Nov. 17, 2014 --
Lieutenant Colonel Jason K. Fettig drew inspiration for his first educational recording as the Marine Band’s Director from an unlikely source: a one-eyed Revolutionary War tanner named William Billings. Noted historian William Bentley called Billings the “father of our New England music” due to his prolific and patriotic compositions. More than 150 years after Billings died, composer William Schuman wrote New England Triptych using Billings’ lyrics and musical styles. Fettig used the name of the first movement, “Be Glad Then, America,” as the title of the recording, the Marine Band’s 30th in its series of educational discs (cover, pictured right). The CD includes Schuman’s New England Triptych; John Williams’ “For ‘The President’s Own;’” Jonathan Elkus’ transcription of Memories, Very Pleasant and Rather Sad: A Charles Ives Song Set featuring mezzo-soprano Gunnery Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo; Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Songs; Vincent Persichetti’s Psalm for Band; and a new Marine Band transcription of the finale to Aaron Copland's monumental third symphony.
“The collection of music on this recording comes from sources that span the entire history of our nation, from the Revolution to the present,” Fettig said. “While the style, language, and musical influences of each work in many ways diverge on their surfaces, they are bound together at their core by a vivid and inescapable sense of the indelible spirit of America.”
The recording marks the first time a Marine Band vocalist has been featured on an educational recording since “The Bicentennial Collection” in 1998. “This recording presented the perfect opportunity to include the Ives song set that was transcribed specifically for the Marine Band by Ives scholar Jonathan Elkus at the request of 27th Director Col. Michael Colburn,” Fettig said. “These songs speak to the heart of what this entire collection of American music represents.”
Gunnery Sgt. Dell’Omo is very familiar with this set of songs. She has already performed them on the 2007 national concert tour through Ives’ home state of Connecticut; the Conductors Guild Conference in Baltimore and the MENC National Conference in Milwaukee, both in 2008; the 2011 American Bandmasters Association Convention in Norfolk, Va.; and, most recently, at the Marine Band Directors’ Change of Command concert this summer. “This set itself is unique to our organization,” she explains. “All of these songs are found in Ives’ 114 Songs, but as individual pieces. This specific set was chosen through a collaborative effort between Col. Colburn, Mr. Elkus, and myself.”
Although the songs were originally written with piano accompaniment, Dell’Omo feels privileged to sing Elkus’ adaptation of them with the Marine Band. “Ives captures a charming quality with these art songs, without taking himself too seriously. They are reminiscent of his childhood and are a unique blend of nostalgia and childlike whimsy.” One of the whimsical elements features the soloist whistling, which presented Dell’Omo with a challenge. “In Memories: Very Pleasant the lyrics say, ‘We whistle and we hum, beat time with the drum,’ and then the singer is supposed to whistle for about 8 measures. Try as I might, I cannot whistle. Thankfully, Mr. Elkus wrote it into the piccolo part, so you will hear the notes but they aren’t from me.”
Her favorite part of the songs are Ives’ use of quotes from liturgical hymns. “It’s like uncovering hidden treasures within the music,” she said. “The best example of this is heard in ‘Things Our Fathers Loved.’ Ives uses the old hymn ‘In the Sweet Bye and Bye’ as a part of the melody. It reminds me of my own upbringing and singing those great hymns in church.”
“Although we have not typically recorded vocal solos in the past, Sara sings these difficult songs beautifully, and I felt as though it was the right time to add a new and exciting color to our educational recordings,” Fettig said.
The Marine Band produces recordings for educational purposes and to enhance the public affairs and community relations programs of the Marine Corps. The recordings are distributed free of charge to educational institutions, public libraries, and radio stations. Because appropriated funds are used, they may not be distributed for private use and are not for sale. Educators, librarians, and station managers may request that their educational institution, library, or radio station be added to the CD mailing list by contacting Marine Band Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.