As the term draws to a close, the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble will perform their final program of the year. The concert, taking place at the Memorial Chapel on Sunday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m., is the product of over a year and a half of planning by the ensemble’s conductor, Robert Levy.
Along with the traditional featuring of the winner of the Wind Ensemble Student Concerto Competition (the honor going this year to tuba player William Samson), a new addition has been made. This highlight will involve guest conductor Gunther Schuller, Mayor Timothy Hanna, and the Appleton Boy Choir.
The work, Children’s Plea for Peace, is by composer Alec Wilder, of whose music Levy has been “a staunch advocate.” Levy has “long felt this to be one of his most compelling works.” It will be narrated by Mayor Hanna, sung by the Appleton Boy Choir with the accompaniment of the wind ensemble, and conducted by Schuller.
Children’s Plea for Peace, done twice previously at Lawrence in the mid-1980s, has also featured President Richard Warch and a local news anchor to spotlight the rarely performed work. Although recorded in the early 1970s, it has been out of print for over 20 years, but as Levy states, “This work, in light of [current] events, is forever timely.”
Besides the inevitable connotations relating to recent conflict, the piece has uniqueness in and of itself in the fact that the text is written by young children. In the late 1960s, Wilder selected lines from essays on peace, written by schoolchildren from a small upstate New York town. The poignant yet straightforward text is meant to reach any audience, but is geared toward adults.
Lines range from “Stupid, stupid war,” and “If it don’t stop, nothing will be left,” to “My generation wants peace, and we’re going to get it,” and “The grownups have failed. All us children shall not.”
The statements, set to a narration written by Wilder, are what set off the innovative composition. “What I find amazing in this piece of music is the innocence that’s there,” commented Levy. “It’s totally unprecedented.”
Gunther Schuller, the guest conductor of this final number in Sunday’s program, is a longtime friend of Wilder. Schuller’s extensive and eclectic musical career includes mastery as a composer, conductor, writer, publisher, producer, performer, and more. He has held positions with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, taught at Yale University, and held presidency at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
In 1994, he was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1998 was elected one of the original members of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. His appearance at Lawrence is made possible by the efforts of the Appleton Boy Choir.
Following the concert, the legendary Schuller will conduct the Children’s Plea for Peace for a recording session. Narration will be the voice of Studs Terkle, previously recorded and dubbed in. The recording of the piece has been a major goal of Levy’s.
“It’s kind of a tragedy that the original recording is no longer available,” he said. “This recording could bring about a greater awareness of this music, which is timeless: young children singing about peace. If we weren’t an educational institution, I might perform this piece every year.”
Although this performance comes about at a time of conflict within our country, Levy assures, “The scheduling of this performance is not intended in any way to make a statement on behalf of any political view either by myself, the performing ensemble, the Appleton Boy choir, or Lawrence University.”