UMSL is celebrating its 60th anniversary with 5 new fanfares
The music department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is hoping five short pieces of music will have a big impact.
The school has commissioned five composers to each write a fanfare to celebrate the campus’s 60th anniversary. They will be performed at concerts throughout the current school year.
Fanfares traditionally celebrated something or someone big, but that started changing during the 1940s, said David Wacyk, a music professor and director of instrumental ensembles at UMSL.
“Ever since Aaron Copland wrote ‘Fanfare for the Common Man,’ fanfares have evolved into something that is more for everyone and can announce everything,” Wacyk said. “I think the 60th anniversary of the university seemed like a fitting time to help make more of those kinds of fanfares happen.”
With a modest budget of $5,000, the university decided to ask five different composers to write pieces between one and two minutes instead of commissioning one longer piece.
Wacyk said that approach will lead to a more diverse body of music and allow for more points of view.
“I didn’t give any direction other than write a fanfare,” Wacyk said. “Whatever their idea of a fanfare is, that, to me, is really interesting. If you ask what's the color blue of five different people and they're going to have five different blues that they come up with, I think that is a really good sign of the diversity of humanity.”
Through its commissions, UMSL aimed to engage composers that have a connection to the St. Louis area or whose work would reflect the area.
Evan Williams is the composer of the first of the five fanfares UMSL ensembles will perform. He is from Chicago and teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but his fanfare was inspired by a visit to the St. Louis Gateway Arch while on a road trip.
Before he took the tram to the top, he watched the documentary film on its construction.
“It ended with this really grandiose quote. They were quoting a historian about the westward expedition by Lewis and Clark,” Williams said.
“Meriwether Lewis’ dream had come true. And the thing was done,” the documentary's narrator said, quoting historian Bernard Augustine DeVoto. Williams named his fanfare “And the Thing Was Done.”
“I just remembered that quote, and I thought it was a great metaphor for both achieving a goal and seeing it through, through hardship,” Williams said.
While Williams had a specific idea and only a minute of music to compose, he found it difficult to write the fanfare.
“The type of music I write usually unfolds itself after a long period of time. So this was actually sort of hard for me, and it took a little bit of work to say what I wanted to say in just one minute,” he said.
One of the other composers is from the St. Louis region, but the inspiration for her fanfare is far away. Kim Archer teaches at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her fanfare is titled “Castle Hill,” based on a location in Scotland.
“I remember the very first time, many years ago, I made that last little trip up Castle Hill and then was facing Edinburgh Castle and thinking, wow,” Archer said. “But it's a pretty short, little stretch of road, and so a pretty short little fanfare leading to a big, wow, at the end seemed like the right fit.”
Archer has become known for her fanfare writing in recent years, as the United States Marine Band commissioned her to write one for President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
While that piece was performed by one of the best bands in the world, Archer and the other composer were asked to write so their UMSL fanfares could be played by most high school ensembles.
Archer said making the fanfares playable and short will given them a better chance of having many performances.
“I can't think of a conductor I know who doesn't have 60 seconds more in his or her program to add a fanfare at the beginning or to open the second half,” Archer said. “So I think the idea of writing a one-minute piece is actually quite clever because it allows a bunch of composers to contribute pieces that everybody can play.”
UMSL also created a commissioning consortium, in which colleges and high schools can contribute as little as $100 to the project. In return, the schools will have their name included in the commission and be among the performers to have exclusive rights to play the new works for a year.
Wacyk said having other universities and high schools be a part of the project will help improve UMSL’s reputation and assist with recruiting.
Wacyk is in his second year at UMSL, attempting to rebuild a program that is recovering from pandemic-related setbacks. He said having “Commissioned by the University of Missouri-St. Louis” at the top of a high school student’s sheet music will help.
“For high schoolers to see that we care to be diverse in the music that we play, and that we care to create new music alongside them, is important,” he said.
The UMSL Wind Ensemble will perform “And the Thing Was Done” at its concert Wednesday night at the campus’ Touhill Performing Arts Center.
Later this year, UMSL ensembles will perform Kim Archer’s “Castle Hill” and fanfares by Olivia Kieffer, Shuying Li and Zachary Cairns.