We Are Met at Gettysburg Program Notes

 

I. Honor and Sacrifice (composed by Amy Scurria)

II. Wounded Fields (composed by Steve Heitzeg)
III. The Last Full Measure (co-composed by Heitzeg and Scurria)


From The Civil War News

Minnesota & Pennsylvania Composers Produce 'We Are Met At Gettysburg'
By Deborah Fitts
Feb./March 2003



PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Minnesota Volunteers at Gettysburg is the inspiration for a new musical composition for full orchestra commissioned jointly by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra.

The world premiere of the 18-minute piece, "We Are Met at Gettysburg," was performed Jan. 4 in Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Family Concert series. Aimed primarily at young listeners, by the end of March it will have been performed more than half a dozen times in Philadelphia and Minnesota.


 



The piece was prompted by Richard Moe's 1993 book The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers. The history concludes with the regiment's rendezvous with destiny at Gettysburg July 2, 1863, when fully 82 percent of the men were
casualties - the highest percentage in a single engagement suffered by any Union unit during the war, according to Moe. [Editor's note: See review of Brian Leehan's book about the action in this issue.]



Gary Alan Wood, the Philadelphia Orchestra's education director, said a visit to the battlefield in the summer of 1999 planted the seed. Wood was en route to his new job in Philadelphia after serving in the same capacity for the Minnesota Orchestra, and decided to stop at Gettysburg to satisfy an interest in history.

Hunting for a Minnesota connection, Wood soon found himself at the Minnesota monument, a few yards from the Pennsylvania Memorial. Here on the afternoon of July 2, the Minnesotans were thrust into a gap in the Union line in a desperate bid to stop a Confederate assault.
Though badly outnumbered and decimated, they stalled the southern juggernaut long enough to hold the line.

Wood said about 15 people were gathered by the monument to hear the story of the Minnesotans' charge. A man at the back showed him Moe's book. "Read this," he said. Wood did, after arriving at his new job in Philadelphia.

"The story of people coming from all over the country and fighting and dying at Gettysburg was so compelling to me - the image of Minnesota blood shed on Pennsylvania soil."

To signify "eternal union," Wood hit on the idea of the two orchestras jointly commissioning a piece, using two composers - one from each state. Asking two composers to work together was "very unusual," he said.

The Minnesota Orchestra chose Steve Heitzeg, a successful, Emmy-winning composer from Minnesota whose work often focuses on the natural world and man's impact on it. "I knew he would be inspired by the place, and what it means for the country," Wood said.

The Philadelphia Orchestra chose Amy Scurria, at 29 an "emerging" composer from the Philadelphia area."I needed two people who I knew would be willing to work together in a harmonious way," Wood said. He had them meet for the first time at Gettysburg, in September 2001, where they spent the day walking the battlefield and planning their composition.

Scurria wrote the first movement, imbuing it with "very stirring" sounds of battle. Bullets from the battlefield rattled in a can were among the percussion instruments.

Heitzeg's second movement is "serene, contemplative - a testament to the ground," Wood said.

The third movement, written jointly, concludes with a children's chorus singing a wordless melody "that quietly dies away and leaves you thinking," Wood said. "It's very powerful."

Moe, who has served for the last 10 years as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, attended the premiere, spoke to the youngsters in the audience, and participated in a round table discussion with the composers. He plans to return to his home state of Minnesota in March for the premiere there.

The composers succeeded in telling the battle story, according to Moe. "History can be interpreted in so many ways," he said. "The composers went to Gettysburg and sat on the steps of the Pennsylvania Memorial and talked this through. They got a real sense of it. It was wonderful. It was very evocative of what I thought happened there."

Moe said the composition spoke to "the importance of learning history through place."

Wood hopes that listeners "will be touched by history, and will realize the sacrifice and the personal nature of that event. Music can transport us to places. We can't all go to Gettysburg, but the music can get us there."

A Web site links students in the two states together and includes information about the battle, the composers and other educational materials. Excerpts of the music are also available for listening on the site, at www.philorch.org/imaginations/wearemetatgettysburg.

 

© 2020 by Amy Scurria.

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