Notes for Peace; music tributes to victims of gun crime

Notes for Peace; music tributes to victims of gun violence 

The Notes for Peace project is a powerful musical collaboration to support those who have lost loved ones to gun violence in Chicago to create songs in their memory. The initiative was set up by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Institute and Purpose Over Pain.

The Irene Taylor Trust has been involved with Notes for Peace from its inception through regular commissions by the CSO’s Negaunee Institute, to bring the benefits of our expertise in drawing out musical ideas from anyone, no matter their level of musical experience.

“The process was all encompassing, as joyous as it was sometimes painful, as our co songwriters were open and forthcoming about the darkest things they’d experienced. They shared and cried, laughed and guided us,” ITT Artistic Director Sara on Notes for Peace

Each Notes for Peace project engages with a group from Purpose Over Pain to create songs for a concert in tribute to those who have been lost, featuring musicians from the CSO’s Civic Fellows.

Notes for peace

Short film

Music Matters 

BBC Radio 3’s ‘Music Matters’ aired a special programme celebrating the innovative outreach work Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Institute is undertaking under the guidance of Riccardo Muti and Yo-Yo Ma, including the projects ITT is involved in. Artistic Director Sara was interviewed for the programme about the Notes For Peace initiative.

Listen to BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters: The section featuring Sara on Notes for Peace begins around 5 minutes in;

Listen to the tributes 

The Notes for Peace website includes all of the musical tributes written to date. Here are just a few examples of songs written in collaboration with ITT.

Creating the tributes 

Artistic Director Sara explains the delicate process of collaborating with those who had lost loved ones to create the tributes:

“An introductory group session gave us some background information about each of the people we’d be writing songs with, following which we had just an hour to gather all the information for each song. Time was spent speaking one to one with everyone, to learn more about the person who was being remembered and whether the song was to be one of remembrance or celebration. Through conversation we gathered phrases, stories, anecdotes, relevant dates, life events, likes and loves.

“We looked at photos together and listened to recordings of voices, scribbling notes as we went and asking for clarification when we needed it. Basically, we listened. We then read back all we’d collected, asked if there was anything else they wanted to add and checked for anything they definitely wanted in their song, maybe a name or nickname, a character trait, a favourite phrase or a poignant date. We also asked how they wanted their song to sound. Should it be similar to a particular artist they liked or a particular style of music they thought might work?

“Then began the composition process; setting lines and phrases they’d written to music, getting guidance on whether they liked the sound, if they might prefer it slower/faster/higher/lower, whilst regularly checking in to see whether they might like to sing the song or whether it felt to be a bridge too far. The whole process was a delicate balance of listening, suggesting, sharing…

“Unsurprisingly, at the end of the first hour, we were at different stages with different people. Some songs were almost complete in their rough form, others needed more work. The important thing though was that we’d let each person talk, as it felt very much that this was part of the creative and indeed the healing process. 

“The key thing only they could do was provide the lyrics, as this was their story. The rest we could do together.

“The next part of the process was to get a draft of each song ready for the first run through with the Civic Fellow musicians. We took all the lyrical and musical ideas we’d been given and slowly began to join the pieces together. Once the song had a form, we recorded a rough version to send to the singers, and each song was then orchestrated ready for the first rehearsal.

“The idea of the first rehearsal was to check to see if the song was moving in the right direction, to make sure we’d understood any directions clearly, to ask whether they wanted to add or take anything away and finally, whether they felt this was the start of the song they wanted as their memory. The responses were varied, from ‘it’s perfect as it is’ to complete rewrites, and all points in between.

“During the whole process we always had to keep in mind that writing a song was a very new thing for those we were working with and that, as professionals, it was up to us to offer suggestions that through our experience we felt might add something, for example, a changed word here or there or a different phrasing of a melody. 

“To be a true collaboration we had to work together to pool all we knew, in order the final result could be the best it could be and the tribute we all wanted. A revised version (if necessary) was presented at the next rehearsal where any final changes were suggested. The songs were then ready to be shared via performance and also recorded.”

Listen to all the tributes created on the Notes for Peace project here

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