FLANDREAU – Music has the power to move and to inspire.
By learning a musical arrangement dedicated to one of the 20th Century’s more inspiring politicians, Flandreau High School Band Director and instrumental musical instructor Pat Weight hopes that his students will see citizenship and gratitude in action.
The high school band has always worked with the local VFW Post 3351, such as when the band plays at the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. Since the band has helped the VFW with its performance of patriotic songs, the VFW wanted to further aid the musicians by donating last spring a sum of money exclusively for the purchasing of patriotic songs.
Weight, who has taught at Flandreau High School for 12 years, began looking online for different patriotic music when he came across one that he felt a connection with: “Ask Not (A Musical Tribute to the Life of JFK),” by composer James Swearingen.
The timing couldn’t have been better. This year marks what would have been the late president’s 100th birthday, and by coincidence, a horde of documents pertaining to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was released at the end of October, leading to renewed interest in Kennedy.
And Kennedy is still as relevant today as he was at the time of his death 54 years ago, Weight said.
The piece itself is a series of vignettes or parts of other songs strung together with a narrative in between. Through the narrator, the audience is told about different parts of Kennedy’s life and career, with biographical information and snippets of his inauguration speech included. The music is set to reflect the mood of those moments of his life.
When Kennedy’s role in the Civil Rights Movement is told, for example, a bit of “We Shall Overcome” is played, and the music turns mournful when they reach the point of his assassination.
“It ends on a more hopeful note with a bit of the Navy Hymn at the end and a nice, bright finish,” Weight said. “It hits home the idea that this president who had captured the public’s imagination and inspired a lot of people, (even though) he was cut down in the prime of his life, the ideals he stood for did not pass away with him.”
He’s glad to have the chance to the incorporate “Ask Not” into his curriculum, where it can have an impact on his students. Since its subject matter is a part of other classes, he hopes that students can connect with it all the more.
It’s been a lot of work readying the students for that moment, but it’s well worth the effort, Weight said.
“And it’s fun. Whatever you can do to engage a student and make them take ownership of something … then the learning takes on a mind of its own.”
The 48 high school students in band will get the chance to play it soon enough, too, at the school’s Veterans Day program at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10.
In addition to the band’s performance, during the program, the Voice of Democracy essay winners will read their essays, several songs will be sung by various school choirs and special speakers will take to the microphone.
The very next day will be a community Veterans Day program where the band will perform again. That program will start with a potluck at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, with the program following afterward.
There, Redeemer Lutheran Church’s Pastor Samuel Thole will give the invocation, and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church’s Pastor Alan Blankenfeld will give the keynote address.
Playing at events like this is good for the high schoolers, Weight said.
“It’s an important way for our kids to see proper citizenship modeled and begin living out good citizenship. And also because it’s a way for us to show gratitude,” Weight said.
“The people in this community support us all year round with fundraisers, coming to concerts and supporting us, so it’s a very small way that we’re able to show our appreciation for those folks, especially to those people in uniform and all of our veterans.”