ORS, France — Mount Desert Island High School graduate Heather Madeira Ni played the trumpet of soldier-poet Wilfred Owen at a Nov. 4 ceremony marking the 100th year of his death on the battlefield here a week before Armistice Day.
A graduate in the class of 1992,
Madeira Ni lives in Luxembourg with her husband, Leon Ni, and two teenage daughters. She graduated from MDI in 1992 and has lived in Europe for 14 years.
Her parents, Pete and Suzanne Madeira of Tremont were among the nearly 300 people who attended the ceremony last week. Representatives of the British army and the Scottish and French Wilfred Owen societies, as well as the mayor of Ors, were present.
It was the first time the trumpet had sounded in a public performance in 100 years, since Owen’s death on the battlefield, according to one report. Owen took the trumpet from a dead German soldier during the war and referred to it as ‘loot’ in a letter written to his brother a year before his death.
“It was a huge honor to be the first person to play the instrument publicly since Wilfred Owen’s death,” Madeira Ni said in an email.
“This poet is one my children study in school and his moving words on the horrors of war bring home what we lose by engaging in conflict such as this.”
Madeira Ni teaches music at St. George’s International School and runs the school’s extracurricular music program.
Her husband is the solo trombonist for the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxembourg.
Their connection to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where they each did post-graduate studies, as well as through the Orchestra of Scottish Opera in Glasgow, played a part in Madeira Ni’s participation in the historic event.
Her musical expertise is with all instruments in the trumpet family, a foundation she built as a student in the MDI school system with former high school music teacher Dick Ordway and brass instructor Bill Whitener.
For the ceremony that culminated at Owen’s gravesite, Madeira Ni played “The Last Post.” She told reporters that it was an honor to play on such an important piece of British history.
Musician Thoren Ferguson began the event with a rendition of “Flowers in the Wood” on Owen’s violin, according to the Telegraph of London. The violin was built from the branch of a sycamore tree at the military hospital where Owen recovered from his first injury before being sent back to the front.
On Nov. 4, 1918, Owen was attempting to lead his men across the Sambre-Oise Canal in Ors, France when he was killed. His death came seven days before the end of World War I was declared.
A citizen of Britain, Owen began writing poetry when he was a teen and composed most of what was published on the battlefield in 1917-18. Two of his most poignant poems from World War I were “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” which were published more than a decade after his death.
Those participating in the ceremony gathered before dawn and walked through about a mile of woods, retracing the steps of Owen and his fellow soldiers. Fireworks were set off to commemorate the attack at the canal. Wreaths were placed on Owen’s site and some of his poetry was read at the one event of many throughout the weekend honoring veterans of the wars.
A week later, on the day known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, and here in the U.S. as Veterans Day, Madeira Ni participated in a worldwide musical social media event. Musicians around the world simultaneously played a piece by Ferguson called “Armistice” and shared their performances with the hashtag #Play4Peace.
Anthem for Doomed Youth, by Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.