June 21, 2024

Wilson travels to D.C. to present epic works on 9-11


September 11,2004 will be a patriotic day for College of Eastern Utah choral director, Russell Wilson. Instead of the 9-11 patriotism that most recognize, Wilson’s patriotism comes from his epic presentation called “Memorial to Heroes” to be performed that day in Washington D.C.’s Daughters of American Revolution Constitutional Hall, located next to the White House. The presentation will be narrated by Utah Sen. Orin Hatch.
Wilson leaves Thursday to begin rehearsals with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and 275 singers in one of the nation’s premiere concert halls in preparation for the Saturday, September 11 performance.
This is the third time he has conducted this work that centers around the Revolutionary War. He collaborated with author Ron Carter to write a musical score for Carter’s “Prelude to Glory,” a seven-volume history of America during the Revolutionary War. Carter’s first volume was published in 1998 and says his books are a history about courage and sacrifice, of commitment to freedom and faith.
In his books, Carter transported readers from the 1770s to witness key episodes of the Revolutionary War, starting with Lexington (where the “shot heard around the world” was fired). Through characters like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Benedict Arnold, he focused on the perspective of the common folk as America’s destiny unfolded.
Carter began his quest for finding a musician to compose the words and music to his epic in 1999. He teamed up with Wilson after one of Wilson’s former students told him about the talent of the former CEU choral instructor.
“Ron called me out of the blue one day and asked me to read his ‘Prelude to Glory’ series,” Wilson said. He was looking for someone to set the epic works to music with the hopes of it being performed by choirs and orchestras throughout the United States one day.
After spending three days reading the first 605-page volume, and consequently the next three, he was ready to begin composing.
Wilson spent three years writing the words and music. He has spent the past two years re-working some of the work, tightening and shortening the score so that it can fit in the 90-minute presentation. He spent his summer vacations, late nights and any extra hour he could muster to compose the 18 movements.
Not necessarily in the sequence of the novels, Wilson let his imagination and emotions dictate the words to the songs and music. He used an earlier experience of visiting the Vietnam Memorial and its seemingly endless lists of names lost in the war to create the 16th movement titled “In Memoriam: the Fallen.”
He said it was a little avant garde, but had the choir recite the names of the first 2,500 soldiers lost in the war in one minute and 41 seconds. “It builds like a pyramid but is very powerful and different. I hoped to take the audience out of their comfort zone.” When he presented his epic in April 2004 at the Price City Civic Auditorium, he said the audience was in tears as the names were read. “They had never heard anything like that before and it seemed to make the audience very emotional as the list continued to get longer and louder.”
Wilson is excited to work again with his former boss at Utah State University, Will Keslinger, during the D.C. performance. “When I was an instructor at USU, Will was head of the department. He is now at the University of Florida heading up a much larger department.” Keslinger will conduct the performance, which is sponsored by Classic Concerts International with headquarters in Florida. His singers are from California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.
Wilson said 170 congressmen and women have reserved seats for the performance with the dignitaries including Vice President Dick Chenney. The concert hall will seat 3,200 people for the sold-out performance.
“This performance would not be possible if it were not for the college’s support,” Wilson said. “The college helped finance my transportation and housing. And for this I am extremely grateful.”
“I’ve spent five years preparing for this day with seven drafts written. My reward is simply watching and hearing the players and singers perform. The world is a better place when you create something so beautiful.”
Wilson sums up his love for composing with a quote by John Roderick, “I write because I cannot not write.” He feels he is compelled to write and loves mixing his teaching at CEU and composing his works. “I can’t see myself not ever doing both.”