My research for this piece took me to Marine Barracks, Washington, DC, where I attended morning drill practices for The Evening Parade on August 13, 2010. The power of The Silent Drill Platoon’s performances comes from flawless, unison execution, each Marine handles his 10.5 lb. M1 Garand rifle with fixed bayonet, in masterly, spectacular display utilizing no verbal commands or cadence.
Through the graciousness of my hosts, The United States Marines, I learned, metronome in hand, that they march between 58-84 beats per minutes. While it seems a rather odd to pair the work of a New York jazz composer with a USMC ceremonial performance ensemble, this juxtaposition feels both natural and powerful to me. After all, jazz, America’s music, was founded on the fusion of cultural, iconic elements, far and wide.
While the purpose of my trip was to observe The Silent Drill Platoon in rehearsal and performance, I was also afforded the opportunity to attend rehearsals of The President’s Own String Ensemble under the direction of Major Jason Fettig, and The Army Blues Jazz Ensemble rehearsal in Fort Myer, VA.
At The Marine Barracks Annex rehearsal space on August 12, 2010, while sitting within The President’s Own ensemble during rehearsal for a performance at The White House, I was afforded the vantage point of one of the players under Major Fettig’s artful baton, while having a bird’s eye view of the bass parts from over the players’ shoulders. They rehearsed the beautiful and wrenching Symphony No. 2 by Arthur Honegger, for string ensemble and one trumpet. This piece was composed while Mr. Honegger maintained his residence in Paris in 1941 during occupation and is frequently referred to as a “war symphony” as it depicts aspects of World War II from his perspective. The coincidence of hearing this selection while I was in town to research The Silent Drill Platoon for my piece commemorating September 11, 2001 was another gift of this excursion, imprinting the importance of my further investigation of this work.
Following this rehearsal my long-time friend, Liesl Whittaker, now lead trumpet player with The US Army Blues Band, picked me up outside Marine Barracks in order to attend her rehearsal in Fort Myer, VA, in their rehearsal facility adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. During a working lunch of sorts I brought Liesl up to date on the reason for my trip to the DC area.
As an observer in The Army Blues rehearsal I was happily in my element with this outstanding jazz ensemble. It made me realize that the right instrumentation for Stand was indeed the jazz orchestra. After hearing part of their rehearsal I was invited to conduct some of my works, which was a privilege I will never forget. Their polished skills afforded me performance-level sight reads of my arrangement of Jobim’s Sabia’ as well as my pieces Remembrance and Santa’s On His Way, which I sang with them.
Through this research I am honored to say that The President’s Own has officially archived my original works, Elegia (for nine brass) and Santa’s On His Way in its permanent library, while The US Army Blues Band has archived my arrangement of Sabia’ and Now Baby Or Never, and my originals, Remembrance and Santa’s On His Way in its library.
Following the Army Blues’ rehearsal Liesl thought it important for me to spend some time in Arlington National Cemetery, which was a welcomed surprise, as it seemed she read my mind. On a hot, humid day, armed with her bugler’s pass for the cemetery, she escorted me to a number of sections. One of the most heartbreakingly devastating sections at Arlington is Section 60, Active Duty; the hallowed ground where our fallen heroes are laid to rest upon their ultimate sacrifice while actively serving our nation.
This visit brought home the realization that my piece, Stand, would necessarily pay homage to the fallen heroes whose graves I visited, and on a broader scale, to all who have ever served and sacrificed any aspect of their lives, ranging from peacefully, sound sleep to the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their lives for the principle of freedom.
Because Liesl had looked up the schedule of funeral ceremonies to be held that day, I was able to observe a full honors Army funeral from a strategically inconspicuous and respectful distance, with her narration.
She explained all aspects of this very solemn ceremony designed to honor the deceased and his family. In this ceremony, a firing team of seven, shot three “volleys” or rounds. Three rounds per soldier by seven soldiers amounts to twenty-one rounds fired. While this is not a “Twenty-One Gun Salute” (as I learned through said research) it is indeed the highest honor, as such salutes go. The difference between this and the former can be found through an online search.
Our next stop was a trip to The Smithsonian Museum of American History where Liesl had seen an extensive “9/11 Exhibit.” We found that the comprehensive exhibit had been truncated significantly. However, the impact of my suddenly seeing the large photos on display and a piece of the twisted steel from one of The Twin Towers was enough to make me sob uncontrollably, to the extent that I had to turn my back for a bit to compose myself. While it was extremely difficult for me to see, it succeeded in bringing all those feelings to the surface again. Fortunately it wasn’t until the following morning that I met with The Silent Drill Platoon, which seemed to take all that raw emotion and forge it into something palpable. I am deeply grateful to Liesl Whittaker for taking the time to provide a perfect, guided tour to assist my creative pursuits.
While writing this piece, I am cognizant of many meaningful details and am giving them consideration as I forge ahead. To date, following my instincts seems to have brought me to an exciting juncture as a composer and rendered me a profoundly grateful citizen with a revitalized appreciation for the commitment and sacrifices made by all service personnel. I am, of course, personally grateful to my friend SFC Liesl Whittaker, US Army, Major Jason Fettig, The President’s Own and to The United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon personnel.