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Neil Godbout: Why you should attend the PGSO’s Sunday performance of Different Trains

Different Trains simultaneously asks and answers the question of how moral human beings can live in a world where the Holocaust happened.
A PGSO string quartet will perform Different Trains on Sunday at the Hart Community Centre.

Do you have a song that changed the way you hear music and opened your mind and ears up to the limitless possibilities of music?

I do. And on Sunday, I’ll get to hear it performed live for the first time and I never imagined that would happen in Prince George.

I first heard Steve Reich’s Different Trains in 1991 and it was unlike anything I had heard before.

It was the Kronos Quartet playing alongside sampled voices of people talking and sound effects of train whistles and sirens. I had heard this kind of thing in music before, from Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love to the rap music of Public Enemy and De La Soul, but never paired with classical instruments.

The strings playing off the melodies of the spoken word was also new to my ear and the musicality of the train sound effects was also a revelation.

After the frantic energy of the first movement – America, Before The War – Different Trains juxtaposes train travel in Depression Era America with train travel in Hitler’s Europe. The train whistles in Europe, During The War morph into air raid sirens, the voices changing from nostalgic memories of continental train rides to nightmarish journeys packed on cattle wagons to Polish places with “strange sounding names.”

The guttural moaning of the train whistle and the shrieking siren at the end of Europe, During The War remain the coldest, most sinister and most frightening sounds I’ve ever heard. The hairs on my neck stand on end and my blood runs cold every time I hear them.

By the end of After The War, the final movement of Different Trains, everything has changed and it had for me, too, after hearing it.

I realized the music I truly loved, regardless of genre, was mired in sadness and tragedy that transcends its subject matter without trivializing it to become something emotionally poignant and insightful. Different Trains simultaneously asks and answers the question of how moral human beings can live in a world where the Holocaust happened.

That’s why I love Different Trains.

A quartet of Prince George Symphony Orchestra players is performing Different Trains on Sunday afternoon performance at the Hart Community Centre to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event will be attended by several members of the Prince George Jewish community, who will share some of their family experiences and information about the history of the Jewish community in northern B.C.

Come to meet them, to hear their stories and learn from them. Come to remember one of the darkest chapters in world history and its six million victims. Come if you love music, to be with other lovers of music, to be reminded of our shared humanity.

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