The Colgate Scene
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Chris Hedges '79
If you hold that your "side" of a conflict is on the side of the angels, Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning likely is not a tome you will favor. Through rhetoric drawn heavily from the musings on war of Homer, William Shakespeare, Erich Maria Remarque and Michael Herr, Hedges confirms the adage of General William Tecumseh Sherman that we all know yet constantly manage to forget -- war is hell.
After nearly two decades as a war correspondent, Hedges has had a ringside seat to the devastation and depravity wrought by armed conflict in Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East. The book's central theme -- reflected in its title -- is that for many people, war offers a greater purpose for living that enables individuals to escape the mundane rhythms of everyday life and become part of a grand and noble cause. Hedges strips away that pretense and exposes the myths behind the romantic portrayal of war by recounting some of the most heart-wrenching episodes he has witnessed. Yet Hedges also recounts inspiring, if often futile, instances where people under fire manage to recover some measure of the humanity they have been robbed of. There is the Bosnian Serb couple who lost their two sons during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Their elder son was never seen again after being taken away by Muslim police, and the other was killed in a car accident. Five months after the second son's death, the wife gave birth to a daughter. The mother was unable to nurse the child and, because of constant artil-lery barrages, there was little food to be found. The child's deliverance came from a Muslim farmer who brought them a half-liter of milk from his lone cow. The farmer, who refused payment, continued to bring milk for 442 days, until the family moved away.
Through example after example, Hedges examines the impact of war on life, community and culture and the inevitable corruption of civil and business institutions. Hedges clearly is not a pacifist, and readily acknowledges that people need to battle evil (he supported NATO intervention in the Balkan conflicts). But he cautions that even for the winners, war unleashes a litany of unforeseen consequences. During a time when the United States girds itself for a military showdown against Saddam Hussein, former NATO commander General Wesley K. Clark's words in his endorsement of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning grow more resonant. "Hedges admonishes us that we are not immune from the contagion of war's destructiveness," Clark wrote. "None of this obviates the right -- or the need -- for self-defense. But those charged with leading that defense must recognize the consequences of the forces and passions they arouse."
Dexter Morrill: Three Concertos
Northern Illinois Philharmonic; Steve Squires and Brian Groner, conductors
(Centaur Records, 2002); Total duration: 65:29
Dexter Morrill '60, Charles A. Dana Professor of music, emeritus, remarks in his liner notes that the period in which he composed the three pieces on his latest compact disc was bookmarked by two horrific events involving plane crashes: TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and the flights in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the timing of these events was such that they directly influenced the compositions is unclear; nevertheless, the mood of bleak introspection internalized within portions of each seems appropriate to the pall those events cast. Fitting, too, that elements in each concerto reflect Morrill's preference for writing nostalgia music -- since a yearning for happier times past is a natural human response in the wake of tragedy.
This trio of recordings reflects Morrill's relatively recent return to composing for orchestra after spending many years concentrating on computer generated music and music for solo performers. As well, in these concertos Morrill capitalizes on the breadth of his influences and interests by incorporating jazz elements into classical formats. The three soloists are all on the faculty of Northern Illinois University, whose philharmonic backs them up.
Morrill himself had a ticket on TWA Flight 800 but unwittingly tricked fate by switching reservations; the wife of jazz composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter was not so lucky. She perished in that crash, and Morrill dedicated his Concerto for Saxophone & Orchestra to Shorter. The piece, for soprano sax, comprises three movements. Soloist Steve Duke colors the plaintive, lilting quality of the first movement, "Sonata," through passages that are at times improvised, at times composed. In "Lament," a slower meditation, the soloist is again allowed to freely develop phrases, over spare, haunting orchestral accompaniment. The final movement, "Variations," follows suit but with more punctuated, jazzy and varied elements.
In each of the six movements in Concerto for Trombone & Orchestra, Morrill has cast the soloist in a different role, beginning with "T.D.," in which soloist John Mindeman plays Tommy Dorsey through flowing melodic lines. After the decidedly American tonality of the "March," with shades of the Revolutionary War era, "Lament," a low brass dirge, leads into rollicking Dixieland and swing elements in "Tailgate," in true New Orleans funeral style. Morrill calls "Fragments" a kind of recitative that resembles a cadenza. The hard-driving "Games" provides Mindeman the opportunity to show off his musical gymnastics.
Morrill composed the Concerto for Cornet & Seventeen Instruments after learning that his friend, trumpeter Mark Ponzo, is fond of the cornet, an instrument that was more popular in the 19th century than today. The piece, performed here by Ponzo himself, is framed by two nostalgia movements. Morrill was completing the first, a flowing, minor-key orchestral "March" that concludes with a solemn rendition of "America," when Sept. 11 occurred. "Merry Go Round," a perpetual motion piece, was inspired by a merry-go-round in the Faust Park in
St. Louis, Mo. The center movement, "Chants," features numerous sections that recall ancient sacred music, beginning with a cornet passage reminiscent of a plainchant melody (indeed, Morrill notes that the movement features the "singing quality of the cornet"), and trading off with sweeping, eerie sections of interplay between the cornet and violin.
A Reader's Guide to Modern American Drama
Sanford Sternlicht MA'53
(Syracuse University Press, 2002)
Sanford Sternlicht presents a comprehensive survey of modern American drama beginning with its antecedents in Victorian melodrama through the present. Sternlicht, who teaches dramatic literature and theory at Syracuse University, discusses the work and achievement of more than 70 playwrights, from Eugene O'Neill to Suzan-Lori Parks -- from the golden era of Broadway to the rise of Off-Broadway and regional theater. Sternlicht shows how world theater influenced the American stage, and how the views of American dramatists reflected the great American social movements of their times. In addition, he describes the contributions of early experimental theater, the Federal Theater of the 1930s, African American, feminist and gay and lesbian drama -- and the joyous trends and triumphs of American musical theater.
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