are authentic human emotions, and music and poetry help us deal with that reality. Writing this piece was cathartic for me, at a time in my own life when I was bent low with grief, having lost the person I loved most in the world. When Glenn Buhr asked me to write it, he did not know that he was saving my life. Composing it gave me a purpose to carry on. I immersed myself in the imaginary world of post-apocalyptic Babel, where my ego could disappear and deal with issues far bigger than myself.
To question God’s actions is not wrong. It is human. We are created in the image of a great Artist who is generous enough to embrace me, imperfect as I am, with all my faults and fears. My God is neither petty nor vain, but works on a grand, universal scale that my small mind cannot begin to comprehend or express. Only in some perfect place, outside of time and space, will we be truly “translated” and our human language replaced with a divine understanding.
Your silent protest is a very powerful negative statement against a work, which I believe is filled with spiritual truths. I hope you might be able to reflect on the poetry afresh and perceive it with a new heart. Nothing would make me happier than if you could see a way to sing this challenging music to the glory of God.
Stephanie Martin, composer
Feb 26, 2016