Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Concord Band “Flights of Fancy” Honors Women in the Air Force

The Concord Band’s March 8, 2014 Winter Concert theme is Flights of Fancy, but it could just as well be “award-winning.”

In January 2014, the Concord Band received a national award for community bands, the Sudler Silver Scroll Award, presented each year by the John Philip Sousa Foundation to one or two bands in North America that have “demonstrated particularly high standards of excellence in music presentation, and have played a significant and leading role in the cultural and musical environment in their respective communities."  One of the pieces Music Director Jim O’Dell has chosen is Aerial Fantasy by the contemporary Maryland composer Michael Mogensen who was nominated for a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for that composition.  Rhode Island composer and Concord Band favorite Roger Cichy wrote Wings Across America in honor of the World War II era Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. The WASPs received the 2010 Air Force Association Lifetime Achievement Award, although an award they never received was GI benefits and they were not even acknowledged as Veterans until 1977. Whether ferrying military from one location to another, test flying aircraft, flight instructing or towing target for artillery practice, the women of the WASPs carried out their assigned duties with courage, guts, and skill and served as role model for later women astronauts and USAF pilots.

Guest Artist Lewis Buckley
Lewis Buckley, retired conductor of the US Coast Guard Band, is a composer and trumpet soloist while he conducts the Metropolitan Wind Symphony.  Lew arranged Dixieland Live! on commission from the Concord Band and played the trumpet part in the Concord Band’s Dixieland ensemble that was featured at the Concord Band’s 50th anniversary concert in 2009.  He returns as trumpet soloist on March 8 to perform two of his own compositions for trumpet.  Originally called Bell-Flight, Buckley renamed his 1980s composition A Tribute to Doc in honor of trumpeter and band leader Doc Severinsen.  Buckley wrote it for a Coast Guard Band trumpet soloist and said that he renamed it, “because it was Doc’s great playing that inspired my younger years and the style of the piece.” Buckley’s Yellow Rose of Texas Variations were also written for a Coast Guard Band soloist, this time a euphonium player.  Following the form of the famous Carnival of Venice variations, the piece is designed to display the soloist’s virtuosity.  Because the piece is so popular, Buckley has arranged it for various other soloists including trumpet, which will give Buckley a second opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity to the appreciative Concord Band audience.

A native and resident of Hagerstown, MD, composer, arranger, conductor and French horn player Michael A. Mogensen (b. 1973) is an alumnus of the music schools of James Madison University and Ithaca College.  Commissioned by The United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C., Aerial Fantasy is a work inspired by the thrill and exhilaration of flight.  According to Mogensen’s program notes, music stands as one of the ultimate expressions of human emotion and spirit, and few fantasies evoke more excitement than flying through air and space.  He says that Aerial Fantasy utilizes a variety of musical elements to symbolize the concept of flying. Ascending motives, quick tempi, energetic rhythms, and soaring melodies and countermelodies all contribute to the desired depiction.  The music concludes in dramatic and invigorating fashion, encompassing in his words “an awesome display of speed, power, precision and agility—characteristics synonymous with America’s magnificent Air Force and with every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Women Airforce Service Pilots
The same characteristics Mogensen mentions apply to the WASPs and Cichy’s composition, Wings Across America.  Cichy said “I chose this topic primarily because these women were a huge inspiration during a very challenging time in U.S. history. I think this is a perfect story to put to a musical setting”.  Following a celebratory fanfare to the WASPs that opens the composition, the work dramatically turns to America at war and the need for all Americans to contribute to the war effort in some form or another. The musical textures become very martial in demeanor reflecting the military training of women preparing to become WASPs. From rigorous advanced flight training, advanced ground schooling, company drills and physical conditioning, Cichy uses a variety of musical devices to portray this period. Melodies made up of bugle calls, march-like textures, and an embedded Morse code repeating strand of WASP (• –  –    • –    • • •    • – – •) are all employed to characterize the WASPs in training.  At various times during the piece, Cichy throws in short paraphrases of “The Air Force Song” or “Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder” as short reminders of the capacity in which these women were willing to serve.

Composer Roger Cichy
Cichy’s reminders and tributes in Wings Across America are in sharp contrast to some of the ways that WASPs were overlooked in history. Although the training they received was nearly identical to what male Army Air Force pilots received and they reported to military commanders, WASPs were civilians (albeit with their own distinctive uniforms) and received 2/3 the pay of male pilots.  Records of their service were classified “confidential” and filed away in government archives for 33 years, and they were not eligible for military benefits or honors.  Of the 38 WASPs who were killed in accidents during the two-and-a-half year life of the WASPs, one WASP’s parents received an official telegram of her death:  “Your daughter was killed this morning. Where do you want us to ship the body?”  In 1977, Congress passed legislation acknowledging the WASPs’ service and making them military veterans eligible for benefits.  The Concord Band honors these women with its performances of Cichy’s and Mogensen’s compositions.

The Concord Band’s Flights of Fancy concert will be held at the Performing Arts Center in Concord, Massachusetts, at 51 Walden Street on Saturday March 8, 2014, at 8:00 pm.  In honor of those now serving in the Air Force, active duty USAF personnel will be admitted free.  Others in the Hanscom AFB community may attend for half price.  Tickets are available at the Concord Band website www.concordband.org or at the door and are $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

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