Music for Our Veterans

Note from ACSO: The author of this article, Retired United States Marine Corps Major Brian Dix, was Director of “The Commandant’s Own,” The U.S Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, in Washington, D.C. He is currently an independent conductor and composer in San Diego, California.

It is a pleasure observing various symphony orchestras crafting Veterans Day programs each year on November 11. Having worked with several artistic directors on creating appropriate repertoires, I’ve seen common threads of misunderstanding. They often suggest well-intended selections for our nation’s fallen service members that are more appropriate for a day of solemn and earnest commemoration, also know as Memorial Day. In a nutshell, Memorial Day is a day of “remembrance”; Veterans Day is for the living.

With the Veterans Day Centennial approaching in 2019, having an accurate interpretation of these anniversaries is critical for the development of appropriate concert programming. Audiences can be wholly impressed with your breadth of knowledge when these two distinct national holidays are commemorated with an accomplished artistic understanding.

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Unlike Memorial Day, this day pays tribute to all veterans, living or dead, but especially acknowledges local citizens who served their country. Musical programs should provide a creative panoramic lens that inspires onlookers to applaud local residents for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Simply open with The National Anthem of the United States of America, “The Star Spangled Banner,” close with the Armed Forces Service Song Medley, and fill a veterans auditory sea bag with an assortment of life’s musical celebrations. Veterans aren’t looking for a pops concert. They are the ones who were challenged mentally and personally during their tour of duty; illuminating a parallel musical experience holds infinite value to this audience. Keep the music consequential, moving, and with dignity in order to convey your personal message on this day of appreciation.

Sitting in the wings of each symphonic community are veteran service organizations such as the Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Each of these VSOs can provide a greater homegrown perspective to possibly honor local individual veterans or commemorate regions where local GIs may have served. And to acknowledge the expansive role of each state’s National Guard and Air National Guard units, finding what was used as their “marching song” is well within your reach.

Having personally known squadrons, platoons, battle groups, battalions and regiments that were forward deployed, many of our troopers gleefully embrace such works as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea, Michael Kaman’s theme from Band of Brothers, and Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent 7. The contextual variety of musical insight from our fighting men and women is complex and delightful.

The playing of final honors, or Taps, is not required for Veterans Day, and a moment of silence is more suited to Memorial Day’s “National Moment of Remembrance” for those who have died in service to this nation. While Taps is always well intentioned, your Veterans Day program should be designed for the people who are seated in front of you.

If a full concert is difficult to schedule, then simply open your intended program with The National Anthem. It can stand-alone with your current repertoire as a tribute to both your community and this nation.

A Veterans Day concert does not have to be on November 11. Presenting this musical celebration at any point in a concert season will fill your halls with an appreciative audience, creating an unforgettable gathering of those local ranks who wore this nation’s cloth. Local veterans’ eagerness to be present for your symphony’s special performance will have people gleaming with unparalleled esprit. This Marine guarantees it.

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