El Paso Requiem: UTEP, City music organizations entities to honor Aug. 3 Victims

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teve Wilson, DMA, chair and professor of music, left, and Elisa Fraser Wilson, DMA, associate professor of music, helped organize The University of Texas at El Paso’s participation in the “El Paso Requiem” that will be performed Oct. 22-23, 2021, at the Plaza Theatre. | Photo courtesy UTEP Marketing and Communications

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019, Chair and professor of music at The University of Texas at El Paso, Steve Wilson, DMA, said his psyche was significantly impacted.

In the immediate aftermath, the borderland native tried to assist the best way he knew how: with his trombone.

“I was upset and wanted to do something to help,” said Wilson, who always has taken pride in the friendliness of his community and was devastated that El Paso had joined the growing list of U.S. communities to suffer terroristic violence.

The UTEP professor and several of his music peers performed at sites around the city to include hospitals that cared for the injured and the blood donation centers that attracted overflow crowds. He was among the many who wanted to comfort and heal his city.

As the weeks passed, the musician continued to consider other ways to lend a hand. Eventually, he realized that he already had the right idea, but needed to expand its artistic scope if it were to be a long-lasting memorial to the victims of the El Paso shooting and all who suffer from gun violence.

He called on the leaders of the Sun City’s other music organizations – El Paso Opera, El Paso Pro-Musica and the El Paso Symphony Orchestra (EPSO) – along with the El Paso Community Foundation, and asked if they would agree to join forces to support and participate in the creation of a special music piece.

Each gave an enthusiastic “yes.” They launched the “Communities for Peace” project, a historic first-ever union of these entities that will debut the 23-minute “El Paso Requiem” cantata during EPSO’s opening concerts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22-23, 2021, in the Plaza Theatre. Each minute of the piece represents a person killed in the attack.

“We all are honored and excited to be part of this project,” Wilson said.

Among the first things the leadership team decided was that the piece would incorporate orchestra, chorus and soloists to represent each “community” member. Then organizers began to review composers who could handle the project and they selected versatile, award-winning Cuban-American artist Jorge Martín.

Chorus and opera companies have performed his works in Texas, New York and Florida. One of the reasons organizers picked Martín was because he was familiar with El Paso.    

“(Martín) was humbled and honored to be asked,” Wilson said. “He is excited to be involved with this project.”

Among those excited about Martín’s involvement is Brian Downen, UTEP assistant professor of music, who has known the composer for about four years and commissioned him in 2017 to compose songs in Spanish for piano and a tenor. As a result, Martín spent a weeklong guest artist residency in 2018 at UTEP where he worked with music students.

The UTEP professor said the composer contacted him after the Aug. 3 incident to check on his many El Paso friends and to share his sadness at what had happened. Downen smiled as he scrolled through his cell phone texts from Martín that included a few after organizers chose him to compose the El Paso Requiem.

“His music is visceral in nature and incredibly beautiful…No emotional state is out of his compositional reach. It’s a large responsibility to adequately memorialize the (victims) and put the community on a path to healing. He’s the perfect person to write this.”

Brian Downen, UTEP assistant professor of music

In an email interview, Martín lauded the El Paso collaborators for their decision to commission a musical memorial to honor this communal tragedy. He called it a time-honored way to salute the dead. People use art to transform pain into a seed of beauty. He said a concert is a great way to bring people together.

“In the music, everyone shares in common listening to the performance yet everyone has their own private reaction… I find myself immensely inspired by the challenge to write music worthy of this solemn and important event. The joy in creation and the love that drives it are to me the surest way to defeat darkness.”

artist Jorge Martín

The composer, who reminisced fondly about the beauty of UTEP and the borderland, as well as the people who treated him so well during his visit, shared that his work will incorporate parts of the Latin requiem Mass, and Bible passages from Genesis and Matthew’s gospel. He said he looked forward to working with the UTEP chorus and the EPSO led by Maestro Bohuslav “Bo” Rattay.

Elisa Fraser Wilson, DMA, associate professor of UTEP’s voice and choral music as well as director of University choirs, will lead the vocal portion of the El Paso Requiem with singers from UTEP’s chorus and El Paso Opera soloists. The singers will perform the songs in English, Spanish and Latin. Fraser Wilson said she continues to share choral ideas with Martín via emails.

Fraser Wilson called the requiem an opportunity to console people traumatized by the event that also injured more than two dozen and affected scores more psychologically and emotionally. She said that her student singers, to include one whose family was touched by the Aug. 3 violence, are excited about the project.

“The students want to be part of the healing process,” she said.

To learn more about the entire piece, click here. For concert ticket information, visit epso.org.

This article originally appeared on UTEP.edu and was written by Daniel Perez, UTEP Marketing and Communications

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