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Corps commissions symphony for New Orleans

MARINE CORPS TIMES - (Feb. 4, 2008) -- Some of the most grizzled Marines have worried in recent years that the Corps was getting away from its “expeditionary roots.”


Story by Andrew Tilghman - Marine Corps Times Staff writer

Well, wait until they hear about the new “symphonic music composition” the Corps is commissioning.

This is not the first time the Corps has commissioned a work of music. But it’ll probably be the first one with hints of jazz, blues and zydeco — a musical mix evoking the city of New Orleans.

Marine Forces Reserve, based in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, is seeking a composer to write a 10-minute piece “musically capturing the spirit of the City of New Orleans in an anthem of rebirth following the Hurricanes of 2005,” according to a formal solicitation issued by the command’s contracting office.

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Smith, director of the Reserve command’s 50-piece wind ensemble, said, “We’re looking for a piece that will paint a musical picture of what this city went through during the storm. I’d like you to be able to close your eyes and envision the storm and hear in the music how people came through it together.”

“It may have many flavors and undertones — from jazz to rock to fusion,” Smith said. “Music in New Orleans had a long, long and grand history. And we need somebody who has knowledge of that and what the city was like before the storms and after the storms.”

Expected to cost about $10,000, the composition is one more way the history of the Corps is intertwined with one of the nation’s oldest cities.

“The people who make up this command also make up the people of New Orleans,” Smith said.

Hurricane Katrina struck the city in August 2005, displacing several thousand Marines, their families and civilian workers. (Hurricane Rita made landfall in Louisiana in September, sending more floodwaters into the city.) Floodwaters broke several massive levees, destroying entire neighborhoods and flooding the first floor of the command’s headquarters along the Mississippi River.

Like hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents, members of the command — which oversees nearly 100,000 reservists — spent several days scattered across the region until they finally regrouped in Fort Worth, Texas, at the 14th Marines’ headquarters. For months, they slept in hotels and set up laptop computers wherever they could find space — including picnic tables and children’s school desks.

Some administrative units were temporarily posted in Kansas City, Mo.

It took about four months for the command to regroup in New Orleans.

“There was a phased approach. Just like when you deploy and redeploy, we phased back into New Orleans,” said Capt. Erin Wiener, a public affairs officer who was among a group that returned about two months after the storm.

The 89-year-old command building sustained minor damage to its roof and has been fully restored.

Since the Corps is looking for music that evokes the city and the storm, the musician selected for the project is likely to be a local.

“It’s not limited to, but what we’re looking for is someone who knew New Orleans before the storm and has knowledge of it after the storm,” Smith said.

“It’s probably going to be somebody close, somebody who has been a part of the city before it happened and knows what it was like for the evacuation,” Smith said.

The wind ensemble will debut the composition later this year, possibly as part of the three-year commemoration of the storm and flood, Smith said. Afterward, the music will be available to school band directors and parade organizers across the country, with the expectation that any program notes will attribute the piece as “commissioned by the United States Marine Corps Band.”

At the time of the hurricane, Smith was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, leading his band members on a more traditional Marine Corps mission — combat patrols around Camp Blue Diamond.

But when he arrived in New Orleans a few months later, he was moved by the sense of resilience among the residents.

“We were very inspired by the spirit that the people had. Rebirth is a day-to-day event. It is going on today. And it’ll be going on tomorrow. And it is going to be going on for a long time.”