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Sousa, Walton, Hagen…


When the Class of ’63 met to discuss our parting gift to the school, I offered this suggestion: that we select a contemporary American composer and commission a march. Not just any march. The “Argo Community High School Graduation March.” Classmates had tolerated my eccentricities for three and one-half years, but this went too far.

I had imagined someone like Walter Piston, Vincent Persichetti, or William Schuman accepting such an odd commission; all of them had written work that our own band had played (or tried to). I also imagined them taking on the project for next to nothing, for its sheer unconventionality. And what would we have got for our investment? Something unique, but also the start of something new. The reaction to my proposition wouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“But ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ is traditional!” they replied, a chorus of conservatives. It mattered not that Sir Edward Elgar’s composition had, in its time, been new and unconventional; that it, too, had made the imperceptible shift from innovation to institution. So we gave the school a scoreboard for the swimming pool–which I suspect shorted out on a regular basis and has long since been consigned to the scrap heap of antique technology.

It has taken me forty-four years to scratch that itch. But let Howard Tabor tell us about it. Here’s his column from The Plantagenet of October 27th, 2007.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

A World Premier

Anyone not at the Agincourt Sesqui-Centennial celebration Thursday night missed many things: spectacular catering by Green Market and Vandervort’s Bakery; the late but ceremonial arrival of Claire Tennant’s dollhouse; the reverie of an entire community and the curiosity of our wondering guests. But most of all they missed the world premier of a new work of music by New York composer Daron Aric Hagen.

The 150 Committee decided (unanimously) that our celebration required the punctuation of music and they set about finding a composer willing to tackle a sesqui-centennial fanfare. Because he had written an opera based on the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Daron Hagen became our candidate, a fellow Midwesterner who might be sympathetic to our regional sensibilities. He was willing, even downright enthusiastic to take on the commission.

He asked the 150 ccommittee what we had in mind. Our response? “Mucisk for His Majestie’s Sackbutts and Krumhorns,” was the immediate and unanimous reply we emailed him. Unknown to us, he had already written a work based on Medieval themes, so this was a welcome opportunity to revisit familiar musical territory. The result was five minutes of brass and bravado, ably rendered by Neil Mueller and twelve other musicians assembled for the evening. The Plantagenet lacks a music reviewer (or one for theater, books, art or anything else that isn’t sport!), so it befalls me to render the experience of Hagen’s “Agincourt Fanfare” (Opus 99) into words.

I once played the French horn in the high school band but, alas, never learned to read music. So I asked Neil to describe what he saw in the printed score. “A little chorus; a little chaos” was his thoughtful reply and on hearing the work I must agree. It’s an American work, to be sure, in the company of others that have so capably portrayed us in sound. But I’m disinclined to invoke a list of familiar musical names, for this is Hagen and none other. Think of it, rather, as a brief musical meal of several short courses. Moments of minty piquancy, followed by more languid sections of sweet and savory sound, like caramelized onion. It lingered long on the palate as the last notes ricocheted about the room. Foolishly, we had failed to arrange for the performance to be recorded, a mistake that cries out for remedy a.s.a.p.

It was impossible to appreciate Hagen’s work outside the context of other previous Agincourt commissions. Organizers of our fiftieth anniversary in 1907 enlisted the talents of John Philip Sousa (whose “March to Agincourt” has been sadly neglected in recent years, as Sousa himself has been). And the 100th anniversary went much farther afield, presuading the elder statesman of British music Sir William Walton to step briefly out of retirement for his “St. Crispin Suite,” adapted from the film score for Sir Lawrence Olivier’s “Henry V.” And now Daron Hagen has set the tone for our next fifty years, offering simultaneous reflection and perspective.

Since I won’t live to see our bicentennial, what music do you suppose will punctuate that night? The works of Sousa, Walton and Hagen set a high musical standard.

Thanks, Howard. I couldn’t have said it better. And thank you also Daron Hagen for adding such meaning to the moment.

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