Somewhere in Europe is scored for chamber ensemble and solo voices. This piece provides a personal narrative to the experiences of My Grandfather, Corporal Lawrence Steinke, as he fought in the European Theater during World War II. The text for this piece is a compilation of select lines from the letters he sent home to his parents while he was serving in the army. This piece is the product of a project that started in Fall 2014. Last September, I applied for a research grant through Butler University’s Center for High Achievement & Scholarly Engagement (CHASE) in order do research surrounding the experiences of the American soldier. I planned to use my Grandfather’s letters as the focal point of my project with the intention of creating some sort of composition as the product of my research.
Upon reading the letters, which were organized in a chronological album by my father’s sister several years earlier, I was captivated by his acute observations and intimate reflections of the war. His letters not only capture the mundanities of army life but they reveal the profound effect the war had on the young people who were fighting it. click here to learn more about the letters.
My aunt, Laurie’s daughter, sent me all of the archival documents she used while compiling Laurie’s history several years ago. From that point on, my research consisted of filling in all of the holes of his experience, both personally and historically. Once I had a working knowledge of the time period, I began to select lines that highlighted different aspects of his experience. I categorized the letters into several categories including daily life, emotional realizations, homesickness, and wonderment. Since most of his thought-provoking observations happened during the time he spent in Germany, I became intensely interested in the War’s effect on the German population and their culture. As both Laurie’s observations and my own research pulled me in the direction of German history and culture, I decided to spend the summer in Germany. With my impending trip several months away, I began to prepare myself to spend the entire summer composing this piece.
On May 30th 2015, I arrived in Berlin. While I was there I was in a German history and culture course that focused on German literature from romanticism to the present. I also took an immersive German language course 3 days a week. Throughout my program, I revisited the lines I selected. I found that my growing knowledge of the time period was causing me to reexamine a lot of my initial sketches. Many of his letters weighed more heavily on me now that I was able to see the same streets my Grandfather saw in ruins in 1945. After my program I spent 3 weeks traveling around Germany. I stayed with German families, friends, and acquaintances. I slept in train stations and hostels and spent entire days in parks. I worked on the piece constantly and I discussed it with anyone who would listen. Discussions with German, French, Polish, English, and American friends unearthed countless narratives of the war, further illuminating astounding continuity between several realizations my grandfather shared with his parents in 1945. I visited Leipzig, Lübeck, Hamburg, Minden, Straßbourg (which was ceded to the French after the war), and Heidelberg. I immersed myself in museums and concerts and started to really understand a lot of the observations my Grandfather made while he was in many of the same cities 70 years earlier. Click here to see pictures from my trip.
By the time I returned to the U.S. in August 2015, I was nearly finished with the piece. I spent the next month buried in revisions taking a lot of the “completed” sections I wrote while in Germany, and re-contextualizing them for the both the ensemble, and the time I had until the performance. The residual impact of my trip started to permeate a lot of the larger revisions, and I was able to settle with a coherent organization for the work. I found that my composition is not only a reflection on his words, but a reflection on the emotional impact of war. I have had the unique opportunity of connecting to his words through my own medium and portraying images my grandfather experienced when he was exactly my age, in an event that destroyed half of the world.
-Harriet Steinke, 2015
This piece premiered on November 15th, 2015 at 5pm in the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall at Butler University.