November 21, 2013

Music fit for a myth

Symphonic Band honors memory, legacy of JFK

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — “In Memoriam — John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963” was the perfect theme for the SUNY Plattsburgh Symphonic Band’s concert Friday, the 50th anniversary of the slain president’s death.

The first half of the program features “Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy” (1960) by Leonard Bernstein, “Highlights from Camelot” (1960) by Frederick Loewe and “Elegy for a Young American (1964) by Ronald Lo Presti.

Symphonic Band Director Daniel Gordon was a toddler when Camelot died, but as he came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the grassy knoll, Dealey Plaza, Texas School Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby all entered his lexicon.

At the heart of the matter was JFK. Who was he? What was so special about him?

“The word that gets bandied about is he had charisma,” Gordon said. “I don’t know what that means. It’s a combination of all these things that was a factor. He was young, he had this glamorous life and these little kids running around the White House, which was unusual for the American White House. His dynamic speaking style, all that stuff, created a kind of optimism in the American people. It comes to that intangible quality of charisma. By complete, objective standards what he accomplished as president did not merit the legendary status.”

When Gordon conceived the idea of a JFK concert, he went to Feinberg Library to bone up on voluminous biographies and articles to get behind the man’s mystique. Gordon also saw it as a teachable moment for his students, but first he had to get a handle on “Jack.”

“Historians rank him as an above-average president,” Gordon said. “His reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that he was assassinated. Stuff like that didn’t happen in this country. It happened in Yugoslavia or remote places where they fought all these wars all the time. It was a real shock to the American psyche, and two days later, Oswald was killed on national television. It was a loss of innocence for the American people. Because of that and his vision for the space program, people wanted to pay tribute to him and carry on his legacy.”

The second half of Friday’s program features “Where Never Lark or Eagle Flew” (1992) by James Curnow, “An American Elegy” (2000) by Frank Ticheli, and the second and fourth movements of “Symphony No. 3 ‘JFK’” (2000) by Andrew Boysen Jr. The latter work features violinist Gabrielle Beauregard and boy-soprano Mason Miller.

While building Friday’s program, Gordon realized Nov. 22, 1963, and its aftermath was as far removed from his students as he was from World War II.

“I have always believed you choose the right music for the right occasion. That’s when music is the most meaningful and the most powerful,” he said. 

Over the semester, there were many JFK teachable moments for his students.

“There are certain events we all should know about as American citizens,” Gordon said. “Assassination of a head of state is a big deal.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "In Memoriam -- John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963" performed by SUNY Plattsburgh Symphonic Band under the direction of Daniel Gordon. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday. WHERE: E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: Free.