In a special tribute marking the centennial of the First World War, the United States Marine Chamber Orchestra will join forces with the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra in a concert titled “Remembering World War I: The Mintage of Man.” Guest curated by University of Maryland musicologist Dr. Patrick Warfield, the free concert will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 1, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland in College Park. The program will examine major concert works from the period and explore the conflict through music, poetry, and imagery.
Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig, Professor James Ross, director of orchestral studies at UMD, and Dr. Warfield collaborated to craft a program through narration, music, and projected imagery that will tell the story of America’s involvement in the war.
“We are trying to capture the conflicting emotions that accompany war: despair, heroism, nostalgia, hopelessness,” said Warfield. “The audience can expect to feel a wide range of emotions, and also hear music that is rarely performed together: ranging from elegies to pop songs.”
The program highlights works that were written during the war, pieces written specifically about the war, and obscure works that came to fruition during the conflict. The movement titled “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets will set the tone on the first half of the program. “This was war, our first world war. And there’s a real visceral darkness in Holst’s Mars—the Bringer of War—that sets the tone for this narrative,” Fettig said.
As with any war, there were differences of opinions and strong opposition within pacifist and isolationist movements resulting in anti-war songs such as the popular hit “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” by lyricist Alfred Bryan and composer Al Piantadosi. Mezzo-soprano Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield will sing this World War I era tune in which the lyricist meant to illustrate a mother’s point of view.
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier, I brought him up to be my pride and joy. … There’d be no war today, if mothers all would say I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.
According to Warfield, the program will tell the story about the shifting views and changing American sentiment. At the start of the war, many Americans saw the conflict as foolish and distant, and President Woodrow Wilson encouraged citizens to remain unbiased. In a message to Congress, the president said, “The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments.”
The country supported the president’s declaration of neutrality, but the war was complicated, and isolationist sentiment began to change as Germans started attacking commercial ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The shift toward involvement heightened following a tragedy in the Atlantic.
On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner sailing from New York to Liverpool, England. The luxury ship was completely submerged within 18 minutes, and approximately 1,200 people died in the attack. This attack facilitated a change in American public opinion from neutrality to readiness. Two works on the program were inspired by the event: Charles Ives’s “From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose” and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Catherine. Ives’s commemoration was based on his experience on the day of the disaster, and Bridge’s Lament was a tribute to Catherine, a 9-year-old girl and friend of the composer who perished on the Lusitania.
Soon the American people heard patriotic songs that stirred support for the war and the troops, including the immortal “Over There” by George M. Cohan. The New York Times called it “the greatest song of the first World War” and President Wilson considered the war song “a genuine inspiration to all American manhood.” Closing the first half of the concert will feature the tune with the familiar lyrics that were once heard far and wide and sung by grateful Americans.
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware -
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.
The second half of the program includes several works based on poetry including George Butterworth’s setting of A. E. Housman’s “The Lads in Their Hundreds.” Written in 1896, Housman’s words were a celebration of heroic deaths that would allow young men to “… carry their looks or their truth to the graves. … They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man; The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.”
Charles Ives’s “In Flanders Fields” was based on the poem by Canadian Army doctor John McCrae. The poignant lines in McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” also referenced young men who went to their graves during the war:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
“This concert will feel like a story,” Fettig said. “The drama of music coming from different parts of the stage and the audiovisual element will result, I hope, in a very special performance. It will be an unconventional classical music concert that draws people in to an incredible time in our history and will shed new light on the creation and meaning of some of the great works of classical music with which many people may already be familiar. And at the end of the program, through all the sacrifice and after the darkness and conflict, Jupiter—Bringer of Jollity—brings us to a sense of hope and perseverance.”
College Park, Md. -- The concert is free and no tickets are required. Highlights from “The Mintage of Man” will be available at www.youtube.com/usmarineband at a later date.