Kalispell composer Craig Naylor has three ambitious pieces on Gettysburg at 150: Music of the American Civil War 1863-2013, a recent CD commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of America’s homegrown war.
The compositions incorporate religious hymns that reflect various timelines in the war; they are wedded to original classical music that pays homage to little-known personalities behind the conflict. Naylor refers to the three pieces as “Unknown Heroes of the Civil War.”
His compositions are nestled among 10 jewels of music from that period, including “Oh Shenandoah” and “Ashokan Farewell,” performed by the Sunderman Conservatory Wind Symphony of Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA.
Naylor’s contributions begin with “Enduring Honor,” paying respect to the Episcopal tradition of Elizabeth Van Lew, an abolitionist who ran the Richmond Underground during the war. Of the two songs of praise used in the Naylor number, one was sung on the fourth day of Easter, the day when Virginia seceded from the Union, and one on Palm Sunday, the day Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
In-between those dates, Naylor depicts the battle: we hear the somber tap of a snare drum; a breath of quiet winds that segue into a march with snare accompaniment; the lightness of a piccolo answering the charge, belying the foreboding mood to come.
The stately melange of a chorale builds into a call to arms. The loud clap of drum and bold, moody brass transition to the glory of a full orchestra, back out quietly, mirroring the waxing and waning of the campaign.
Next comes the high call of a piccolo, mingling with hand shakers, in “We Are All Americans.” This segment simulates the eagle-bone whistle and Round-Dance rhythm in the Seneca tradition of attorney Ely Parker, who wrote the terms of surrender at Appomattox. Parker converted to Protestantism, and Naylor infuses this composition with an anthem sung at Parker’s funeral.
Naylor’s third piece starts with a hymn written by Leila Naylor Morris in 1899. (Naylor is not sure if he’s related.) It’s a tribute to John Washington, an escaped slave and Union Army officer, who, when called to by Union soldiers across the Rappahannock River in 1862, replied, “Yes, I Want to Cross Over.” It ends with the traditional and upbeat “Oh, Happy Day,” adding an uplifting gospel flavor.
The FVCC music professor is an active composer with many prestigious commissions to his credit, and he’s in demand for obvious reasons: he has a talent for spinning sensational melody lines into fine ear candy. This album was on the short list for the recent Grammys in classical music, and I say pick it up. If it leads you to learn more about the War Between the States, all the better.
Visit the artist at swanriverpress.com.
– Mariss McTucker