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Groups combine in an unusual salute to the American spirit

September 27, 2012 12:00AM

Pittsburg State University will present "Tragedy and the American Spirit," a moving musical performance in two separate venues at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, in Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium and First United Methodist Church. The performance is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

The PSU Wind Ensemble will begin the performance in Memorial Auditorium.

“The program speaks to the great resiliency of Americans in the face of sometimes unspeakable tragedy,” said Craig Fuchs, director of the ensemble and a member of the PSU Music Department faculty. “Whether it is the Joplin tornado, the terrorist attacks in New York or the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Americans turn their sorrow into triumph and that is what these musical selections celebrate.”

The Wind Ensemble program includes “Skysplitter,” a recent work by composer Vincent Oppido, completed after he watched a July 4 fireworks display; “Testament,” David Maslanka’s response to the 9-11 terrorist attack; and “Pastime,” a salute to baseball by American composer Jack Stamp.

Col. Lesley Bryan Shelburne, former director of the U.S. Army Band, will be the guest conductor for the Wind Ensemble’s performance of a John Philip Sousa march. The ensemble will conclude its portion of the evening with “America the Beautiful.”

Following the Wind Ensemble performance, the audience will be invited to move across the street to the First United Methodist Church for a performance of  “The Other Side of Storm,” by PSU alumnus Hubert Bird. This is the second performance of the work, which Bird composed in response to the Joplin tornado.

“It was important to me to bring this work to my alma mater,” Bird said.

“The Other Side of Storm” will be presented by members of the PSU Chorale, the Southeast Kansas Symphony and the Pittsburg Community Middle School 7th and 8th Grade Chorus.

Bird said in the days following the Joplin tornado in 2011, he was haunted by the images of the damage to his hometown and by thoughts of those killed and injured in the storm. As he watched volunteers flock to the city to help first with recovery and later with rebuilding, he thought of what he could do to help. Bird said he was encouraged by a longtime friend, Col. Lesley Shelburne, to use his talent as a composer to write a piece that would help heal the community.

That piece was presented for the first time in Joplin in 2012 as part of the city’s commemoration of the first anniversary of the storm and was conducted by Shelburne. Shelburne is returning to conduct this second performance of “The Other Side of Storm” in Pittsburg.

The featured soprano for “The Other Side of Storm” will be Sarah Elizabeth Williams, a native of Oklahoma. Williams is a versatile soprano who is gaining acclaim for her performances throughout the central and midwestern U.S. Williams is a graduate of the University of Missouri - Kansas City with a master's degree in vocal performance.

Dr. Hubert Bird was born in Joplin and attended school in Baxter Springs. He earned three degrees from PSU: a bachelor’s degree in music, a bachelor’s degree of music education, and a master of science degree. He went on to earn a doctorate in music from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

From 1967-1997, Bird was on the faculty of the Music Department at Keene State College of the University System of New Hampshire. His professional life as a composer, conductor, and tenor soloist has brought Bird recognition both nationally and internationally. His compositions are performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and South America each year, and his works have been professionally released on both compact disc and cassette tape formats.

©2012 Pittsburg State University

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