Steele’s words were often beautiful to hear, ranging from the sublime to the disturbing, and always maintaining an intrinsic sense of poetic meter. In turn, Ryan breathed a natural flexibility and elasticity into the poetic phrases, successfully aggregating them into a well-paced but coherent, large-scale structure. The result was a compositely clear sense of these soldiers’ lives, the hallmark of a collaboratively successful musical-poetic narrative arc […] The words always expressed the soldiers’ characters in very specific, but also richly symbolic terms, set in beautifully sonorous narrative poetry, but always in a freely cast dramatic shape.
~ Stephan Bonfield, Calgary Herald (12/11/12)
[Steele’s] observations of a Canadian battle group’s road to war and that of their loved ones, before, during and after war, as expressed through her vivid and graphic poetry, set the stage for the dramatic and visceral music composed by Ryan. The work is written for orchestra, vocal soloists, as well as adult and children’s choruses.
~ Jeff Mitchell, Toronto Concert Reviews (12/11/17)
AFGHANISTAN takes the setting of the Requiem mass and intersperses it with texts that represent the memories of a soldier living with PTSD. The texts happen simultaneously in the past and present. The choirs and the soloists alternated between the two, creating a sense of disorientation. Hearing the singers repeating “Hang on, son” during the chaotic cacophony of the orchestra behind them felt like one of the most real and artistic representations of what it must be like to be there amongst it all.
~ Greg Finney, Schmopera (11/11/2017)
In Steele’s fine poetry, mixing words of the Latin Mass with powerful imagistic writing addressing the pathos of war, and in Ryan’s music, this oratorio is certainly one of the most important extended Canadian choral works from this century.
~ Kenneth Delong, Calgary Herald (13/11/2017)
Steele travelled to the Afghanistan War in 2008 as one of Canada’s official war artists. She gathered her impressions — of fighting, of hope, of fear, of disgust, of death, and of the people at home hoping for the best and too often having to confront the worst — and turned them into concise, imagistic poetry.
Ryan and Steele’s work […] compares well to Britten’s War Requiem, which is a huge compliment. It beautifully captures the many layers of tension present in a single conflict, and the many aspects of suffering and relief.
~ John Terrauds, Toronto Star (11/10/17)