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A Requiem by and for Children

March 5, 2015 marked the premiere of Lehigh composer Steven Sametz’s oratorio, A Child’s Requiem, written to honor the 20 children and six adults who were killed during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. At the first performance of the piece, held at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, the university’s Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir joined the Chorus Angelicus Children’s Choir, soprano Janani Sridhar and tenor Gregory Zavracky under the direction of Jamie Spillane.

Sametz, the Ronald J. Ulrich Professor of Music and director of Lehigh University Choral Arts, wrote A Child’s Requiem with a commission he received in 2013 from the University of Connecticut when he won the 10th Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize. The prize carried an award of $25,000.

In an interview conducted by Silagh White, director of arts engagement and community cultural affairs at Lehigh, and Andrew Cassano, administrative director of the university’s Zoellner Arts Center, Sametz described A Child’s Requiem as “a response to a child’s loss and grief.”

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., and was the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history. Sametz, a native of Westport, Conn., said A Child’s Requiem “revolves around a libretto, much of which was written by children.”

“It’s paired with lines from [the American poets Ralph Waldo] Emerson and [Emily] Dickinson and H.D. [Hilda Doolittle, who was born in Bethlehem]. It’s kind of a collision between the adult world and the world of innocence.

“I hope to offer this piece as a gift to the town of Newtown as they heal from their tragic loss.”

Sametz, who is also the artistic director for the Princeton Singers, an elite singing group, has received commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Council on the Arts and the Santa Fe Music Festival. He has also composed music for Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, the Philadelphia Singers, the Pro Arte Chamber Choir, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, the Connecticut Choral Artists and the King of Thailand.

His recent guest-conducting invitations include appearances with the Taipei Philharmonic Foundation, the Berkshire Music Festival, the New York Chamber Symphony and the Netherlands Radio Choir.

The Lehigh Valley premiere of the oratorio included 300 musicians: the 65 student musicians of the Lehigh University Choir and the 160-member Lehigh Choral Union, which comprise part of Lehigh Choral Arts, as well as the Princeton Singers, Princeton Girlchoir, an orchestra, soprano Tami Petty and tenor David Vanderwal. 

Steven Sametz is the founding director of The Lehigh University Choral Composer Forum, a summer course of study designed to mentor emerging choral composers. He serves as the national advisor on composition for the American Choral Directors Association. In 2014, Sametz conducted his choral symphony, Carmina amoris, with more than 200 Lehigh singers, soloists and orchestra at Carnegie Hall. He holds a D.M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

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