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UPFRONT: UNITED IN SONG

Josh Harris • September 2002 • September 1, 2002

One year after the September 11th tragedies, it’s noteworthy to look back at how the country’s music classes responded to the terrorist attacks that occurred on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning. Within a matter of weeks – and, in some cases, within a matter of days – music teachers and their students, all across America, brought their communities together in song. Some held impromptu candlelight vigils on the town football field, where friends and neighbors gathered to sing along with student bands and choruses. In many schools, students worked together on creating their own song to honor those who lost their lives and to express their pride and strength in the face of terrorism. Still other music classes paid tribute with a semester-long study of patriotic music, culminating in a rousing public performance of all they had learned.

Overnight, the singing and playing of patriotic standards like “God Bless America,” “America, the Beautiful,” and “The Star Spangled Banner” are striking a deeper chord, and it’s the country’s musical ensembles that are uniting the nation in song. Americans are rediscovering the power and beauty of patriotic music as students attempt to bring some solace and, if possible, some hope to a tragic situation.

At Great Neck North High School in Great Neck, N.Y., the September 11th attacks hit uncomfortably close to home.

 

“For Great Neck, being so close to New York City and having so many of our students’ parents working in Manhattan, near or in the financial district, it was particularly frightening,” recalled music teacher Joseph Rutkowski.

The school administration urged students and teachers to remain in their classrooms so that the office could notify them of phone calls from their loved ones, letting them know they were safe. As the morning progressed, Rutkowski kept his music classes in session.

“I told the students that if they did not feel like playing, they could just sit,” Rutkowski recounted. “The rest of us played through our warm-up and then worked on our repertoire. The intercom in the room kept ringing to send messages from parents to their children that they were alright and on their way home. We were very fortunate at Great Neck North. We did not lose a single parent in the tragedy. We did lose two alumni.”

A month later, the annual faculty recital was dedicated to the victims and heroes of September 11th, he added. A Toronto, Canada, Tri-M Honor Society chapter sent Great Neck’s area chapter a “very lovely letter of sympathy,” which they had sent to all the Tri-M chapters in the New York metropolitan area, Rutkowski said. Several students from Great Neck North responded to the letter. This year’s school calendar identifies September 11, 2002, as “Great Neck Public Schools Day of Reflection.” Although Rutkowski is unsure of what will be scheduled for that day, he has already compiled a package of patriotic music for the bands to play, if requested.

In nearby Torrington, Conn., a community-wide concert titled “A Patriotic Concert for Children and Families” memorialized September 11th.

“The concert was to help children cope with the feeling of fear and insecurity as a result of September 11th,” noted Wayne Splettstoeszer, band director at Torrington High School.

The musical effort brought together student and professional groups, including the Nutmeg Ballet, the Torrington Public Schools Combined Chorus (comprised of elementary, middle and high school singers), the Torrington High School String Orchestra, the Torrington High School Concert Band, and the Nutmeg Big Band-Conservatory for the Arts. Excerpts from the play, “Through a Child’s Eyes,” were performed by students from the Warner Center for Arts Education.

The concert culminated in a rendition of “God Bless America,” with all the performing groups and the audience participating, Splettstoeszer recalled.

Across the country in Lusk, Wyo., music students in the elementary and middle schools expressed their patriotism through music.

“Our Lusk Elementary Music in Our Schools Program in March was entirely a patriotic tribute to our country,” reported music director Debbie Rose. “Our Lusk Middle School Band and Choir performed more patriotic literature during the year, and also correlated many songs to our feelings about the attacks.”

At a February concert, for example, the concert included a special introduction to the Kim Spencer song, “With One Voice.”

“As time goes on, the American people have somehow found a new sense of patriotism, unity and determination to stand together in the face of adversity. The next selection carries an inspirational message – that people united with the strength of one voice can become strong enough to face the world together.”

On the west coast, at Fairfield High School in Fairfield, Calif., band director Russell Campbell incorporated patriotic music at each of the band’s concerts in a year-long tribute.

“At the recommendation of one of the college band directors, I programmed a patriotic selection for every concert and did a verbal announcement as to why it was programmed and how we should all remember the 9/11 tragedy,” Campbell said. “I don’t like to revisit negative events but rather prefer to keep things positive and think of ways to show our patriotism. I’m glad that Americans have a renewed vigor in supporting the flag and dealing with adversity. I hope that this new spirit in America will last for a long time.”

Patriotic Publications

The country’s music publishers have also experienced an increased interest in music titles that celebrate American pride and spirit. In the past 12 months, publishers surveyed showed overall patriotic music sales increases averaging from 3 percent, at Shawnee Press, to a whopping 90 percent, at David E. Smith Publications.

“The country seems in tune with the patriotic spirit,” noted Sandy Feldstein of Carl Fischer LLC.

Only one publisher, Trillenium Music Co., reported no increase in sales of patriotic titles.

As one might expect, the publishing companies with the largest patriotic catalogs saw the most demand from bands and orchestras.

But, in some cases, the size of the catalog mattered little in the presence of at least one good patriotic standard. According to Dennis Bell of Shawnee Press, which reported an overall 3 percent increase in sales of patriotic titles (“We always do well with them anyway,” he pointed out), one title from his company’s catalog outperformed the rest. Sales of “God Bless America” swelled by 167 percent, he said.

That patriotic favorite has also been a top seller at Hal Leonard Corporation, according to Paul Lavender, vice president of Instrumental Publications for Hal Leonard. In addition, many new patriotic pieces have been forthcoming from composers since September 11th, he noted.

“We have found that many of our band and choral writers felt inspired to compose new patriotic or inspirational music, and several of these pieces have now become part of our catalog,” he said.

As band and orchestra directors prepare to commemorate September 11th through song, music publishers anticipate continued requests for patriotic music.

“We expected and saw a sales increase prior to the Fourth of July, and we anticipate another in August as people prepare for the anniversary of this tragic event,” Lavender, of Hal Leonard, said in July. “The events of September 11th have renewed patriotism in general and have increased interest in patriotic music specifically because singing and playing songs about love of country is vital, unifying and cathartic. The terrorist attacks created an overwhelming swell of emotions that people need to express and music is a great way.”

At David E. Smith Publications, for one, the trend toward patriotic-themed concerts and performances has triggered new growth in that side of the business.

“We receive continual inquiries [for patriotic music], and we are planning to publish more patriotic pieces,” said David E. Smith.

 

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