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Finding solace in Copland’s ‘Lincoln’ after ‘Wartime’

Jamie Paisley
Kevin Sedatole leading the MSU Wind Symphony in rehearsal of Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait'

Two American pieces anchor the MSU Wind Symphony's January 31st concert at the Wharton Center, Aaron Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait' and David Del Tredici's 'In Wartime.' Both of them deal with America during times of turmoil: The Civil War and 9/11.

In this Tuesday’s concert with the MSU Wind Symphony, there is a major contemporary work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici. The piece is called In Wartime. As rehearsal began, a young man who assists with getting word out about MSU College of Music concerts made a bit of a common misconception: "your first concert, there's a lot of 'war stuff,' going on…" 

This well-meaning and earnest student is spearheading outreach with a local Michigan Veteran’s group. A very noble endeavor, to be sure. However, after the student’s departure, MSU Wind Symphony director Kevin Sedatole soon made a bit of a correction to the ensemble playing Del Tredici’s In Wartime, and it was something they already knew: "This concert is not about War..." a reply which brought some laughter from the students who have been studying this piece for weeks.

"The whole point of the concert" says Sedatole "was to be American and to point out really terrific things about our music making and the fabric of our music making. But the keystone piece of the concert is the David Del Tredici's 'In Wartime,' which was composed the year after 9-11. It is supposed to depict, at least in Del Tredici's mind, what was happening as he was watching everything play out on TV as the United States went to war with whoever we were warring against. I still think that's kind of a question mark. At the time, it was Iraq, but that has all changed, and the whole point of doing the piece now, is to say 'Well, some of these things are still are in play.'

Del Tredici, in the piece, he doesn't pit one against the other. He's trying to show two sides and how they do intermingle - Kevin Sedatole on the 9/11 inspired 'In Wartime'

"And I don't really think that Del Tredici, in the piece, he doesn't pit one against the other. He's trying to show two sides and how they do intermingle, and so we have kinda the western, Christian point of view in the opening movement where he used the hymn tune 'Abide With Me' and this beautiful music. Just masterful orchestration and really unique compositional style, but it all revs into a fury to the very and leaves us, right at the very end, with a single solo snare drum roll. That weaves us into the second movement, which is called 'The Battle March,' and ultimately uses what once was the Persian national anthem - it is no longer that way. It's a beautiful movement and it has a lot of sorrowful angst to it, but also takes on kind of a repetitive process emulating the repetition of the Islamic prayers, where the same thing is said over and over and over again. It takes on those characteristics, for sure. He never pits one againstt the other. He never does that. The music is in turmoil, for sure, and revs into this very climatic ending, that only leaves us with a question mark, which is the whole point. Because at the time of his writing, there was no end, and there still is no end. That's why I chose to go ahead and do it now. It's meaningful."

Kevin Sedatole, director of the MSU Wind Symphony, talking about the keystone work of this Tuesday’s concert at the Wharton Center. A piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer David Del Tredici, and written in reaction to September 11th called ‘In Wartime.’ After that storm and stress of the Del Tredici, for the remainder of the concert, Sedatole wanted a piece that was more healing but still by an American: "Copland, with 'Lincoln Portrait.'"

To Sedatole, "Lincoln's words are so poignant, right now. They could not be more poignant that right now. I don't even need to explain that. Everybody understands what I mean. But if you really read what Copland used from Lincoln, particularly the end, which is from The Gettysburg Address. It couldn't be more meaningful to our circumstance, right now."

The only real purpose is to keep people thinking and where music can move people in certain ways. - Kevin Sedatole

But even with that suggestion of contemporary applications of Lincoln’s words as chosen by Aaron Copland, Sedatole avoids using Lincoln Portrait as a civics lesson for his students. "Honestly, I don't. I think, again I'm working with graduate students, many doctoral students that I feel … I don't feel like it's my role to do that. I think that it's already suggested by the choice of repertoire and the fact that, I mean, they know the words. They can hear them. The only real purpose is to keep people thinking and where music can move people in certain ways. So, if we get a discussion going about the subject matter? Great! It's wonderful. But that is why I put the Copland behind [Del Tredici's 'In Wartime.'] It's like 'Okay. Everything's going to be okay. Let's keep these things in mind."

The narrator of Tuesday’s rendition of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the MSU Wind Symphony is Richard Crain, president of the Midwest band and orchestra clinic, but for Crain and Kevin Sedatole, their relationship goes way back. "He's also my High School band director. Mr. Crain's 83. and he has a voice... it's a golden tone and he's done this piece many times, but I'm like, you know what? I'm going to take this opportunity to do this. So, he'll bring a lot of passion to it, I think. It'll be one to be remembered, I think."

Kevin Sedatole and the MSU Wind Symphony will perform a concert of music by American composers, this Tuesday night January 31st. Among the selections are David Del Tredici’s 'In Wartime' and Aaron Copland’s 'Lincoln Portrait' at the Wharton Center in East Lansing. More information at music.msu.edu.

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