“11” Questions for Ghosts of Wars Past

Like Paula Jardine’s A Night of All Souls, Mark Haney’s “11’ for brass ensemble, about the Renfrew Heights Veterans Housing Project, brings people together in open dialogue about death and through it a renewed respect for the courage of life.

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Who among you lived in the Project?

As a tough community that’s been together for years, there’s a lot of pride too, but Mark added, “Along with the pride and the community, there’s an edge of sadness—always”. He’d have to prove through his music that he was interested in them as individuals, and that his project wasn’t a flash in the pan—he would see it through to completion. “My piece is about eleven individuals in the war”, said Mark, “I composed it to put a human face on the wars”.

Laura Williams was part of the Women's Division of the RCAF
Laura Williams was part of the Women's Division of the RCAF.  After the war, she and her husband Frank Helden moved into the Project. Their daughter Betty Helden became a big supporter of "11".  Photo courtesy Betty Helden

Even so, he learned that some veterans couldn’t go to Remembrance Day events. “They’d stay home and cry”, he said. Often they’d go to the Legion and drink, but it was more wallowing than release from the pain, “All they did was re-live the war”.

Not all the veterans represented in “11” have passed away. Diane Park, a videographer who’s working with Mark on “11” mentioned 99-year-old Edmond Champoux. “He’s very much alive and a big supporter of ‘11’. He has shared stories with us of surviving the horrors of D-Day (as an Engineer he was one of the first on the beaches at Dieppe), as well as the Battle of Falaise Gap”, she said adding, “He lived in Renfrew Heights from the early 1950's until moving to Burnaby two years ago.”

Edmond Champoux during the war.
Edmond Champoux during the war. Photo courtesy Edmond Champoux

When were you born?

Mark found ways to help make people feel comfortable and open up. Last summer, he put up a display about their story at his field house. “It was very touching”, he said, “I learned so much in so many ways, by communicating and working with people who grew up in the Project.” Gradually, people began warming up to him. They still needed somebody to talk to, and as they began to open up to him, the stories increased.

Tea and gingersnaps and the display created as part of the “11” project
At A Night of All Souls on Saturday, Attendees could come in from the rain for tea and gingersnaps and view the display created as part of the “11” project. Photo courtesy Tim Matheson

To put humanity into the story, Mark developed a system of numbering in which each of the 11 brass instruments would spell out the name of an individual veteran (using only the letters from the veteran’s name that corresponded with musical notes). At Mountain View on Saturday night, some of the players actually played at the gravesite of the deceased veteran whose name they represented.

When did you die?

Although Mark scored “11” for brass instruments, he was sensitive to avoid any direct military references. In the drizzle on Saturday night, the brass players sounded sombre and perhaps a little amphibious too as they called out to each other from around the cemetery. “The last section I wrote follows the solo trumpet asking ‘When did you die?’” Mark said, “As each of the 11 musicians said their date, it was more like writing dialogue than music.” Huddled under umbrellas around the smouldering Swedish torch (a burning log set on end), we listened to waves of brass polyphony waft through the cemetery and occasionally letter/notes would well up in great wet chords.

Volunteers held umbrellas for beleaguered musicians
On Saturday night at Mountain View Cemetery participants volunteered to hold umbrellas for the beleaguered musicians making it a truly immersive experience. Photo courtesy Tim Matheson

Falaise Park

Mark’s been getting reports of friends and relatives of the veterans who are planning trips (from as far away as Edmonton, Calgary, and Nelson) to attend this special Remembrance Day concert in Falaise Park. He hopes for perhaps less rain than at Mountain View, but then laughs, “We now know we can do it in the rain if we have to”.

Together with Diane and the 11 musicians, they plan to accommodate all sorts of groups by providing wheelchair accessibility, an opportunity for nearby school children to sing a new song-version of “Flanders’ Fields”, and Linda Jones, a veterans’ entertainer (and Project alumnus) will sing once again. Afterward, everyone will gather in the gym at nearby Vancouver Christian School for coffee and snacks, where the display materials will put a human face on courage in the face of war and tragedy.

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