On Saturday, Joshua Mazur will play songs for the dead.
Over a period of seven months, the UF music composition doctoral student wrote a 12-song requiem, a funeral composition, to voice the outcry of more than 30,000 women who were abused while working in asylums in Ireland.
The hourlong performance will honor the women who suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. For decades, they were forced to work and wash away their sins in residential workhouses, the last of which closed in 1996, according to The Boston Globe.
Joshua Mazur, 26, warms up his Chamber Singers, a small portion of the Gainesville Master Chorale, on Monday evening during rehearsal.
When Joshua Mazur, 26, heard their stories, he wanted to give them a sense of peace — something he believes the women never got.
At 7:30 p.m., the Gainesville Master Chorale and Orchestra will perform the free show at the First United Methodist Church of Gainesville, located at 419 NE First St. The choir will sing a rendition of Mazur’s “A Magdalene Requiem, In Search of Mercy.” Most UF music composition students do not have the opportunity to hear their own work performed before they graduate.
With this performance, Mazur wants to bring attention to the lives lost.
“Each of them suffered, but they suffered together,” he said. “These women never had a requiem. They deserve a requiem.”
• • •
In April, Mazur asked his sister to help him put words to his music.
Lyda Mazur, 22, said they began researching the history behind the Magdalene asylums.
The women of the asylums were sent there because they were victims of rape or believed to be prostitutes. Their children were taken from them, and they were forced to work for the sins they were accused of, she said.
“They were held against their will, and they weren’t properly taken care of because they were paying for their sins,” she said.
At times, her brother doubted his ability to properly tell the stories of the women, but she encouraged him to continue.
As a man, he needed to speak up for women who lack equality, Lyda Mazur said. Being a male, he had to use his privilege for good, she said.
“It’s very important to use your platform to speak out about something like this,” the Florida Southern College English senior said.
Joshua Mazur said he knew he had to use his talents to honor their legacy and give them the funeral he felt they deserved.
After hearing the stories of the women, he wanted to write something with more depth than he had ever written.
“I was waiting to find a subject that seemed to be looking for expression,” he said.
So with a pen in hand, he began to compose.
• • •
His passion for music began when he was 11.
In a room surrounded by instruments at his middle school, he knew he wanted that view for the rest of his life.
“That was it,” he said. “I was hooked.”
He began to learn how to play the flute and decided he wanted to study music at a collegiate level.
Joshua Mazur earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern, where he said he wanted to study music composition. But after the college cut the program, he began to study piano and eventually added voice performance.
Joshua Mazur’s talent was clear from the beginning, his wife, Hannah Mazur, 26, said. By age 19, his work had been performed in Europe, she said.
“I have always known him as a composer in some capacity,” the UF alumna said. “But it has really been in the last year and a half that he has really bloomed as a composer.”
• • •
With the help of his mentor, Willard Kesling, a the UF director of choral activities, Mazur began to piece together the song.
Kesling said the piece is not meant to condemn the Catholic Church for allowing the asylums to exist, but rather to honor the women who were in search of mercy.
“It’s some ugly history that inspired the creation of the work,” Kesling said. “It was turned around to make it something of beauty.”
Joshua Mazur said he chose Kesling because of his expertise and experience.
“Everything I give to him becomes something more than I ever thought it could be,” he said.
Joshua Mazur credits his professors for being able to complete the piece.
“Working with Dr. Kesling, from the moment I walked into his room, has changed my life every day,” he said.
For the past eight weeks, the choir has spent a total of 16 hours practicing every song in the performance, Joshua Mazur said.
In rehearsals, Kesling went through each line of music until the choir conveyed the message the audience is meant to hear — the souls of the women who deserved better.
• • •
Mazur’s work weaved itself into every aspect of his life.
At home, he created a haven in his living room where he connected his computer to a wide-screen TV that displayed his musical score in 55 inches of high definition.
At school, he worked with his sister in the Reitz Union for six to eight hours at a time. He estimated they spent more than $200 at the Starbucks there in a month.
But he could only bear the stories for so long. About halfway through completing the requiem, he took a step back from composing for about a month.
“It’s horrific,” he said. “It was just really difficult to work on.”
The work consumed his marriage, he said.
The requiem became what they spent most of their time talking about. Their Friday movie nights were replaced with reading, writing and composing pages of music.
But between the talks of compositions and research, they leaned on each other for support.
When the semester ends, the two will head to New York City, Joshua Mazur said.
“I’ll shut down the composer mill and just be her husband,” he said.
• • •
When he climbs onstage Saturday, Joshua Mazur hopes the women will hear their song in spirit.
With each of the 12 songs, he wants to make the audience feel what the women of the asylums felt.
But the performance will be an art, something he enjoys, he said.
“That brief blip of time that we get to perform is just true ecstasy,” he said. “We like to make the feeling last as long as possible.”
In the second-to-last song, “In Paradisum,” Joshua Mazur wrote of his hope that the women have passed on and have realized their sins are not what trapped them in asylums.
“The angels will lead you into paradise,” the choir will sing.
An illustration was provided for “A Magdalene Requiem, In Search of Mercy” concert on Saturday. It displays a woman intended to be from one of the Magdalene asylums.