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Posts Tagged ‘Tchaikovsky’

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.

Posted in Ceremonies & Celebrations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Holiday Pops with Cirque De La Symphonie, Seattle Symphony

Posted by glennled on December 14, 2009

Yesterday, my wife and I returned to Benaroya Hall in Seattle with two close relatives to attend the annual Holiday Pops concert. This year the Seattle Symphony was accompanied by the Cirque De La Symphonie. Their seven artists performed incredible “circus” acts while the symphony played music by Leroy Anderson, Ralph Vaugh Williams, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Schubert and others. Our unanimous favorite act was that by Alexander Streltsov, aerial artist, to “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert, arranged by Carmen Dragon. It was a spectacular sight and lovely sound. The combination of Schubert’s music and Streltsov’s movements, poses, and soarings was a magnificient interpretation of what it must have meant to be Mary, mother of Jesus, Son of God. Our second favorite artist was Christine Van Loo, also an aerial artist, who performed twice. Her first act was accompanied by “Walking in the Air” from “The Snowman Suite,” by Howard Blake, arranged by Tony Osborne. Her second was performed to “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. Both were superb.

For this performance, the brass section was composed of four trumpets, four French horns, three trombones, and one tuba–I counted. Boy, can they take over, with solid, powerful punch and depth, whenever the conductor wants them to!

I believe the classical orchestra is a signal achievement of western civilization and culture. Can you think of any other culture that has produced any comparable organization for the performance of its music? The variety of orchestral instruments is amazing in itself. And the variety and complexity of music which they can collectively produce as a group is unique–the range of expression of the western orchestra cannot be found anywhere else in the world. And the composers who write music for the orchestra–these are the highest artists on the musical totem pole, in my opinion.  The composers are the creators. They are the best of the best, and their best works last for centuries.

Yes, the orchestra is limited. Like anything else created by humans, it cannot do everything, cannot fulfill every need and desire. And all other cultures have produced unique, expressive music, some of it utterly fantastic. However, their groups, their musical organizations, their genres, also are limited–and I contend they are much more limited than the western orchestra in their variety of sounds and expression of human experience. Orchestral music demands the highest level of mastery from all its pieces and parts, from the composer to the conductor to the musicians to the instruments to the concert halls. As you know, I love bands–marching, concert, pep, dance, jazz, any kind of band. But to me, the western classical orchestra is king–I tip my hat in salute to the orchestra.

Posted in Professional Concerts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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