This interview with Michael Hoppe is the result of an email Michael sent me mid-June 2020:
“Kathy, as you know, the journey behind the making and recording of Peace & Reconciliation is both extraordinary and ultimately inspiring. Those who buy the CD can read the liner notes, listen to the music, and fully experience much of my life changing story.
"Several fans have told me it was an overwhelming experience for them.
"After almost 40 years, the CD is fast becoming obsolete, and most of those listening to Peace & Reconciliation do so on streaming services like Spotify.
Unfortunately, they are totally unaware of the story, as there are no liner notes to be read.
I find it a major loss, like a beautiful soundtrack with no film, even though I know the ‘film’ was really extraordinary….”
Michael and I have been friends for many years, and I’ve been a fan of his music for much longer than that. We did a really comprehensive interview about his life and career in 2003, and an update in 2014, both of which are accessible here
. This interview will focus on the amazing story of Michael’s journey with his latest album, Peace & Reconciliation
KP: Hi Michael! How are things in San Miguel de Allende? Are you strongly affected by COVID-19 there?
Hi Kathy, and thank you for another interview!
Well, San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico's major destinations, is now largely devoid of tourists, is in a mask-wearing mode, and with hotels and restaurants closed, eerily quiet… Unlike some other parts of Mexico, COVID-19 has been taken very seriously here.
Click on album covers to go
to Kathy's reviews.
KP: That’s good. There is so much uncertainty everywhere.
Your latest album, your 30th, Peace & Reconciliation, has taken on quite a life of its own! The full title is actually Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation and the first eight of the ten tracks are the fully-realized Requiem you recorded in 2005. That album was performed with two voices and a quintet of cello, two violins, oboe and clarinet; the newer one has a 40-voice choir and a string quartet. Tell us a bit about the journey from Requiem (2006) to the full realization of Peace & Reconciliation in 2019.
MH: Yes, Kathy, it has been an extraordinary journey…
When I recorded Requiem in 2005 with superlative performances by Heidi Fielding (soprano), Dwain Briggs (tenor), Martin Tillman (cello), Alyssa Park (violin), Lily Hayden (violin), Chris Bleth (oboe) and Bernadette Allbaugh (clarinet) the recording was intended as a kind of demo for an eventual SATB choral arrangement.
But for various reasons, this was not to be.
However, I felt the Requiem recording had genuine magic, and the beautiful performances by all involved made it so. Requiem was subsequently released in 2006. But Kathy, I had always wanted that SATB arrangement...it was a Requiem after all, and I felt it just demanded the choral treatment.
In 2018, as a result of an extraordinary and deeply shocking family discovery, I went ahead and hired master arranger Richard Bronskill to arrange all 8 movements of my Requiem, now titled Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation for an SATB choir with string quartet. The discovery was the catalyst.
But I still had no idea how I could have the piece performed, let alone recorded.
Isn’t it amazing how there is no stopping something that is simply destined to happen? It’s kind of like the cosmos opened up and said, “Okay, Michael, it’s time!”
The Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers and Tetra String Quartet.
Because then an amazing miracle happened…
Early in 2019, I was contacted by Ryan Holder, the founding Artistic Director
of the Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers (SACS), and the musical director of The Church of The Red Rocks, Sedona, Arizona, to perform in their church.
Delighted to accept, I mentioned I had a newly arranged Requiem for Peace Reconciliation
which had been neither performed nor recorded, would he be interested to look at the score?
Ryan not only was, but also wanted to both perform and record the Requiem
Well, this was totally amazing, as we had never even discussed the recording budget!
I mentioned I had two other short SATB pieces which he might like,
so we could make an entire album of all my choral work.
Ryan thought that was a good idea, and so just like that, all my choral pieces were recorded in the Saint Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Scottsdale, Arizona, with his magnificent 40 member SACS choir beautifully accompanied by the Tetra String Quartet.
John and Suzanne Moore
Only after performing at The Church of The Red Rocks did I learn that the whole of the recording session was in fact underwritten by a couple who were members of The Church, and who had been fans of my music for many years.
My long sought dream of having my Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation
performed and recorded was answered, an extraordinary miracle had occurred...
Thank you, John and Suzanne Moore for realizing my dream.
KP: This is also so amazing, but that’s still not the whole story. The album is dedicated to your parents and you say in the liner notes that the spirit behind the album was your discovery of a dark family secret in 2018. Let’s talk about that.
I discovered from a family friend, only two years ago, that my father, who I had known and loved all my life, was in fact not my biological father.
Here is the story of discovery, how I came to terms with it, all explained in the following liner notes in the CD booklet for
REQUIEM FOR PEACE & RECONCILIATION
Although there is ample need today in these troubled times for music of peace and reconciliation, the spirit behind Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation
actually stems from my discovery, late in life, of my family’s dark secret. Here are the liner notes:
My parents met 1944 in Cairo, where I was born, during the Second World War.
In 1986, I needed my birth certificate to apply for a US Green Card. But Dad in England was oddly unhelpful. When I finally persuaded him to produce it, he said, with a lot of nervous coughing, “Don’t worry about the word ‘adoption’.” “You mean you are not my father?” I asked incredulously. “Yes, of course I am! You see, when you were born in Cairo in 1944, Mum and I were not married, and we had to officially “adopt” you, so to speak. We were married two years later in London.”
That made total sense.
Frank Hoppe' 1945
Suzannah Hoppe' 1943
Some months later in 1986, I flew to England to visit my parents. Dad picked me up at Exeter Station in Cornwall, and we drove off in the late afternoon to their house. After about an hour, Dad suddenly turned off the road, stopped the car and cut the engine. Leaning over the steering wheel he looked both uncomfortable and worried... “I want to apologize about the birth certificate business,” he began.
Well, I couldn’t stand seeing Dad look so embarrassed and uncomfortable. I blurted out, “Dad, it is totally unimportant to me that you and Mum were not married when I was born. I am here by your own passion, and that is what is important! So please, Dad, think no more about it. I love you!”
After a long pause, Dad started the car, and off we went to their home still an hour away. After we arrived, now in darkness, Dad went upstairs to see my Mother. I remember her crying. I thought no more about the episode, and totally accepted Dad’s explanation of the birth certificate.
Many years later, my mother, now a widow, asked my brother Richard and me to clear out her bedroom. At the back of a drawer I found a leather-bound volume of handwritten letters written by Dad. I pointed them out to Richard, and in respect for our mother’s privacy, we did not read them. When we saw our mother the next day, she thanked us for clearing out her bedroom, and immediately inquired if I had found a leather-bound volume of letters. I replied we had, and she said that under no circumstances were we to read them, and to bring the letters to her immediately. We did and nothing more was said about the matter.
Several years later, after our mother’s funeral, her closest war-time friend’s daughter, Wendy, wrote a nice “thank you” note for a small legacy Mum had left her. She added how much she adored our mother, and how much she meant to her. At the end of the letter was a PS: “Michael, did you find out about your heritage?”
I emailed Wendy, thanking her for being such a devoted friend to our mother, and wrote, “Yes, I know that I was born 2 years before they were married. Totally understandable with all the chaos of war, and no big deal…”
Wendy then wrote back to me:
“And now to the last part which is the hardest... I always think back to the saying the ‘spoken word is like the spent arrow.’ As you know, my Ma told me little until the latter days of her life. She was very lucid then, and we would sit together, and she would wander back to the past... Your mother - in her strange way - tried to tell me things, too, but never could quite bring herself to do so. But then I knew the truth of what had happened so I did not probe. No - Frank was not your father - your father was a Canadian in the Royal Canadian Air Force. What happened to him mother never said - whether he was shot down or ‘just flew away’ - I don’t know! But I got the feeling he did not survive the War. All I can say, your Pa loved you and looked after you and cared for you deeply. He was totally besotted with your mother.”
It is probably not necessary to write how utterly shocked and incredulous I was to learn this. I wish Mum had shared her secret, especially after Dad had died. It would have lifted a huge burden from her, and we could have undertaken a fascinating journey together.
I finally read Dad’s war-time letters which my mother had not destroyed. They make two things very clear: The man I knew always as my father loved my mother very much; and my birth was a total surprise to him, as he was not the father. However Dad wrote to my mother in August 1945 a few days before my first birthday “I am assuring you again that our son will have as a loving and devoted a father as his beautiful mother. I think you know already, through your instinct, I feel as I were his Daddy in any case. I love him.”
He brought me up as his own, never sharing the dark family secret.
How I wish he had told me when he pulled the car over all those years ago. I wonder why he couldn’t bring himself to do so. I can only think his love for my mother was simply too great.
Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation is my way of sending eternal love and gratitude to my parents, and to my unknown father.
The work is dedicated to all three in the spirit of peace and reconciliation.
KP: I can’t imagine how unsettling it would be to suddenly have no idea who your biological father is! Even though your mother forbade you and your brother to read the letters Frank Hoppe’ wrote during the war, I can’t help but wonder if she actually hoped you would find and read them to learn the truth after so many years.
MH: I have often thought about that…probably she could not come to terms with destroying all those beautiful love letters from Dad. And from a practical matter, how could she destroy all those 145 letters in the nursing home, and be sure they were not read by the staff!
So I feel I received the letters probably more by default than anything else.
KP: How odd that the daughter of your mother’s friend would know about your very early history, but your mother didn’t (or couldn’t) tell you.
Yes, Wendy heard the story from her mother (Benny, my godmother) in the 1970’s.
Wendy kept the secret for all those years until both my parents had died before telling me.
In many ways, Wendy was like a daughter to my mother.
Her mother, Benny, and mine met as young ATS recruits traveling by ship to Cairo in 1943.
They became lifelong friends, and my mother told her about my paternity which Benny shared years later with her daughter Wendy.
KP: Do you think there is any way you’ll be able to find out who your biological father is/was?
MH: I hired a consultant at Ancestry, and they located my paternal grandfather who died in San Jose, California in 1927. My Scottish ancestors (I had no idea!), originally from Isle of Skye, moved to NSW Australia in the 1880’s, and then to New Zealand in the early 1900’s.
Several members of the family still live there, and I am in touch with a 2nd cousin who has been a great help guiding me through the DNA maze. If anybody will find who my biological father was, Tina will!
KP: I guess, more importantly, is it important to you to do so?
MH: I am in two minds about that….certainly there would be a major sense of closure if I knew. But I am resigned I may never know.
KP: What an incredible story! Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Yes, Kathy, just to conclude an important part of this whole family saga…
Last November 2019, was the European premiere of Requiem for Peace & Reconciliation
in Hasselt Cathedral, Belgium. Beautifully performed by the Hasselt Cathedral Choir, conducted by Ludo Claesen, it was a hugely cathartic evening for me to be surrounded by friends and family, and hear my music in this glorious setting.
Friends from my PolyGram days came, and members of my family who I had not seen in over 60 years came over from England to attend. Also, my daughter and grandson traveled from Hamburg to be there, and so met their cousins for the first time, forming a friendship that has already resulted in their taking a vacation together.
What an extraordinary gift this family story turned out to be, resulting in hearing my music so beautifully performed and recorded, for family reconciliation, and the peace that it has brought.
I am forever grateful.
Michael and Monica Hoppe'
Michael at his home in Portland, OR August 2014
Michael and me (Kathy Parsons) in Florence, OR September 2007.
Many thanks to Michael Hoppe’ for taking the time to share this profoundly moving story so that more people can enjoy Peace & Reconciliation
with a better understanding of how the album came to be. For more information about Michael Hoppe’ and his music be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.