In 2013 I had the great honor of receiving a major commission from the Marquette Symphony Orchestra to compose a 45-minute work dedicated to the victims of the Italian Hall disaster. On Christmas Eve of 1913 in Calumet, Michigan, a man shouted “Fire!” in the crowded Italian Hall, causing a stampede that would leave 73 innocent people, the vast majority of them young children, dead on the stairs leading down to the street below. The man who cried “Fire!” was never positively identified or made to pay for his crime, and even today his dark celebrity is often more prevalent in discussions about the disaster than the identity of the victims themselves.
A Child’s Requiem, with a libretto written by my mother, poet Esther Margaret Ayers, seeks to posthumously elevate the dead out of the context of the Italian Hall disaster; to celebrate them as they were in life and death and not as a statistic used to apportion blame. “Lux aeterna” is the flagship movement of the work, a supplication to God to grant eternal rest and light to the deceased children forevermore. This arrangement for chorus and piano, dedicated to Jim Hansen, my first mentor in composition, has become a standard in the repertoire of the Marquette Senior High School choirs conducted by Jan Brodersen. Without their tireless dedication, the world premiere of A Child’s Requiem would not have been possible, and for this I am eternally grateful. —Thomas LaVoy