My Name is Citizen Soldier

For Narrator and Orchestra

Music by Frank Proto – Text by John Chenault

Program note: Frank Proto

My Name is Citizen Soldier was commissioned by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to celebrate their 10th anniversary. It was composed between January and June, 2000 and is scored for an orchestra of 3 flutes (all doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra bassoon, 1 alto saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 4 percussion, piano, harp, strings and narrator.

My Name is Citizen Soldier is the third work that I’ve finished that revolves around the Second World War. The others are Four Scenes after Picasso — Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra (1997) and Can This Be Man? — A Music Drama for Violin and Orchestra (1998). Over the years much music has been written with wars or battles as the underlying subject matter. Composers from Tchaikovsky to Shostakovich to Britten have written works that have found their place in the standard symphonic repertoire and are performed frequently. Our biggest challenge was how to come up with an approach to this vast subject that would convey some specific thoughts and understanding, and having it all done within a coherent symphonic framework.

Our working method was to bounce ideas back and forth, with each of us having input in both written and musical matters. Usually I would work from a rough draft of a section of text, suggesting what type of music might work stylistically. After a minimal or detailed revision of the text I would alter the music. Following one or two rounds of changes, when everything felt just right, I would orchestrate the section. Working in this manner gave us the flexibility of a theatre piece while still allowing us to retain control over the form and development necessary for a symphonic work.

In deciding to use the radio as a vehicle to move us back and forth and along in time I had to decide what type of music I should use to support, accompany or underscore these sections. The outer two — the sections that move us back and forward in time — are supported by the same music played quietly as a mirror image of itself. However the inner sections — the speeches — are accompanied by music that is meant to occupy 50% of the stage during those moments — i.e. music that is on an equal footing with the text. These sections, while different musically, all retain one unifying feature: the element of chaos. The juxtaposition of different styles — an improvising drummer with a solo violin for instance — while we are told that our country has been attacked and is about to go to war, serve to remind us that war is chaos.

It is hoped that even within chaotic moments — which are used to emphasize the emotional and passionate feelings that the subject of D-Day and indeed, the subject of war in general evoke — the listener is able to be drawn into a state where music and text become one and perhaps provide food for further thought on this subject which has plagued man from the beginning of time.


Program note: John Chenault

The commission to create My Name is Citizen Soldier posed a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the writing team of Chenault and Proto. Few events in the last century can match D-Day in its magnitude, complexity, and importance to the course of human history. Few events have been as well researched, dissected, and discussed in books, films, and documentaries. Few events in human memory exist in so many living memories.

As researchers we struggled to negotiate our way through this massive confluence of media and memory. As composers we struggled to capture as much of the spirit of D-Day as we could with broad brush strokes. Our efforts made us see D-Day not as a singular event standing alone and outside of time, but as a piviotal moment, a turning point upon which much of the world still revolves.

To see D-Day against this backdrop of recent history we direct the audience to look behind the curtain, metaphorically of course, to observe how time flies. To guide us in this journey we ask the audience to see a human face, the face of a veteran looking back in time. Our veteran speaks to two teenagers (a french horn and a clarinet) with a history assignment. His memory is his message. He tries to peel back the years so the young people can see the events that preserved their lives and their freedom. He conducts us into the past using a symbol of his generation, a radio, as a time machine.

In the past our veteran is a soldier faced with duty and death. Time stands still for our citizen soldier, whether he is staring out from the deck of a transport ship, jumping from the sky over Normandy, landing between the hedgerows in a glider, or running down the ramp of a Higgins boat onto the beach. For those citizen soldiers who gave their lives time never started again. But for those like our veteran who came home the panorama of time moved on, often with dire consequences. We have the voices of our political leaders to remind us how the past repeats itself, and the world is still a dangerous place despite the sacrifices of so many during WW2.

In the end our veteran asks the audience to stand and honor those living and dead who fought to defeat the Nazi war machine. And then – as a member of the "Greatest Generation", as Tom Brokaw has dubbed those who constitute our vast population of senior citizens – he passes the torch of freedom to the so-called Generation-X.

Our D-Day takes place in the confines of a theater and in front of an audience. Instead of paratroopers, gliders, Higgins boats or heavy artillery to aid us, we have brass instruments, woodwinds, strings, and the human voice. By expanding the boundaries of the orchestra to give unique voice to D-Day and its living legacy we hope we achieved our objective of establishing a new artistic beachhead. The true measure of our success, however, rests entirely with you, the audience.

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