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KC does it better: Kauffman Center and WWI Museum join in extravaganza

Dr. Matthew C. Naylor welcomes the crowd, invites it to visit the WWI Museum, and discusses some of what went into this production.
Dr. Matthew C. Naylor welcomes the crowd, invites it to visit the WWI Museum, and discusses some of what went into this production.Floyd E. Gingrich

A multi-sensory work to remember the war of 100 years ago

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Sunday evening, Helzberg Hall, the eastern hall of The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City hosted an artful remembrance of World War One, featuring music, photographs, and letters either from the era or appropriate to it.

KC Composer Blanche Gangwere (b. 1918)
KC Composer Blanche Gangwere (b. 1918)Floyd E. Gingrich

After a cordial welcome from Dr. Matthew C. Naylor, President & CEO of the National World War I Museum (in Kansas City) and an invitation to everyone to visit the treasure trove of memorabilia displayed there, the program kicked off with American composer, Aaron Copland's, "Fanfare for the Common Man." Jan Kraybill played the 113 rank Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Philip Clark, Brian Rood and Keith Benjamin played trumpet; the percussionist was Joseph Petrasek, timpani was played by Timothy Jepson, and it was conducted by Ben A Spalding. During the playing of the festive piece, photographs from WWI were projected on the giant screen upstage. Actually composed after WWII, it celebrates ordinary people who make factories function, run the economy, and fight our country's wars.

Dr. Kraybill played "Pomp and Circumstance Military March No. 1," Op. 39, by the English Elgar (1857-1934) transcribed by William Stickles. It's really a fun piece, particularly when the introduction is included, and the tempo is a bit more upbeat than the principal's trudging at your high school graduation. All during the program, photos from WWI were projected on the big screen depicting happy, sad and boring times of The Great War; these continued throughout the musical selections and readings.

The singalong had a special treat, Bryan Pinkall, who, last night in Los Angeles, participated in receiving an Emmy for his work on the opening of the Russian Winter Olympics. Yes, he flew to KC in time to participate in today's program. The audience was led through the American WWI son, "Over There," and "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile," a British contribution to the music literature of the era.

Dr. Kraybill played two movements from Symphony No.4 in G minor for Organ, Op. 32, of the French composer, Louis Vierne (1870-1937). The prelude was somber, without a tonal base. It expressed human sorrow, wasted cities, and fields of tombs. The Allegro hit with a bang. It was rather an acknowledgement that there was genuine sadness, but now the nation was packing up its troubles, and rebuilding what was lost.

A moving letter from the battle field was read.

Blanche Gangwere a nonagenarian Kansas City composer was present to hear Jan Kraybill play the world premier of her work, "Desolation." The brooding piece would be perfect interspersed with some of Walt Whitman's Civil War poetry. It was pure sadness, with no explanation necessary. Obviously a 20th Century piece, its atonality seemed totally appropriate with the photographs of WWI ruin that were displayed during the music.

A letter to the battlefield, telling of the death of the soldier's father.

Jehan Alain (1911-1940) was a French composer, expert motorcycle driver, and WWII courier who was shot dead performing his duty. Dr. Kraybill played Joies, from his Trois Danses, which begins with long, dissonant chords, but then alternates the sad music with an ironic dance tune.

The story of the Christmas Truce in 1914 was told, when German soldiers invited some British troops to join a simple celebration of the day, after which they resumed their jobs as mortal enemies. This telling was followed by a singing of "Silent Night," in both English and German, led by Bryan Pinkhall.

The finale was by French composer, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) "Poème Héroïque" Opus 33, played by Dr. Kraybill on the organ, the instrumentalists form the earlier fanfare, plus trombonist,Roger Oyster, Porter Wyatt Henderson, and Adam Rainey. It could easily describe the cacophony of a battlefield, followed by a hymnic section celebrating the sun that rises, no matter what. A good exercise is to play the music while adults and children draw with colored pencils to illustrate what the tune.

The entire presentation was so artistically put together, that audience members were free to enjoy their own thoughts evoked by the content. A well-spent evening.

Kansas City is home to the only World War One museum in the country.