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Taps, Sousa, and Tchaikovsky at Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Seattle on Memorial Day

Posted by glennled on June 3, 2011

Veterans Memorial Cemetery, photo by Thad Westhusing, http://www.thadsworld.net

Picture 5,000 white marble markers on the graves of veterans interred at Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in north Seattle on the grounds of the larger Evergreen Washelli Cemetery. Imagine at least 700 people gathered there for the 85th Annual Memorial Day Celebration. That’s what happened Monday, 30 May. “Ya shoulda been there”–such sights to see and sounds to hear! I especially enjoyed the prominent role of music in the celebration.

It began with a prelude concert by the 50-member Symphonic Wind Ensemble from Seattle Pacific University (SPU), conducted by Gerry Jon Marsh. Among the pieces they played was a patriotic march, a well-loved overture, and an uplifting medley of the anthems of the five military branches. First, John Philip Sousa’s magnum opus, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” stirred the crowd, as it always does. In fact, it is so popular that in 1987, Congress made it the National March of the United States.  As Sousa wrote in his autobiography, ” … Suddenly [while aboard ship returning from Europe to New York in 1896], I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distant melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.”

Then came the 1812 Overture, written in 1880 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to commemorate Russia’s defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812. At this battle, there were an estimated 100,000 casualties. Napoleon won a Pyrric victory and then captured Moscow, facing little resistance. The Russians had burned part of the city, and Napoleon’s army was weakened, its resources depleted and its supply lines overextended. Without winter stores, the army was forced to retreat. From mid-October through December, it faced several overwhelming obstacles on its long retreat:

Seattle American Legion Post 1 Commander Francis "Frank" Albin. Photo by Greg Gilbert, The Seattle Times

frigid temperatures, famine, harassing cossacks and Russian forces barring the retreat route. Napoleon abandoned the army in December. By the time it reached the relative safety of Poland, the Grande Armée was reduced to one-tenth its original size.

On 20 August 1882, seventy years after the battle, the overture debuted in Moscow in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Marsh says that Tschaikovsky opens the overture with the Russian hymn, “God Preserve Thy People,” and returns to it near the ending when the music depicts God’s intervention in the invasion, causing unprecedented severe winter weather to decimate Napoleon’s seemingly invincible French army.
 

The  SPU ensemble also played a medley of five military anthems in tribute to each branch and those who served in them: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Veterans in the crowd stood to the applause of the audience when their anthem was played.

The first Memorial Day ceremony at Evergreen Washelli (the Makah Indian word for west wind) occurred in 1927. Marsh says that the SPU ensemble has played at each of these ceremonies for more than 15 years. Students get class credit for doing so. They are required to perform community service once a school quarter, and this event satisfies that requirement for spring quarter. “They enjoy doing it,” he says. For more information about instrumental music at SPU, visit http://www.spu.edu/depts/fpa/music/mus_homepage.html. Since 1985, Marsh has also been the Musical Director of the Cascade Youth Symphony Orchestras (see www.cyso.us/). In 1998, Marsh was inducted into the inaugural Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) Hall of Fame.

Cooperman Rope Tension Drum, Civil War era

Also performing was the SPU Drum Corps, under the direction of Dan Adams, using authentic drums from

Cavalry bugler, Civil War Gold Proof, U.S. Mint

the Civil War era. These rope tension drums have calf skin drum heads, says Marsh. The Drum Corps was featured during the Parade of Colors. As a clinician, Adams has presented workshops on drumming of the Civil War. For more information on such drums, see www.cooperman.com/ropedrums/civilwar.htm.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, two SPU trumpeters played an echo version of  “Taps.” A history of “Taps” can be found at www.tapsbugler.com. For a complete history you can order “Twenty-Four Notes That Tap Deep Emotions—The Story of America’s Most Famous Bugle Call” by Jari Villanueva at www.nationalcivilwarbrassmusic.org/GiftShop. Next year, 2012, marks the 150th year since the composition of “Taps” during the Civil War in July, 1862.

On Saturday, 16 July, there will be a special ceremony at the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery to honor the six Medal of Honor recipients who are interred at Evergreen Washelli (see www.washelli.com). They are Lewis Albanese, William C. Horton, Harry D. Fadden, William K. Nakamura, Robert R. Leisy, and Orville E. Bloch. On that day, I am honored to be scheduled to sound “Taps,” the most sacred duty of a bugler.

2 Responses to “Taps, Sousa, and Tchaikovsky at Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Seattle on Memorial Day”

  1. Dan Adams said

    Nice article Glenn and thank you for the drum corps mention. I have 10 rope
    tensioned field drums and 4 bass drums in my personal collection that we use
    at SPU. Five of the field drums and one of the bass drums is Civil War Era,
    one drum is very early 1800’s vintage. I restored these old drums to their
    original playable condition with calf heads and gut snares. I also have a Cooperman
    Colonial drum and a Carroll “Eagle” drum in the collection. The rope drum
    picture in your article is a replica Civil War “Contract Eagle” drum. Cooperman
    does a great job of making these drums.
    Dan Adams, SPU Director of Percussion Studies

    • glennled said

      Hi, Dan,
      thanks for the additional, fascinating information. It makes the whole experience of watching and listening to those young adults play those old drums extra special. It makes it extra special for them, too, I’m sure. We can imagine ourselves as drummers and buglers in the Civil War! I love this cross-generational stuff about American history which we share at Memorial Day celebrations all across the nation…gives me hope.
      Glenn the Trumpet Tutor

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