By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When a new piece of music dedicated to the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre premiers in Connecticut Saturday night, a group of students from Disston Elementary, in Philadelphia’s Tacony section, will be in the audience…and their *words* will be on stage.
The children provided some of the lyrics for “A Child’s Requiem” — winner of the Sackler Prize from the University of Connecticut.
Composer Steven Sametz, a professor at Lehigh University, tells KYW Newsradio he wanted “words from children to express children’s grief, since that was the group most directly affected at Sandy Hook.” So he reached out to a number of organizations and people who work with children, including Katie Young — Disston’s music teacher and a member of the Princeton Singers, which he directs.
Young says she thought “long and hard” about how to ask her students to participate:
“A lot of times students don’t like to talk about their feelings, or they don’t know how to talk about them so I asked them a general question, ‘what is it like to lose someone close to you?’ And if they needed more explanation, I said, ‘if you have lost someone, what did that feel like? How did you act? And if you didn’t lose someone, what would you say to someone who did’?”
Sametz says their responses, “knocked me over.”
Take Jose Vega’s response.
“I wrote about my friend,” Vega says. “He got shot in the head. These three teenagers, we were walking to school one day and they shot him, straight through the head. And I was shocked so I just ran…”
LISTEN: Pat Loeb talks to Disston Elementary music teacher Katie Young and her students about their contributions to a Requiem for the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, premiering this weekend. (trt: 2:51)
Vega takes a moment to compose himself. “That’s all I can remember because I was in shock,” he concludes.
His lyrics in the Requiem say, “When my friend died, I ran from the teenagers.”
Mirlenis Gil’s contribution, “I was frozen in time,” refers to the murder of her nine-year-old cousin.
“He was in a car and they were coming after my uncle and they thought my uncle was in the car and they shot the car and accidentally, they shot at him,” she explains.
Nzoriah Nelson wrote about losing her grandmother. “It’s like a bomb went off in you,” she wrote.
All of the students, it seemed, had some loss to talk about and did so with such innocent honesty. Sametz says he was humbled:
“I really didn’t know if I could write a piece that was as good as the words. The words were just so powerful by themselves.”
Tyana Bushiku wrote poetry:
When you first hear, your heart disappears
in a sad world
and you’re just a little boy or little girl.
You start to cry
because you didn’t know, you didn’t get to say goodbye
and you wonder what happened? How did they die?
and you ask yourself why
Bushiku says she has lost a lot of people in her life, but found writing about it helped:
“I’ve never been a part of something like that and it kind of felt good.”
Caitlyn McMonagle, who wrote about an aunt who took her own life, agreed.
“Our pieces of writing can make people realize that everyone in this world lost somebody and they’re not alone.”