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SMC performance remembers civil war, 9/11

| Monday, September 14, 2015

Friday night in Saint Mary’s Little Theatre, music brought to life the tragedy of the Civil War. Performed by a guest soprano, a string trio, pianist and the Women’s Choir, William Averitt’s work, “From These Honored Dead,” musically tied together Civil War hymns, quotes and poems.

According to the performance program, the piece was commissioned in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Throughout the week, Averitt worked with the musicians and the Women’s Choir in preparation for the performance, director of the Women’s Choir Dr. Nancy Menk said.

“It’s an appropriate piece for this day [9/11] in history, but was actually written to commemorate the end of the Civil War,” Menk said. “It is moving and heart-wrenching at the same time.”

Before the performance began, Averitt spoke to the audience about the structure and arrangement of the piece. The work is divided into three sections each dealing with a theme of the Civil War, and each section has four movements with a similar layout of quote, poem, hymn and instrumental movement, he said.

“You probably think of the Civil War perhaps first as the tragic loss of hundreds, thousands, of men,” Averitt said. “But when we think of war, we don’t necessarily think of the women. Me, being a sort of contrarian, I begin each of the three sections with a quote by a woman of commemorable endurance during the civil war era.”

The quoted women include the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Red Cross founder Clara Barton and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. During the performance, solo soprano Laurel Thomas sang each quote, accompanied only by piano.

Averitt said, “The first movement deals with leading up to the war. Beginning with the Clara Barton [second] section, we deal with the tragedy, wounded and death itself that came so frequently. … The third section deals with the aftermath and focuses really on the Dirge [for Two Veterans] by Walt Whitman.”

Each section has a poem, with the first being Herman Melville’s “The Portent,” followed by Melville’s “Shiloh-A Requiem” and finally Whitman’s “Dirge for Two Veterans.” The poems are meant to be the centerpiece of each section, Averitt said.

The piece ended with all the musicians together performing Isaac Watts’ hymn, “O, Were I Like a Feathered Dove.”

“I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, but I hope you find things that move you,” Averitt said.

Before the start of “From These Honored Dead,” flutist Frances Lapp Averitt and pianist David Eicher performed Averitt’s piece “Darkling Light.” Averitt said the piece was written right before the composition of “From These Honored Dead.”

Saint Mary’s junior Gabrielle Jansen said she found the arrangement of the main piece to be unique and touching at the same time.

“It was a great performance,” Jansen said. “It definitely moved me. In a way, you felt more of the emotion behind the war and all the sad things … which brought back thoughts that can be applied to this historical modern day.”

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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