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Remembering the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique tragedy

A requiem for 14 women.


On Dec. 6, 1989, gunman Marc Lépine sought out and fatally shot 14 female engineering students and injured 14 other students at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Twenty-five years later to the day, composer Elise Letourneau will commemorate the tragedy with the performance of Requiem for Fourteen Roses.

“The requiem is traditionally a piece to remember somebody. It was part of the requiem mass, which was played for the deceased … to help usher their spirit into the hereafter,” said the Ottawa-based musician. Requiem for Fourteen Roses blends traditional requiem mass selections in Latin and French with 14 short instrumental vignettes and lyrics pulled from verse by Rumi, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Canadian poet E.D. Blodgett. The lyrics, Ms. Letourneau said, underline “how both wonderful and fragile is this thing that we call life.”

The Dec. 6 performance of the piece will take place in Ottawa. It will include bell tolls, roses and candles for each of the murdered women: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik -Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

“I’ve often stopped to wonder in years since [the shooting], what would they be doing now?” Ms. Letourneau said. “These women would have been role models for people, they would have been inspirations for other women … They would have been creating useful things and with value. Some of them would’ve been moms.”

But Requiem for Fourteen Roses is more than a tribute to the dead. Ms. Letourneau said she penned the piece to also serve as a call to collective care and accountability. “Twenty-five years is significant because it represents a generation. A generation is long enough to forget,” she said. “My goal is to mark the event, to remember these young women because they deserve remembering … [and] to remind us all that we need each other.”

Ms. Letourneau started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for 14 Roses to help cover production costs. She managed to raise $7,820 in just under five weeks. The hope now is to earn enough to record or simulcast the performance for a wider audience.

Listen to an excerpt of the song:

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