Dedicated to "SSIM" and a much larger Story, that one day, must be told. This article appeared in the June 2019 Issue of "The Journal of the Association of Concert Bands".
“Never Forgotten” has been played around the world. People like it. In every language, people ask, “What’s it about?”
As a high school director during the 80s and 90s, I’d get to school early and challenge myself to write the warm-up for that day. This eventually led to the Function Chorales™, an important topic for another article, and very much connected to this one. “Never Forgotten” was never intended for publication. It was/is just one of many simple warm-ups written for the kids one school-day in 1985.
At some point prior to 2006, an honor-band Musician asked, “What’s this about?”
I said, “You know, I forgot.”
When one writes a piece called, “Never Forgotten,” and then forgets why it was written, there is a disturbance in the “storm!” I simply couldn’t remember, so I created a story to illustrate the Music. Even to this day, I tell the kids, “I’m not saying that this is what the piece is about, but it could be, couldn’t it? It’s Music, a voice for the silent, the wordless syllables of an eternal Poem.”
So here’s the approach. If I ever work with your kids, please keep this process and story secret!
We’ll read the piece, after which I’ll say, “Okay, that was Take 1. Remember it.”
To set up Take 2, I’ll ask the kids, “What do you think will improve this?” Many discuss understanding the meaning or “story” behind the Music. I nod inconclusively and then ask the students to please honor the following concepts. I’ll specifically list them, mentioning appoggiatura, the use of "purposefuls", my word for accidentals, and the topic for yet another article, modulation, and the nuances of phrasing and rubato.
Take 2. It’s improved. “Good. What do you think will make it better on Take 3?”
Prior to Take 3, I tell them a story. I ask them to picture a young Mother, perhaps from another country, sitting in green pastures at the foot of a gravestone. "It is the site of her 17-year-old boy. He was killed in some nameless war. This Music?… these are the Mother’s private, unspeakable thoughts.”
The baton drops… or at this point, the pen since I often avoid using the baton until the Music and the Musicians are ready. We play. Tears form in many eyes. Silence. Connection. The stuff of Music.
But then the moment is quickly interrupted with a question. “But you know, I wrote this in 1985, and to be perfectly honest, I forgot why I wrote it. And! Based on that last, albeit excellent rendering, I would still not remember!”
They look at me with nodded heads and furrowed brows.
“But one day," I continue to tell the kids, "I found myself crying. You see, I had remembered. How? Why? Deal. If we have Time before the concert tomorrow, (and we always do,) I’ll tell you what happened. Then you can leave here with one of the greatest lessons in Music!”
In 2006, I was at the Bruckner House in Linz, Austria for the premiere of “Last World Standing", a 33-minute work that received an 18-minute standing ovation. Conductor Karl Geroldinger had warned me in advance not to expect much from the otherwise reserved, austere Austrian audience. Ha! Karl played a warm-up with his ensemble. I was speaking with someone in the hall when I became eerily aware not just of the Music, but of my visceral, sympathetic response to it.
At first, I thought, “Wow, this is beautiful. What is this?” Then, I found myself in tears. I felt suddenly hollow. Alone. I trembled.
Unbeknownst to me, Karl was using “Never Forgotten” as a warm-up. He had been, all year. Without an expectation of any kind, I heard the Music as it was intended. I bowed my head to hide the tears… because I remembered my Grandfather, for whom I had composed that simple piece on that one otherwise nondescript school day. Even now, my eyes water as I recall the moment.
But WHY? Here now is the crux of this article… one of many possible “Articles of Enchantment".
From 1985 until that fateful day in 2006, I had never “heard” the piece, “Never Forgotten". I was always busy working the piece, using it as a Teaching Tool, consumed by troubleshooting its problems. For all those years, distracted by the mechanics of music-making, I no longer heard the Music. Now, with all guards down and with such fine Musicians playing it, the most important component of music-making was tacit. Because the Tuning and Intonation were Beautiful and Perfect, I heard the Music… not the notes.
The next day, I share this story with the kids and then jump right into Function Chorales™. ( stormworld.com/teaching_tools/ There is a free demo download on the bottom.) Across 44 years of international Teaching, the difference is always profound. When Tuning and Intonation are understood by means of providing a specific language and method to address and improve them, the most important path to Music-making is now possible.
We talk about the journey taken to arrive at Take 4 and Take 5, which is usually in front of an audience and finally with a baton.
It is NOW that I can successfully share ‘one of the greatest lessons in Music’ mentioned above. I ask them, “Why did the “story” not work, and only seduce us into thinking it was working? The answer? Because as Musicians we do not use emotion to make Music. We use Music to make emotion. We must, in some truly profound and giving paradox, commit ourselves to the interior workings of Music so that others will be brought to tears of joy.”
There’s much more to be shared!
Godspeed! Stephen Melillo
PS: Never Forgotten was eventually joined by 2 other Musical Haikus, "The Truth About Pirates" and "The 4th Year". These Musical Haikus were written as warm-ups for the SSIM kids in the 1980s. Now, they have been played around the world. They are known as "Three Musical Haikus for Band" from the STORMJourneys Chapter. They are inspired by, and forever dedicated to Beautiful people.