Celebrating the Greatest Generation

Sep 1, 2015 | Life

[title subtitle=”Words and image: courtesy Fort Smith Symphony “][/title]

In the summer of 2013, Fort Smith Symphony Music Director John Jeter was in the process of programming the music for the symphony’s 2015-2016 concert season. With John’s interest in world history, it occurred to him that the year 2015 marked the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. It seemed fitting that a concert commemorating this epic world event was warranted. But what to do? Most musical tributes to the war are “patriotic pops” concerts that are entertaining for sure, but far from the thoughtful experience John had in mind.

A chance phone call (again in the Summer of 2013) with Pulitzer Prize nominated composer, Michael Schelle, led to a discussion about his upcoming projects.  “I am finishing some chamber music and then getting started on my big World War II orchestra piece,” Michael said.  “What? A World War II piece. Are you joking?” John asked, and then he said, “We are looking for a substantial new work about the war.”

By the end of the conversation, John had agreed to help commission the work and give the world premier in Fort Smith, which will be held on October 3, 2015, at 7:30 pm, at the ArcBest Corporation Performing Arts Center. The program, also including music by Aaron Copland and John Williams, now had all the musical moments in place for a soulful evening of exciting orchestra pieces.

But that wasn’t enough. They wanted to carry the event outside the concert hall. John and Michael came up with a plan to do a series of visits to Fort Smith Public Schools and UAFS on the week of the concert that would focus on modern music and the effect war and conflict have on music and art. The artistic plans were fitting as tightly in place as rivets on a B-17!

John hoped that further elements could be added. This summer, he was reading Alamo in the Ardennes, an excellent account of the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, by internationally renowned World War II historian and author, John McManus. At a brief glance at the acknowledgments, John noticed that the author was a professor at the University of Missouri in Rolla. John thought it would be great if John McManus could come to Fort Smith and give a pre-concert lecture on World War II. And so he decided to send him an invitation to speak and do a book signing. The author responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” As it turns out, he is a classical music enthusiast. The subject of his latest book corresponds with the first movement of Michael’s  World War II piece. The second movement of Michael’s piece corresponds with his next literary project currently in the works. The list of coincidences and “ah-ha” moments with this concert goes on and on. It’s a meant-to-be event you won’t want to miss.


Do South Magazine

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