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Classical 101

Central Ohio composer honors Vietnam veteran

A conductor stands in front of an orchestra while the musicians play.
Jennifer Hambrick
Russel Mikkelson rehearses the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Denison University composer Ching-chu Hu's 'Please Remember Me.'

A new musical work honoring a fallen central Ohio soldier will be premiered when the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra performs Home of the Brave, the first concert on its 2022-23 season.

Dennison University music professor Ching-chu Hu’s work Please Remember Me sets a poem that Newark native Danny Crothers wrote while serving in Vietnam. Also on the program is Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, featuring a video projection of historical photographs, along with performances by seven professional actors. Copland’s iconic Fanfare for the Common Man and John Williams’ orchestral arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner are also on the concert, which will take place Sat., Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Newark’s Midland Theatre.

Russel Mikkelson, the music director of the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra, says a Memorial Day 2020 news story about the Licking County Library’s Veterans Project inspired the commission for Hu’s new work. The news story mentioned that the Veterans Project’s online database includes a poem that Marine Lance Corporal Danny Crothers, who was killed in combat in Vietnam, wrote while standing guard, then sent home to his mother.

“I got inspired by that,” Mikkelson said. “We should set this to music with voice and orchestra or narrator and orchestra. And I thought, this can really connect with our community and be a really special opening to our season.”

The Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra commissioned Hu to set Crothers’ poem to music. The resulting musical work for tenor soloist and orchestra, Please Remember Me, received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.

“Ching-chu has composed for the Newark-Granville Symphony before and is such a thoughtful composer that we just thought he would be the right composer for this particular commission,” said Susan Larson, executive director of the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra.

Crothers’ poem offers a glimpse into the mind of a soldier on the war’s front line.

“The structure of the poem is one that’s comparing the comforts of home that (Crothers) felt his family and his friends and the community of Newark, Ohio, and Ohio and America [had], versus the grim reality of violence across the world that he is facing,” Hu said.

Lurking beneath the poem’s surface, Hu says, is also Crothers’ awareness that he might not ever return home.

“As the poem goes, and as the piece goes, for me – I think he’s acknowledged the fact that he’s not coming back,” Hu said. “That’s the journey of the poem for me, that’s what I discovered in the words.”

Mark Thress, a tenor soloist and OSU graduate formerly on the faculty of Nashville’s Belmont University, will sing the text of Crothers’ poem. Thress says preparing to perform Please Remember Me has struck a personal chord with him. He has heard his grandfather’s stories about serving as a medic during World War II. And while working for two years in a music therapy program for veterans in an oncology center, Thress heard about the wartime experiences of other veterans – including Vietnam veterans.

To have the opportunity to sing something so special was emotional for me,” Thress said. “I think (Crothers’) words ring true. Please Remember Me is so powerful because oftentimes we don’t realize the legacy that we may or may not leave behind. And it’s kind of scary to think that what we do here on earth may or may not be forgotten. And so this is a very powerful story.”

Mikkelson says he sees Hu’s Please Remember Me as a companion piece for Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which he had been looking for an opportunity to present to the Newark-Granville community.

Boyer’s work joins orchestral music and video projections of images of early 20th-century New York City with spoken monologues drawn from immigrant stories preserved by the Ellis Island Oral History Project. The piece ends with the entire cast performing Emma Lazarus’ 1883 sonnet “The New Colossus,” the poem on the plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

“It’s very heartfelt, and the seven stories are so compelling, along with the pictures and the video that’s happening above the orchestra, and of course the music,” Mikkelson said of Boyer’s work. “That just seemed to be so apropos of what our county is.”

Home of the Brave will not be performed in connection with any particular American holiday. And Susan Larson, executive director of the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra, says that’s precisely the point.

“I think it’s a perfect time to celebrate our active and retired veterans. We should be celebrating their service throughout the year, not just on Veterans Day,” Larson said. “It’s a powerful message, it’s something that will be meaningful, we think, to our entire community, and it’s very important to do, no matter what time of year.”

The Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra performs Home of the Brave, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Newark’s Midland Theatre.

Classical 101
Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.