A Centenary Concert

Over 150 musicians took to the stage for “Armistice” at Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on November 11th, 2018 in celebration of the centenary of Armistice Day. This event, directed by Dr. John Wiles of the Varsity Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Stephen Galyen of Wind Symphony, highlighted music from all areas affected by the war as well as journals and letters from soldiers themselves. Featuring classic military tunes as well as new compositions, this concert brought hope for peace and understanding of veterans to the audience while honoring those in the nearby towns who served.

“Old Orientation - Disorientation - New Orientation.”

That’s how John Wiles describes his thoughts in creating this concert. Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day in most of the world, celebrates the “eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” when the Allies and Germany signed a ceasefire agreement, marking the beginning of the end of World War I.

Often referred to as Veteran’s Day in the U.S., this holiday has evolved from a celebration of peace to acknowledgement of fallen soldiers, not without chagrin from people like Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote “Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.” 

In shifting the view from celebrating veterans, the concert focuses instead on the horrors soldiers experienced while at war, on the memories of those fallen, and the hope for a more peaceful future. Wiles shares more about the process behind the scenes below. “About a year or so ago I read ‘The Guns of August’ by Barbara Tuchman, which prompted [reading] many other books on WW1.

At the same time, I was looking through the university archives searching for information on the Glee Club when I stumbled upon an Armistice Day concert that the university held soon after the war's end. I thought it might be an interesting intersection given the anniversary of Armistice Day."


John Wiles acknowledges the audience's applause at the end of Glee Club's "Silent Night" performance.


"GBPAC staff and artistic staff began meeting in late Spring '18. We discussed the format of the concert, the overall flow of the concert, and how to stitch multiple things together... To be honest, most of what happened was done in my office as the music began to come together.”

One unique piece to this concert was the interspersed poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, performed by Erika Bailey.  The poem tells of the soldiers who died in Flanders, Belgium, where one of the first chemical attacks occurred. When asked about how she got involved, Bailey was in the right place at the right time. “Basically, the lady who ran the concert [Sandy Nordahl, GBPAC Technical Services Director] reached out to theatre department to ask someone to speak - I was asked and available, so I said yes!”

Coming from a military family, Bailey was excited to take part in the concert and got to rehearsing as soon as she could. “Once I got the text, I read the poem as one unit.  I looked at a lot of images from Flanders Fields and researched WWI stories, battles, and events that happened. Through that process, the words became memorized and that was it!”

 

 

Erika Bailey performing a section of

"In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae.


Other parts needed to come together to actually have the concert - like the music. The two ensembles, Mens Glee and Wind Symphony, had multiple rehearsals - both meet on Mondays and Wednesdays individually for two hours, and there was one joint rehearsal a week prior to the event to pull everything together.

 

Members of Glee Club rehearse the unique arrangement of "Silent Night". 

Alex Tjelmeland (left) and Aaron Unash  (right) perform "America the Beautiful".


 

As of now, no future Armistice Day concerts are in the works, but that doesn’t mean events like these are in short supply. In May of 2019, be on the lookout for the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, featuring multiple UNI choirs and the orchestra. Follow their Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UNIChoirs for updates.