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NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (December 27, 1999 – Orientation Oceania)---Swedish music professor Erik Westerberg will see his dream of three years fulfilled as his vocal ensemble kicks off a world song relay at midnight on New Years' Eve from Tonga, media here reported Monday.

The music will pass like a torch through 125 choirs in 45 countries as midnight strikes in each time-zone, ending 24 hours later in Samoa with the final round sung again by Westerberg's group from northern Sweden.

The choral piece itself is a specially composed arrangement of a poem for peace by Northern Irish schoolboy Shaun McLaughlin, submitted for a school contest just a few days before he died in an August 1998 bomb explosion in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

Twelve-year-old McLaughlin's plea for peace, "Across the Bridge of Hope," was put to music and arranged for choir and orchestra by Westerberg's Piteaa Music Academy colleague Jan Sandstroem, then sent around the world to the choirs in the project.

"I knew my dream of singing in the New Year starting in Tonga could come true, and that Shaun's poem had to be the focus," Westerberg said.

The 44-year old prize-winning choirmaster had been told by the Swedish Academy -- which awards the Nobel literature prize -- to find a Swedish lyricist for the project, "but nothing I found had just the right expression," Westerberg said.

He had happened to be in Ireland at the time of the Omagh tragedy and had heard then President Mary Robinson read Shaun's poignant verse on television the day he died.

"This manifestation has a strong message for young people. It feels very good to base the whole project on simple words," Westerberg said of the eight-line poem.

The Piteaa ensemble of 12 choristers will be joined near the international dateline in the Pacific Ocean by 500 Tongans in the Royal Maopa Choir, and the event will be televised.

Here is Shaun McLaughlin's text of the millennium chorale:

"Across the Bridge of Hope"

Orange and Green

It doesn't matter

United now

Don't shatter our dream

Scatter the seeds of peace

Over our land

So we can travel hand in hand

Across the bridge of hope.

Orientation Oceania

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