Log In

Reset Password
Columnists View from the Center Bear Smart The Travel Troubleshooter Dear Abby Student Aide Of Sound Mind Others Say Powerful solutions You are What You Eat Out Standing in the Fields What's up in Durango Skies Watch Yore Topknot Local First RE-4 Education Update MECC Cares for kids

A musical tribute

The heart of last week’s Southwest Civic Winds concert was “American Elegy,” by American composer Frank Ticheli. It was more than an appropriate choice. The concert, “Legacy,” paid tribute to the late Mark Walters, co-founder of the Winds. Walters died last March 6.

Since earning his DMA from Arizona State University in 1997, Walters had been a key figure in the Durango music scene. He was professor of music at Fort Lewis College. For 23 years he performed with the San Juan Symphony as principal clarinetist.

Eleven years ago, Walters and Ruth Katzin summoned regional musicians to create a symphonic band. Walters served as artistic director and conductor until a stroke felled him in 2019. The ensemble now numbers 48 musicians and presents two formal concerts a year plus other smaller offerings, especially in summer. Co-founder Katzin continues to play flute in the band.

For the final concert of the 11th season, Artistic Director Jared Wright chose the tribute program, mixing works Walters himself favored plus some surprises. Wright opened with a grand march, the kind of piece that serves as an overture for many symphonic bands. Works by Percy Grainger, Shostakovich, and Leroy Anderson followed.

Anderson’s familiar pieces such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Typewriter” and “Bugler’s Holiday” got many outings under Walters’ baton, as they represent the cream of lighthearted symphonic band music. Wright, however, uncovered one Anderson work as a surprise. “Clarinet Candy” showcased the 16-member clarinet section in a dazzling display of technique, something Walters, a premiere clarinetist, would have enjoyed.

Throughout the 90-minute concert, different musicians remembered Walters with short anecdotes, from his regular, smiling “Pay attention,” to a story about Coda, a beloved canine mascot.

But the emotional and musical core of the concert was Ticheli’s “American Elegy.” Originally commissioned after the Columbine Massacre in April 1999, the work was first performed by the Columbine High School Band as part of memorial ceremonies a year later. “Elegy” is an 11-minute anthem that begins in darkness, a barely audible hum in the low brass. Gradually, that darkness rises through two different modalities: a lyrical main theme stated first by the horns and countered by simple repeated patterns, notably in the percussion section. Those musical ideas intertwine and build toward a moving, anthem-like ending that includes an off-stage trumpet solo. Magically, musically, “Elegy” expresses sadness, serenity and hope.

That was the musical gift the Southwest Civic Winds gave to our community in its fall concert. Wright introduced the work by eulogizing Walters and quoting John Donne: “No man is an island.” Through tears, Wright dedicated the work and the entire concert to Walters, his mentor, friend and fellow musician. The ethereal, offstage trumpet solo, played by Chris Ross, added poignancy to the moment, and at the conclusion, the audience seemed momentarily stunned.

Earlier this year, on Feb. 8, composer Ticheli, 66, conducted his own farewell concert at the University of Southern California, Thornton. After 32 years on the music faculty and hundreds of compositions later, he conducted many works, including another elegy, “There will Be Rest.” Composed for a friend whose toddler son had been killed in a car accident, the choral work was one of many Ticheli compositions based on loss.

“When you offer music as a gift, as a commemoration, music can help us to heal in ways that words alone can’t,” he said In a USC article about his farewell concert. “It takes us to a place that only music can touch.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.