In Flanders Fields has a very unique back story, not only in the conception of the piece itself, but in the circumstances of the commission as well.
Directly after spring break 2018, Dr. Oppenheim here at Kansas State commissioned me a work for the Real Men Sing choral festival’s Middle School Honor Choir. I jumped at the offer, especially with the fact that it was for an honor choir. I asked for specifics, and Dr. Oppenheim informed me that he was curious what kind of folk song arrangements I could work out, but the main problem was that he needed the piece in two weeks. I was hesitant because of the time frame and the compositional style that I have (meaning I compose over long periods of time) but I had been “in the zone” and accepted anyway. After some experimentation and some quick chats, I told Dr. Oppenheim about an idea I had recently had for setting the Great War text, In Flanders Fields. He listened to what I had to say, and told me that if writing something from scratch would be easier, that I should go for it. So, that’s exactly what I did.
Recently, I’ve been getting into some family genealogical work in my free time. My best friend, Andy, and I are avid airsoft-ers (like paintball, but smaller). We wear the camouflage, buy the expensive gear, go play on professional ranges, the works. He recently picked up a patch to wear on his arm that was the insignia of the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit in WWII. I asked him why he wore it and his response was, “My grandfather was in the 10th Mountain!” He then proceeded to tell me stories of his grandfather’s valor in combat, his awards, etc. I was fascinated and had to see if I had any family members who were decorated war heroes. After talking with my grandmother, Alice Gavin, and visiting my public library where I could use a version of Ancestry for free, I discovered that my maternal great great uncle, was in the 138th Infantry from Missouri in WWI. I poked around and after a significant amount of research, found out the the 138th Infantry was part of the group of men who led the charge into the Argonne forest in the Meuse-Argonne campaign. After continued research I was humbled to find out that my relative, Cpl. Francis Marion Fierce, was indeed a war hero after being wounded in combat attempting to take the village of Cheppy. He received numerous awards, including a purple heart and a French Croix de Guerre, which are some significant combat honors. This incredible discovery, along with Dr. Oppenheim’s timely commission, inspired me to set In Flanders Fields for TB ensemble and piano accompaniment in honor of Cpl. Fierce and all of the heroes of the Great War.
In Flanders Fields will be published and available for purchase after the world premiere in September 2018 at the Real Men Sing festival under the baton of Dr. Oppenheim.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Dr. John McCrae (1872-1918)
To my relative, Cpl. Francis Marion Fierce (1887-1959) and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the “Great War.” Commissioned by Dr. Joshua J. Oppenheim for the Real Men Sing festival, September 13-14, 2018