Instrumentation SMTB soloists; SATB choir; SSAA children’s choir; 2(2nd db. picc)/2(2 dbl. E hn)/2(2 dbl. bass cl)/2; 4/2/3/1; timp + 2 perc; harp; orchestral strings
Percussion requirements (1) vib, chimes, 4 tomtoms, snare dr, sm. tamtam, cake pans, whip, woodblocks; (2) mba, glock, bass dr, snare dr, tambourine, lg. tamtam, sizzle cymbal, anvil, 2 brake dr, bell tree, jingle bells

Timing 60′ in nine movements

Composed 2012

Texts by Suzanne Steele, based on her writings and experiences

Commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in partnership with One Yellow Rabbit, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, and residency assistance from the Banff Centre for the Arts

World Premiere November 10, 2012, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary, Alberta. Zorana Sadiq, soprano; Rebecca Hass, mezzo-soprano; Benjamin Butterfield, tenor; Tyler Duncan, baritone; Calgary Philharmonic Chorus; Cantaré Children’s Choir; Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra; Roberto Minczuk, conductor

Performances by Calgary Philharmonic, Vancouver Symphony, Toronto Symphony

Recorded by Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bramwell Tovey, with soloists Zorana Sadiq, Rebecca Hass, Colin Ainsworth, and Brett Polegato; UBC University Singers and Choral Union (Graeme Langager, chorus master) and Langley Fine Arts School Youth Choir (James Sparks, chorus master) on Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation

Related Works
Two Days for SSATB choir and piano (from the Offertorium movement)
…sempiternam for double SATB choir a cappella (from the Agnus Dei movement)
He’s Come Home Again for high voice and piano (from the Sanctus movement)
Lux for SSA youth choir, woodblock and piano (from the Lux Aeterna movement)

Programme Notes

Most of us, certainly those of us in North America, experience war from a safe distance, through what we see on television and read in the media, while the reality of war happens far away. Poet Suzanne Steele, however, gained a unique firsthand perspective on war. As Canada’s first War Poet, Steele joined the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 2009 during the war in Afghanistan, documenting her experiences in her poetry and at She saw the fear, the belief, and the sacrifice. She met people who did not come home alive. She met people who did come home, but broken, to a life shattered by post-traumatic stress disorder. She met their families, mourning, powerless. Her writings and experiences–stories we do not see on television or read in the media–provide the foundation for this hour-long concert work with music by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation is scored for four soloists, adult and children’s choruses, and orchestra. There is a centuries-long tradition of setting the Catholic Mass and Requiem texts to music, which over time expanded from a purely liturgical context to the concert hall. Though a listener familiar with the Requiems of Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré will recognise the titles and overall shape of its nine movements, Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation uses very little of the traditional Latin text, in excerpts chosen to highlight Steele’s powerful and vivid contemporary poetry in English, French, and the Afghan language Pashto.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation opens with an evocation of the space and calm of the North, and a prayer for healing lifted up to the starry night sky of the winter solstice. It quickly comes back to earth, and to Afghanistan, with the fractured memories of a soldier suffering from PTSD, living in the present but tortured by the past, the sound of helicopters ringing in his ears. As the work unfolds, a young soldier writes home during a cold Afghan night, the voices of parents and children echoing in his mind. In the Day of Wrath, apprehension turns to catastrophe seen first in slow motion, gradually speeding up to real time as a soldier, critically injured by an Improvised Explosive Device, is airlifted to emergency care. A lover mourns. A soldier is killed two days before the tour of duty ends. A body returns home. Two soldiers tell their story of a lamb. Children play, voices of light evoking a flock of birds flying freely overhead. A medic is overwhelmed by mounting casualties. A soldier seeks to be made whole again. In the final movement, the choir looks to an unknown future as the soloists remember past sacrifices, all coming together in a closing appeal for rest and peace.

Almost every generation has its war (or wars) that it carries as a scar forever. For Steele, this work is “a love letter. Not just to one person…but to each of us, to our country, and to a generation that will be paying for this war emotionally or financially (looking after the injured and next of kin) for another generation.” Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation marks one particular war for one particular generation, but its message is universal and timeless.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation was commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in partnership with One Yellow Rabbit, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, and residency assistance from the Banff Centre for the Arts.


The mood of the work swings broadly from the meditative to the dramatic, and even to the operatic. Steele’s words were often beautiful to hear, ranging from the sublime to the disturbing…In turn, Ryan breathed a natural flexibility and elasticity into the poetic phrases, successfully aggregating them into a well-paced but coherent, large-scale structure. The result was a compositely clear sense of these soldiers’ lives, the hallmark of a collaboratively successful musical-poetic narrative arc. (Stephan Bonfield/Calgary Herald) (read the full Calgary Herald review)

Ryan created a vivid score, making skillful use of the musical forces at his disposal. He’s not shy about big, dramatic tutti passages—but there are also some more intimate moments, such as the opening of the “Kyrie” movement, with four solo cellos.…A full hour in duration, Afghanistan has no longueurs or weak sections; it’s a compelling piece, unfailingly effective throughout. (Colin Eatock/Classical Voice North America)

Hearing the singers repeating “Hang on, son” during the chaotic cacophony of the orchestra behind them felt like one of the most real and artistic representations of what it must be like to be there amongst it all.… A beautiful piece that explores serious subject matter and utilises creative and unique instrumentation…I think we should all be championing works like this. (Greg Finney/

It beautifully capture the many layers of tension present in a single conflict, and the many aspects of suffering and relief.… In our post-Modern world, we are increasingly aware of which voices are heard and which are silenced by the juggernaut of history. Ryan and Steele’s Afghanistan recognizes far more of these voices than most works of its kind. It moves and edifies, and potently reminds us that, no matter how we feel, war continues to be part of human existence. (John Terauds/Toronto Star)

In Steele’s fine poetry, mixing words of the Latin Mass with powerful imagistic writing addressing the pathos of war, and in Ryan’s music, this oratorio is certainly one of the most important extended Canadian choral works from this century.…The command of the choral writing was especially noteworthy, the rich choral writing showing a firm grasp of the harmonic dimension of the music…(Kenneth DeLong/Calgary Herald)

PDF perusal score

Requiem full score perusal



Excerpts from the Toronto Symphony performance, Nov. 9, 2017, conducted by Tania Miller:

A short promotional video of the world premiere performance of, courtesy of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Black Diamond Films:

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Full-size Score $150 print, $90 PDF
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