If you need an loud shot of adrenaline to celebrate the arrival of summer, listen to the “1812 Overture” during the finale of the annual Salute! concert.
The 135-year-old composition — complete with actual military cannon Howitzer blasts for the 15th consecutive year — returns Friday when the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic performs its annual Memorial Day weekend tribute to the armed forces.
The concert, at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans next to the Bartholomew County Courthouse, gets underway at 7 p.m.
It isn’t easy for any orchestra in any community to obtain military Howitzers as a percussion instrument, Philharmonic music director David Bowden said.
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Luckily for Friday’s concertgoers, the Philharmonic has a behind-the-scenes ringer. Its development director is retired two-star Air Force General Mark A. Pillar.
Although it has been almost nine years since he worked for the undersecretary of the Air Force, Pillar maintains a long list of contacts at the Pentagon, Bowden said.
While obtaining the twin M119 105mm Howitzers for Friday’s concert is one thing, Bowden said synchronizing real cannons with live orchestral music is another.
Luckily for the Philharmonic, cellist and orchestra arranger Dan Powers has handled the two-beat delay to achieve synchronization plenty of times in the past, Bowden said.
Musical, other firepower
Under the coordination of retired U.S. Army Major and current Cummins Inc. employee Wayne Baker, concert-goers will hear a lot more than big booms Friday night.
Two hours before the concert starts, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter will land at about 5 p.m. near the Cole Apartment complex in an area between First and Second streets, Pillar said. The well-known military aircraft will remain on display until taking off during the intermission to head back to its Shelbyville base, he added.
Also on display next to the Cole along Jackson Street will be a number of medium tactical vehicles used by today’s military, as well as a military inflatable boat.
Key military personnel responsible for obtaining these displays include Staff Sgt. Ashely Westfall and Capt. Jessica Cates of the Indiana National Guard, Baker said.
Along with the tradition of having military Howitzers as part of the percussion performance, what has made the annual concert stand apart from other celebrations is that organizers have steadfastly resisted the temptation to substitute contemporary hits for what music historians call “American Standards,” Pillar said.
That term describes the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Marches from John Phillip Sousa will both start and end Friday’s concert. George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and “Music Man” composer Meredith Willson have spots in the program. And Indiana will be represented by Indiana-born composers Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter.
This year’s concert theme will be the wartime loss and suffering felt by grieving friends and families left behind, Bowden said.
“War exacts the same price on the loved ones as it does on the fallen,” Bowden said. “We need to recognize this.”
Vocalist Sarah Pankratz will touch on the theme with Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” as well as Sammy Fain’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” — which still has the power to stir up bittersweet memories 80 years after it premiered.
As Fain’s classic is performed, excerpts from letters written by Bartholomew County servicemen who never returned home will be read by Kathy Bayless, a speaker who can “express with a dramatic nature that draws you in,” Bowden said.
Special recognition will be given to Columbus native Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, a test pilot killed in 1944 who became one of 38 women to die in service during World War II.
The Philharmonic director said there will also be an exceptionally moving arrangement of “Let There Be Peace On Earth” featuring vocals by two-time Grammy Award winning artist Sylvia McNair, who has been friends with Bowden since their college days at Wheaton College in Illinois.
“There will be very few dry eyes in the audience,” Pillar said.
Bowden feels a strong personal and emotional attachment to this year’s theme. Next month, he will travel to Arlington (Virginia) National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., for the burial service of his father-in-law, Donald Sjaardema, who served as a B17 Bombardier and a POW in Germany during World War II.
Shortly before his death at the age of 94, Sjaardema was finally convinced to break more than 70 years of silence and write down the horrors he experienced, Bowden said.
“We wanted to understand, but he didn’t want to talk about it,” Bowden said. “I told him his grandchildren need to know what he went through.”
Here’s a snapshot of the military equipment that will be on display during Friday’s Salute! concert, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans, next to the Courthouse.
M119 105mm Howitzer
- Unit: Military Department of Indiana Ceremonial Unit, Howitzer Section
- Sgt. First Class Brandon Ledbetter
UH-60A/L Black Hawk Helicopter
- Unit: 38th Combat Aviation Brigade
- Lt. Col. Matthew Robert Handy
Medium Tactical Vehicles/Zodiac Raft
- Unit: Delta Long Range Surveillance Company, 151st Infantry Regiment
- Sgt. First Class Joshua Chenault
Originally commissioned for a cathedral celebration in Moscow, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky fashioned the “1812 Overture” to depict Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812.
One interesting historical fact is that Tchaikovsky knew he had his government’s resources available to him during the premiere 1882 performance. If he didn’t, the composer never would have called for actual cannons to be used, several music historians said.
Parking restrictions will be enforced Friday afternoon on State Road 46 between Franklin and Brown streets in Columbus for the Salute! concert on the lawn at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., motorists will be routed from eastbound State Road 46/Second Street to First Street. The south lane of westbound State Road 46/Third Street will also close at that time. Restrictions should be lifted by 11 p.m.