Could there have been a more perfect beginning as Symphonicity's new Music Director & Conductor? This masterful creation by Adolophus Hailstork was an anthem that, for me personally, represented both halves of my world. Music + Service is a combination that I know all so well.
In 2016, when I was a candidate for Symphonicity's Music Director & Conductor position, the orchestra agreed to commission a new work from local (but internationally renown) composer Adolphus Hailstork. This piece was intended to open the 2017/18 season under the baton of Maestro David S. Kunkel's eventual successor.
Upon being selected by Symphonicity, accepting the position and leaving the active-duty Air Force to move to Hampton Roads, I was delighted to see the orchestra had commissioned this work by Hailstork and that it was a tribute to "those who serve" like me and so many others. I was completely unaware of this prior planning.
I also knew that Maestro David S. Kunkel was a Navy veteran, that the Symphonicity board was led at the time by Board President, Col (ret.) Rebecca Brown, and that the orchestra was full of many others who currently serve or who have served in uniform. Meeting our audience members only multiplied these connections to service. And transferring to the Air National Guard to continue my own military career while simultaneously assuming the my new role as Symphonicity's conductor seemed anything but fortuitous!
The below was an essay I published in the Virginian-Pilot soon after my arrival and in promotion for my first concert. It talks about the nature of this masterful work by Adolphus Hailstork and what it means to me amidst a life and career in service.
An unheard song to those who serve
Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork III is an internationally-known composer for operas and symphonies, among other forms, and has been recognized with many national and academic achievements. Virginia Beach is lucky to count him as a local while he spends time here serving as eminent scholar and professor of music at Old Dominion University.
Symphonicity commissioned him to write our season opener, a piece that has never been heard before, that reflects the attributes of our extraordinary region. The result is "To Those Who Serve," a grandiose overture that pays a musical tribute to the largest single community within our community – our military.
Why the military? With every passing jet, the reason probably sounds abundantly clear. In addition to having the largest Naval base in the world, Hampton Roads marks the 250th Anniversary of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard this year.
Our entire region is woven with every branch of the U.S. military, both active duty and veteran members. We are a community of service through-and-through, and it seems fitting to fashion a piece of music about it.
But how does one write an orchestral piece of music to represent this?
For one, this piece has a military sound of drumbeat cadences and a fanfare of trumpets. This signature military music sound began in the days of Turkish military bands. Even France's King Louis XIV used music in a similar way to intimidate the enemy.
The U.S. Army in its earliest days used such instruments to signal battlefield movements, as there were no radios or satellites. But in Hailstork's piece, I also hear the Air Force fighter jets in the swirling velocity of the strings, and I can hear the fortitude of the Marines through a relentlessness of rhythmic meter.
You may even hear the Coast Guard through a manner of steady sweeping chords that pass by at the peripheral, keeping close watch of the orchestra's harmonic borders.
Most of all, you will hear the U.S. Navy. First it is faint, with small bits of a tune you are certain is familiar, but which is never offered so familiar that you can recall its origin.
Finally, after a tense harmonic battle of pitches, you hear it emerge with unmistaken victory and clarity. Yes, that is the Navy hymn – "Eternal Father, Strong to Save!" – soaring over the flourishes, the drumbeats, the fanfares, and the clashes is this glorious hymn, presented in such perfect form that you can sing along with it. Before long you are swept up by the majestic orchestration and held suspensefully by the very end on a bright, patriotic chord that waves high in the air like Old Glory itself.
Having served as an officer with the U.S. Air Force before taking up my new post as Symphonicity's music director, I'd say Dr. Hailstork accomplished his mission. "To Those Who Serve" is a triumph and worthy of our salute.