At the age of 9, Seattle Symphony principal pops conductor Jeff Tyzik had his first experience playing patriotic music in a public setting.
What a setting.
“I lived in Hyde Park, New York, which was the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” Tyzik says. “When I was in sixth grade, I was asked to go on Memorial Day to the Roosevelt graveside for a ceremony, and to play taps. When I got there, there was a small color guard, and Eleanor Roosevelt and her son, John.
“I remember the large stone and marble gravesite, a large square. I remember Mrs. Roosevelt was very tall. In my mind, I can see her with her little, stooped shoulders. I was a little too young to grasp it all. They asked me back the next year as well. I look back on it now, and there is a lot more meaning in it for me.”
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Patriotic music is something Tyzik, who is bringing an original program of it called “Celebrate America” to Seattle Symphony next week (May 29-June 1), has always regarded as important in more than 20 years as a pops conductor. (Tyzik became principal pops conductor here in 2012.)
He recalls a time when the late congressman Jack Kemp spoke to Tyzik’s audience at a July 4 performance.
“Kemp said, ‘Today we are not Republicans or Democrats or Independents. Today we are all Americans,’ ” Tyzik says. “That pretty well sums it up.”
“My approach is to be musically respectful of patriotism, so I tend not to do corny, trite music. ‘Celebrate America’ has really good music.”
Typical of a Tyzik concert, the program is full of familiar pieces rediscovered and refreshed through his novel, interesting arrangements. Tyzik will be bringing something new even to John Stafford Smith’s 18th-century “The Anacreontic Song,” best known today as the tune for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Also on the bill are Tyzik’s takes on John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis,” W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues March,” and music by Glenn Miller and John Williams.
A highlight will be the performance of James A. Beckel’s “Gardens of Stone” for narrator and orchestra.
“Beckel plays in the Indianapolis Symphony but is also a composer and was an Air Force colonel,” says Tyzik. “The piece is about Arlington Cemetery, Normandy and Gettysburg. There are presidential speeches woven into the music. It’s uplifting and very powerful.”
Chief Warrant Officer Jeffry C. Larson, who commands the 56th Army Band at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will narrate.
Seattle Symphony has reached out to active military personnel as well as various veterans’ organizations to attend “Celebrate America.”
Tyzik says in the last decade, he has seen an increase in service members and veterans at his concerts of patriotic music, including injured and disabled vets.
He recalls conducting “Gardens of Stone” last year in Vale, Colo., and the veteran — who had lost both of his legs in Afghanistan — who served as narrator.
“He asked me what to wear onstage,” says Tyzik, “and I said, it’s summer dress, so white dinner jackets. He said, ‘I want to wear shorts. I think people need to see me.’
“He came out and blew the place away.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org